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Sales Best Practice: Skilled at dealing with adversity and failure

A best practice for sales people by Dave Kahle, author and leading sales educator.

By Dave Kahle

3d Imagen Changing The Word Impossible To Possible by David Castillo Dominici ID-100221913

Every now and then, I run across an idea which makes a significant impact on me. One such was the idea (I wish I could remember who first said it) that the surest indicator of success was the ability to deal effectively with adversity.

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the power and truth in that idea. The world is full of talented and intelligent people who never really succeed. But the surest indicator of success is not latent talent, natural abilities or native intelligence. It is, instead, the ability to get knocked down by life, and get up and go at it again.

This is particularly true for sales people. We typically fail more times than we succeed. It’s the rare sales person, for example, who sells more than 50 percent of the prospects. So failure is a regular part of our jobs. As is rejection and adversity of all kinds. Every “No” is a rejection. Every voice mail message is an obstacle.

Our days, weeks, years and careers are spilling over with failure, rejection and adversity.

The lesser sales people become burdened and lethargic with the weight of it, while the stars shrug it off and rise to try again.

It’s not that the sales superstars have less failure and adversity to deal with (although they may), it is that they recognize they need to manage themselves in light of the inevitable failure with which they must contend. They recognize the issue, and deal with it head-on.

Hopeless Man Looking At Loss by digitalart ID-10039232In his great book, Learned Optimism, Dr. Martin Seligman describes the mechanics at work. When faced with adversity, some people give up and retreat into an attitude of “helplessness and hopelessness.” Others take control of their minds, and choose to think optimistic thoughts. As a result, they create more energy and more motivation. That energy and motivation channel themselves into more positive behavior, and that positive behavior brings better results.

Notice that this process starts with their thoughts. I have long thought that the ultimate playing field for the professional sales person (or any person, for that matter) resides within – inside the mind where one’s thoughts, emotions and beliefs are generated. Because it is those things that stimulate and influence behavior, and positive behavior produces positive results.

The best sales people have an understanding of this, recognize that their primary obstacles are internal, and develop disciplines and practices to overcome negative thoughts that emerge from adversity and replace them with positive thoughts.

Some of the techniques that superstars employ to help them overcome adversity include visualization, the use of positive affirmations, prayer, and learned optimism.

To learn more about this best practice,


For Sales Managers…

Use this rating scale to assess the extent to which each of your sales people evidence this best practice.


Comments: ____________________________________________________________

To help a sales person build this practice into a habit,

a. Share your assessment with them.

b. Talk about how that impacts their performance.

c. Refer them to one or more of the resources listed above.

d. Ask them to commit to a couple of specific changes.

e. Monitor their progress at a future, pre-determined date.

At a sales meeting, ask people to share one time in their lives when they overcame some adversity. It could be something small, like a bad experience at an account that they were able to turn around, or something much deeper, like overcoming a serious illness. If you ask them to prepare this beforehand, you’ll see much better responses. Use the stories as a means to build into people the concept of achieving success by overcoming adversity.

Copyright MMXIV by Dave Kahle
All Rights Reserved

Image “Changing The Word Impossible To Possible” courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image “Hopeless Man Looking At Loss” courtesy of digitalart/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net