The ‘vital spark’ of enthusiasm for selling is what makes the difference between a successful sales professional and a hard-working loser. Mark Edwards looks at how the spark can be rekindled.
Acandidate for a healthcare sales position has just left the interview room. The panel look at each other. The candidate looks good on paper. The recruitment consultant keeps ringing to say how great this candidate is. But something is missing. The panel agree that the candidate has an excellent CV; has sound experience in the right therapy area; gave a strong example of competitive selling… There is a long pause. Then someone says: “Just not enough enthusiasm.” The panel look at each other, and their heads nod enthusiastically – as if to underline the consensus on what this person lacks.
The challenge faced by the unenthused at work is that they do not have positive associations with their work activities.
Enthusiasm sells. Not only does it bring a presentation or detail to life, it is the fuel that drives a representative through the challenges of the job. An enthusiastic sales person will deliver on both quantitative and qualitative measures. An unenthusiastic sales person will fail on at least one count, and possibly on both. The number of calls will be affected as the desire to make a call is reduced – and if access is given, an unenthusiastic greeting and detail has negative consequences.
The thrill is gone
How many sales people have plenty of capability and experience – and yet fail to make the most of it because they lack an enthusiasm for what they do?
If they have a strong sense of loyalty and responsibility, they will probably be putting in a full day’s work – but putting in the hours in the field and making the calls is not all that is required to be successful in sales. Making a dutiful effort while lacking in enthusiasm can be the source of many problems. In the short term, a lack of enthusiasm can lead to a dip in sales from which one can recover – but in the longer term, it can dry a person out and make the necessary turn-around a tougher experience.
What can you do, as a sales professional or sales manager, to relight the fire? Can enthusiasm be developed? Once lost, can it be regained?
How enthusiasm works
We all have the capacity to be enthusiastic, and to find things for which our enthusiasm flows. Think about something you are enthusiastic about – such as music, sport, films or reading fiction. Whatever enthuses you, it is certain that you have formed a set of positive associations with that activity. You have positive expectations of it, you enjoy the experience and you savour the rewards of engaging in it. But it is far more difficult to be enthusiastic about things that you do not appreciate or enjoy.
As a young boy, I was bitten by a dog. Prior to this event I had quite positive associations with dogs. Afterwards, however, I had a very negative association with the dog in question – and soon, this became a negative association with all dogs. You could put me in a room with the cutest, friendliest dog in the world and I would still be looking for the door. The association is the key. It determines your expectation of an event – and so affects your thinking, attitude and behaviour. The challenge faced by the unenthused at work is that they do not have positive associations with their work activities. Over time, their field experiences and their thoughts about those experiences have become muted, dulled or even negative. Going to work has become a chore.
Yes, this person will still get up in the morning and go out to do a day’s work in the field (because of a sense of obligation or a need for security). However, they will do so with a heavy heart and a negative expectation. This is transmuted into an apathetic approach to the tasks in hand. The lack of engagement leads to an average experience (at best), which in turn reinforces the negative associations. Remember: enthusiasm is all about positive expectancy and association.
Changing mental habits
So how can enthusiasm be developed, trained or regained? The answer lies in developing a positive association between ourselves and our work.
For those who have lost the ‘fire’, it is about unlearning what they have learned. I do not advocate a Pollyanna approach whereby everything is spun positively, but this is unlikely to be a danger for the unenthused. Lack of enthusiasm tends to colour one’s thinking, and pessimism and cynicism prevail. Seeing things negatively becomes the norm. It becomes second nature to see why something will not work.
For enthusiasm to return, a new way of thinking is needed. Experiences (both positive and negative) need to be considered in a way that is conducive to positive association and constructive learning.
Perhaps the best work on the effective use of this type of cognitive tool is Learned Optimism by Dr Martin Seligman. He links optimism and pessimism with specific ‘explanatory styles’. Your explanatory style is the manner in which you habitually explain to yourself why and how events happen. It is the ‘open secret’ of a positive outlook. An optimistic explanatory style spreads personal enthusiasm, whereas a pessimistic explanatory style dulls it.
For example, suppose a representative fails to gain access to a targeted surgeon when trying to sell a medical device. How do they explain why? They might think:
• I am no good.
• I’m not good at selling.
• It wasn’t my lucky day.
• The surgeon was prejudiced against me.
• This surgeon doesn’t like reps.
• I wasn’t feeling very well.
• The surgeon was having a bad day.
• I didn’t have time to prepare for the call.
Seligman found these explanations could be rated along three dimensions: personalisation (internal vs. external), pervasiveness (specific vs. universal) and permanence (temporary vs. permanent).
He found that the most pessimistic explanatory style is correlated with the greatest lack of enthusiasm. The response “I am no good” can be classified as internal, universal and permanent. It conveys a sense of discouragement and despair.
After gaining access to a hard-to-see doctor, the depressive would say “I was lucky”, whereas the optimist would say “I am good at this.”
A more optimistic person would blame someone or something else – for example, by saying “The surgeon was having a bad day.” The most optimistic explanatory style is external, specific and temporary. Conversely, for a good event, the explanatory style is reversed. After gaining access to a hard-to-see NHS professional, the depressive would say “I was lucky”, whereas the optimist would say “I am good at this.”
The breath of life
For enthusiasm to be developed, trained or regained, these cognitive tools need to be applied. Remember, you cannot do this to anyone. We can only do it to ourselves.
So before teaching the appropriate cognitive tools, we (as trainers) work to develop the necessary awareness, responsibility and desire to change. With these in place, the cognitive toolkit can be taken up and applied. The results soon follow.
Success is not always immediate or fixed, since old habits are hard to break. Regular reviews and top-up sessions help to keep the momentum going, and eventually the desired turn-around is achieved: enthusiasm is regained!
Learned Optimism, 1990, Martin Seligman PhD PILOT – Personal Development, 1999, D.M. Edwards
Mark Edwards is the Founder and Managing Director of Mpower Development Ltd, a leading provider of sales capability and performance culture programmes to the pharmaceutical, IT and telecoms industries. He can be, and should be, contacted on 020 7477 6570 or at email@example.com