Don’t Let the Uncontrollable Control

Some of you know that I am a golf fanatic. I love the walk through nature, the camaraderie of my golf buddies, and the competition it provides me against the course.

And while I know and accept that it should be a competition between me and the course, it frequently ends up as a competition between me and myself. And sometimes, I don’t take full responsibility for my outcomes on the golf course.

Taking Responsibility

Well, frankly, one cannot take full responsibility. There are too many variables: such as the wind, the divot my ball landed in, the unraked trap, the noise the group made on the next tee as I was putting, the fact that my hand was sweaty and slipped, or the fact that I had the wrong distance figured to the green. The list goes on and on.

In sales, a similar excuse list exists but with different variables: such as the competition undercut our price, that guy was never going to buy from us, the VP didn’t like us, they’ve been doing business with XYZ company forever, we didn’t have the same product they wanted, or they just aren’t ready to buy. And that list goes on and on as well.

Can It Be Done?

Let me go back to my statement that one cannot take full responsibility for outcomes in golf. That is technically true, but the fact that one player finds fault in the external forces at play and uses those excuses to allow for bad outcomes, while another player gets a better outcome by accepting the fact that they can only control their reaction to those situations proves that taking responsibility is still important in golf. The same is true in sales.

Some salespeople use external forces to dictate their success, while others take full responsibility for outcomes, and adjust their behaviors to adapt to the situation rather than accept it. The golfers that don’t take responsibility think too much about the external forces and allow the uncontrollable to control them. They then melt under pressure. The same happens in sales.

On the golf course, as in selling, I may give up too easily if I feel that I cannot overcome the obstacles in my way. And, I have a “legitimate” out. The wind, the noise or the jerk prospect, or those damn competitors.

Two Keys for Managers

Here’s how managers can help their salespeople take responsibility.

  1. Take the emotion out of the analysis. Help your salespeople by being completely objective and focus on the salesperson – not the external factors. Use these debriefing questions:
    • What did you do well?
    • What would you like to do differently?
    • What will you do to ensure you don’t make that mistake again?

    When the salesperson says, “That guy was such a jerk,” or “There was no way we were going to win against the competition,” turn it around and focus on what the salesperson can control. Don’t let the salesperson wallow in excuses and deflection. It only makes the situation more emotional, and usually, that is not productive. Just as in golf, there is not a lot of good that comes from being too emotional. So, analyze, focus on what can be controlled, and move on.

  2. Concentrate on what can be done better internally the next time. As suggested above, conduct an objective analysis of the situation and make a plan of attack for the next similar situation. Frequently it is not just the words that were said or unsaid, it’s often the salesperson’s underlying thoughts about the situation. Be sure to go deep with them on why they didn’t do what they have been taught, or what would be the smart, logical thing to do or say. There is likely something inside preventing them from doing it. Focus on those internal reasons and help the salesperson think through how to react the next time the same thoughts pop up. Then finding the words will be easy.

Keep This Thought

There are always uncontrollable items at play. We cannot control whether the prospect will meet with us, just like we cannot control the wind on the golf course. However, we can prepare by understanding the needs of the prospect or client. We can plan what will happen if the prospect says, “It costs too much” or “I need to think it over,” just as we can plan what to do if we are slicing the ball on the golf course.

Simply be certain, whether on the golf course or the sales trenches, to focus on what goes on between the ears, not just the words. Excellent sales managers will help coach salespeople through the internal demons, not just the external lay of the land.