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The Unnoticed Obstacle to Achieving Your Sales Goals

Posted by Carole Mahoney on 8/18/17 2:09 PM

Lately, I have observed that several of the clients I have been working with, from salesperson to VP, have struggled with maintaining a positive outlook. No surprise when you consider that some studies show that 60-70% of our daily thoughts are negative, and not only that, but 95% of our thoughts are repetitive. So not only are they bad, they’re repeating themselves a lot. No wonder creating a positive outlook was one of the hardest things I had to do when I got into sales! It gets easier, but like most things- if you don’t use it, you lose it. Daily maintenance is crucial.

When I started seeing that a negative outlook presented itself as an obstacle for sales professionals at all levels when it came to goal setting, time management, and even how quickly they learned a new habit or skill- I wondered why. 

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What does scientific research say about outlook?

Dr. Martin Fishbein at the University of Pennsylvania and Icek Ajzen, Professor of Psychology of the University of Massachusetts created the Theory of Reasoned Action, that suggests that our internal decision to perform a particular behavior is determined by our attitude towards that behavior.

In general, “an individual will hold a favorable attitude toward a given behavior if they believe that performing the behavior will lead to mostly positive outcomes.” The same applies for negative attitudes and behaviors; a person is less likely to perform a behavior if they believe the behavior will have a negative outcome.

What their attitude depends on what they think the significant people in their lives think they should say or do. For example, if your parents told you that other people would think you are rude if ask them about money, that can form a negative outcome in your thinking. So when you have to ask people about budget, or establish the value of solving a problem, you may try to avoid it.

According to their research, the most effective behavior interventions are directed at changing specific behaviors, not behavioral categories. If you want to lose weight, “an intervention to jog for twenty-minutes twice a week will work better than an intervention that targets the concept of exercising.” If you are front line sales manager, focusing on the daily activities and behaviors are more likely to help a salesperson than telling them; "You need to fill your pipeline with more opportunities."

Additional findings published in 2007 by the Department of Psychology at New York University and the Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience, Institute of Neurology at the University College London using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data showed that optimism activates the parts of our brain called the rostral anterior cingulated cortex (RACC) and the amygdala. When activated, this helps us downplay negative emotional responses and drives us to go after higher stakes goals.

Furthermore, when we are not in a negative state of mind, we are able to learn and understand more easily.

The study also showed that an optimistic outlook is more focused on near term events and successes. So as a sales manager, if you are trying to help your salesperson go after a goal that will motivate them, think short term first.

What is the difference between outlook and mindset?

Outlook has been defined as “a person’s point of view or general attitude”, whereas mindset is defined as a “the established set of attitudes held by someone”. Think of outlook as an attitude, which is a component of a mindset.

But is it just a part of a larger whole if outlook impacts so many other components of your mindset? Was this enough proof that the struggle with a poor outlook I was observing with clients a predictor of things like why they struggle to set goals that align with their why, don’t prospect enough (because they don’t manage their time) or even how quickly they are able to learn and improve?

What does the data say?

Here is what I found using the Objective Management Group data of over a million salespeople across the globe.

Elite salespeople had the best outlook and also had the highest level of motivation,desire, commitment, and speed of learning.

Outlook Motivation Desire Commitment Figure it out Factor
79% 83% 91% 74% 80%

Strong salespeople also had correlating levels, though slightly lower, of outlook, motivation, desire, commitment and speed of learning.

Outlook Motivation Desire Commitment Figure it out Factor
77% 79% 88% 69% 74%

As strong outlook decreased, so did the levels of motivation, desire, commitment and speed of learning in salespeople who are doing ok, but could improve.

Outlook Motivation Desire Commitment Figure it out Factor
74% 73% 84% 64% 57%

And in the weakest salespeople, those with the poorest outlook had the most dramatic decreases in motivation and learning.

Outlook Motivation Desire Commitment Figure it out Factor
67% 59% 73% 51% 53%

Specifically to setting and going after their goals, the difference in outlook also has an impact.

  Overall Total Strong Outlook Weak Outlook
Outlook 68%    
Written Personal Goals 59% 61% 54%
Personal Goals Are Meaningful 83% 86% 78%
Plan for Reaching Goals 48% 51% 41%
System to Track Progress 45% 49% 38%

How does this apply to your sales goals?

Most of us know that a negative outlook is kryptonite to anyone in sales. It’s impact on things like bravery, grit, curiosity, and empathy means you may be bailing out in tough situations and become more emotional than normal. And tough situations can include anything that seems risky like prospecting (“no one wants to talk to me”), qualifying (“this is a nice to have for them”), even setting goals (“I have to be realistic, what if I fail?”), managing your time (“I have no control over that, too many people need me”), or trying to learn or unlearn a skill or habit (“Why bother, AI is going to replace it.”)

So if you find saying to yourself or others things like; “Why me? I can’t seem to get a break!” or “Of course it fell apart, I knew that would happen.” and are also struggling in sales, it might be time to see what the real obstacle to your growth is.

For more on how to develop and maintain a positive outlook, check out this post.

Topics: goal setting, sales science