Sales can be a stressful profession. As a salesperson, you constantly have to be aware of a multitude of things, and you have to be on top of them. You are constantly beholden to others, whether it’s your manager, the management chain, marketing, support, or your prospects. And you’re dependent on them to do your own work. In my opinion, the stress comes from precisely this dependence. This can lead to a drastic loss of motivation, since you don’t feel like the master of your own destiny. The key to liberating yourself is to focus on what’s in your power. Let me show you what I mean.
From the Stoics to your desk…
…or phone or wherever you’re reading this. Stoicism is a philosophy that begun thousands of years ago in ancient Greece. The Romans saw great value in it, leading to their emperors being trained as Stoics. One such was Marcus Aurelius, who is well known as the writer of the Meditations, which was his personal journal. A quote for your consideration:
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
The Stoics believed that we only really have control of one thing: our thoughts. Everything else is not within our control, including things like disease. In their mind, everything else was in the hands of the fates. This might sound like a cop-out, since if your thoughts are the only thing in your control, why bother doing anything? And yet, we have the writings of stoic emperors, politicians, and commoners, who all achieved great things.
The central thought behind this idea is not to avoid doing anything, but to avoid negative emotions and increase your focus. If you recognize that the thoughts of frustration or anger you’re having are of your own doing, and not somebody else’s, you will maintain a functional state of mind rather than being blinded by them. You will be able to accept them and carry on, possibly examining them at a later point. You will no longer be beholden the vagaries of fate, since you are in control of your perception.
The teachings of Stoicism can be applied in sales as they can in any other profession. You’re being employed to do a job, and that should be your key area of focus. Bear this in mind, and focus on what is within your power: your work, your activity, your prospecting.
Prospects and prospecting.
Prospects are probably the highest source of frustration and stress for new salespeople. The people you have to call are unfriendly or barely polite, and you have the gatekeepers to deal with too. Your manager’s breathing down your neck to get your pipe, and you’re losing motivation rapidly.
The thing to remember is that you are ultimately a team of one. You are responsible for your emotions, your frustration, your motivation (to a large degree), and your patch. Your prospects can be as unfriendly as they like; this should not affect you since you have little control over it. In order to improve this, you can work on yourself and develop techniques to overcome it.
Likewise, if prospects simply aren’t answering, there is little you can do but continue your work and do it well. There is no point in becoming upset, as that is an emotion that stems directly from your mind. Instead, you may want to figure out ways to improve your prospecting.
Deals and closing.
For experienced salespeople, deals (and closing those deals) are at the same time the largest rush they’ll have on the job and the biggest source of frustration. The prospect just went silent, or the support team hasn’t returned yet. If anything goes wrong after you’ve spent months working on a deal, it’s understandable to become upset. Once again, though, there is little benefit from it.
All of the things I mentioned in the previous paragraph are external influences. There is nothing there that you can directly control. What you can control (in the job, at least. Stoics would say they’re not in your control) is your pipeline, level of activity, and initiatives driven by you.
The next time a prospect bails on a deal, remember: it’s not in your control. There’s nothing about that moment that’s in your control. Simply accept it and move on. You’ll keep a cool head, allowing you to manage the situation, and you’ll be able to focus on the long-term relationship rather than the short-term sale. Remember:
“It is the power of the mind to be unconquerable.”
―Seneca, The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca: Essays and Letters
If you keep a cool head, and realize that nothing external has an influence on your mind, you will become unconquerable. Motivation is easily found at that point.
Relationships with prospects.
I have seen too many salespeople destroy good relationships simply because the prospect didn’t buy, or didn’t do what the salesperson needed them to do at the right time. The emotions behind these actions are understandable, of course, but go against the grain of every successful salesperson. Maintaining a desirable relationship with your prospects becomes much easier by keeping in mind the aspects of it that are within your power.
Those aspects are your mood, your communications, and your reactions. If your prospect always finds you in a good frame of mind, unflappable, and capable of proper communication, they’re more likely to want to speak with you (this also applies an any personal relationship). You become more level-headed, and you won’t sink a relationship simply because of a temporary blip.
“From the philosopher Catulus, never to be dismissive of a friend’s accusation, even if it seems unreasonable, but to make every effort to restore the relationship to its normal condition.”
―Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
You should make every effort to maintain relationships, even if the prospect is (to your mind) unreasonable. Relationships are the foundation of sales, and it’s vital to preserve them at all costs. Even if you can’t sell there today, they will be more predisposed to speak with you tomorrow.
I hope I’ve been able to provide you with some concrete examples of the applicability of Stoicism to sales. I personally think it’s one of the most useful philosophies I’ve come across, and I can see its use beyond the business life. I’ll finish with a quote which may inspire you to apply it more broadly as well:
“For what prevents us from saying that the happy life is to have a mind that is free, lofty, fearless and steadfast – a mind that is placed beyond the reach of fear, beyond the reach of desire, that counts virtue the only good, baseness the only evil, and all else but a worthless mass of things, which come and go without increasing or diminishing the highest good, and neither subtract any part from the happy life nor add any part to it?
A man thus grounded must, whether he wills or not, necessarily be attended by constant cheerfulness and a joy that is deep and issues from deep within, since he finds delight in his own resources, and desires no joys greater than his inner joys.”
―Seneca, The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca: Essays and Letters
I hope this has been useful to you, and, as ever, I wish you all the best!
Do you agree with what I wrote here? Disagree? Did I miss something? Could I have done something better? Please let me know in the comments!