What Jordan Can Teach You About Selling

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan

Sales Motivation from the Master of Personal Motivation

On the basketball court Michael Jordan was a winner.  While he didn’t win every game nor make every shot, he played each game and took each shot as a winner- it was part of who he made himself to be as a competitor.  Sales motivation is a very similar process.

Was he the best ever?  If he wasn’t then there is a very short list of names above him, and a very long list of people below him of comparable talent and ability who never made out of those talents what Jordan did.  What was it about Jordan that made him special?  What was it beyond the speed and agility, the touch and power, that others have had in equal measure but that never took them as high as Michael.  For clues to the causes of his greatness we have to look beyond the physical prowess to the mental discipline and strength that took a physical ability and turned it into a dominate and often unstoppable force in the game he played.  We have many candidates as to just what particular aspects of the mental game were most important to his success;  his singular focus on winning, his motivation to be the best, his drive to perfect his game, his ego, and many others.

From the lessons learned from Jordan’s mastery of the mental game of winning we can find paths to the same level of success in professional selling.  The key to doing so is in finding parallels with the mental game of sales motivation and winning in sales and learning to to apply them with the same intensity that he applied them to the game of basketball.

In this article I want to take a look at just one of those aspects, the focus on winning, and show you how you can apply it to your sales career so that you can be the legend to your profession that he was to his.

The Secrets of Sales Motivation and Sales Success

As salespeople we encounter wins and losses every day.  It is a conditioned human tendency to focus on the losses, and through the repetition of doing so we can unnecessarily bias our performance toward failure.  It all comes down to a matter of expectation.  The subconscious human mind can’t tell the difference between things that happen and things that are vividly imagined.  Each time you have a bad experience selling, and each time you recall the experience, you create an impression on your subconscious that diminishes your sales motivation.  The sum total of the experiences and your recollection of those experiences creates an expectation of another negative event.  When you expect a negative outcome, most likely you will be right because your mind will find a way to fulfill what you have told it to expect.

This function of the mind can also work to your benefit.  If you reinforce positive expectations by focusing on the positive results, you can bias you mind toward successful outcomes and greatly improve your sales motivation.  As with negative conditioning, the sum total of your positive experiences plus your positive recollections of those experiences creates an expectation of positive outcomes.  As such, the negatives and positives are weighed against each other with the scales tilting in the direction of your most pervasive thoughts.  Since experiences are far less frequent than their recollection, the mental game of creating the expectation of positive outcomes is far more important than what was actually experienced.

An example:  You have two sales calls, the first goes very well and you make a small sale that will probably lead to repeat business in the future.  The second goes very differently.  The prospect is difficult, not wanting to give you more than a few minutes of his time, pushes you for price, and tells you he doesn’t want to hear how your product is better because they are all the same.  You leave upset for having wasted your time with this prospect.  On the way home you go over the second meeting several times in you head, thinking about what you could have said to that jerk.  At home you tell your wife about it, then replay it again in your mind a few times as you watch TV.  You go to sleep thinking about it, and wake up with it still on your mind.  At the office you turn in your sales paperwork from the first call, and tell your manager the entire story of the second.  You then get your appointments for the day and leave the office hoping that you are not meeting with another jerk.

If you look back over the example above you will see that the good event made one impression on the mind, when it happened, while the bad experience made 10 impressions, once when it happened and 9 more times through its vivid recollection.  Your mind is now biased toward failure and against sales success 10 to 1 and this is just from one day.  It is imperative to our sales motivation and sales success that we turn the tables on this bias, and for a lesson on that we come back to Michael Jordan and his singular focus on winning.

Before every game, Michael Jordan had a ritual.  You probably have seen the images of him before a game, deep in thought with headphones on ears.  This is a common sight so far, by no means exclusive to Jordan, but there is a difference.  While most players are listening to music, getting ready to play a game, Jordan is getting ready to win.  What is playing on his headphones is not music, but rather a two hour audio recording of the play by play calls of him winning games by taking the last shot.  Jordan may have missed more game winning shots than he made, but he made them more often than anyone else, and the ones he made he made over and over in his mind so that when he walked out onto the floor his mind was so biased in favor of a positive outcome that more often that not he won.  How often do you think Jordan reinforced the ones he missed by going over and over them in his mind?  I don’t have an answer from the source, but his results tell me that it couldn’t have been often.

As sales professional, how can we develop a pre-sales call ritual that will instill in us that same expectation of success?  Following are a few suggestions to elevate your sales motivation to achieve maximum sales success:

  • Carry with you copies of the sales contracts from your best and most difficult sales, the ones where you were so good and ended up making a sale you don’t think anyone else could have made.  If you are new to selling, any contract will do because they represent sales success.  Before each sales call take a few minutes to look over the contracts and remember your successes.  You can also use them after appointments that didn’t go well to counteract the tendency to dwell on the negative and improve your overall sales motivation.
  • Before each sales call, take a moment to imagine the successful conclusion of the meeting.  Picture you and the customer shaking hands while he thanks you for your skill and professionalism that helped him get a product that will really help him.
  • Refuse to spend time trading stories of negative experiences with your fellow sales representative.  Tell only positive stories and when others want to talk of failures politely ask them to tell you about a recent sales success instead.  The power of our expectations is too important to give it over to the control of those negative people we are around every day.  Be serious about the way you protect your sales motivation.
  • For sales managers, use a technique that I often employed when managing a sales team:  Respond to nonconstructive negative talk by quaking like a duck.  Very quickly the office talk will turn positive because no one wants to provoke the duck call which will bring the entire office to a stop to see who is being negative.  Your team will pick up on it and start using it as well, helping to reinforce the message with a quack to remind a team member to stop talking failure.

Remember, if you focus on sales successes you will bias yourself toward more successes in the future.  Positive expectations must be established and maintained by constant effort to shield yourself against the slippery slope of failure which ruins so many salespeople.  Sales motivation equals sales success, and you can’t have sales motivation without attention to those things that create your expectations.

Fantastic Selling.

5 Responses to What Jordan Can Teach You About Selling
  1. K. Davis
    October 14, 2011 | 10:00 am

    Awesome, I remember the times when I felt beaten and I have pumped my self up by instilling the same tactic. It never occured to me to do this on a daily basis especially when the times are good. I will include this tactic in my daily ritual on the way to work. I expect great things to happen.

    • The Sales GIANT
      October 17, 2011 | 3:13 pm

      Thanks K.

      Remember that it is most often easier to keep ourselves motivated than finding motivation once it is lost. Always expect great things and they will find you.

  2. Jack P
    February 10, 2011 | 6:34 pm

    You put a brand new spin on a topic that’s been written about for years. Nice stuff, simply great!

  3. Dave Johnston
    January 4, 2011 | 11:05 pm

    Great Post. We can all learn a lot from those things that have made other people successful, no matter what they were successful in. Winning is as much a state of mind as it is the result of technical ability. We win as a result of our preparation to win more than anything else.

    • The Sales GIANT
      January 18, 2011 | 9:54 pm

      Thanks Dave. Preparation is the key. Success is not judged by preparation, but is not possible without it.

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