From Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work

Staying Motivated

A new idea is first condemned as ridiculous, and then dismissed as trivial, until finally it becomes what everybody knows.

William James

“That would never work in our business!” Jeff exclaimed. “We sell medical equipment to doctors and it is a tough market. Our salespeople don’t have but 10 or 15 minutes on a call, and they have to be hard and move fast.”

Jeff, a participant in one of my sales management seminars, was responding to my suggestion that managers should explore ways to help their salespeople stay motivated. I had mentioned some activities in connection with pre-call preparation, such as reading a chapter from a motivational book, listening to a motivation tape in the car, or using affirmations. “I’m telling you, that touchy-feely stuff won’t work in our business,” Jeff repeated.

But 10 days later I received a telephone call from Jeff, inviting me to speak at his company’s annual sales meeting. Again, he cautioned me about how tough his market was and how hardened and caustic his salespeople were.

My presentation went well, and I found Jeff’s sales force similar in most respects to the typical sales force I work with. Jeff was right in one regard—they were a little uptight and defensive.

As I began to discuss ideas they could use to get more focused and motivated, Jeff rolled his eyes. I could read his thoughts: “Oh, no. This will never work!” The group stirred uneasily as I challenged them to think about the possibilities of positive programming.

I asked if any of them had any “little tricks” they used to prepare themselves for their calls. From the back of the room, Bruce raised his hand. “I do.” The room fell absolutely dead silent. Bruce was the newest salesperson on the team—he had been there only a few months—and was killing everyone else. He was the company’s top salesperson.

“I get very nervous before I make a call,” Bruce said. “I don’t want to screw up. So there is this little routine I go through before every call.”

“Would you tell us about it?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said. “I sit in my car for a few minutes and do this breathing exercise. Would it be all right if I showed you?”

Bruce pulled his chair out so everyone could see, sat down, and described how he breathed in good, blue air right up through the soles of his feet, up through his legs and into his lungs. Then he exhaled red air, taking all the tension and nervousness out of his body. He replaced all the tension with positive affirmations until all the air going out was blue, too. He breathed in and exhaled with a very audible, “Ummmm . . .” He repeated this process several times, then said, “Well, that’s what I do.”

No one in the room said anything. I glanced at Jeff, who looked as though he was about to pass out. “Don’t you dare say anything about what I said,” his body language told me. I would have loved to say, “Yanh, yanh, yanh. See. I told you so!” In fact, I never mentioned it to him. I think he got the message.

I thanked Bruce and asked if any of the others had something they did to prepare for their calls. David, the company’s second leading salesperson and the one who had the Manhattan territory in New York—the “toughest territory in the company”—stood up. He described how he played a particular Mozart piece on his car CD player to help him relax, focus and “build confidence and determination inside myself.” Then two other participants shared what they did to prepare for a sales call.

About a year later, I received a great letter from the president of Jeff’s company, describing their sales increases since the meeting and thanking me for my contribution. He referred to some of the sales techniques we presented. But I am convinced the most important lessons from that meeting, and the ones that made the most difference, came from the participants themselves.

Mike Stewart

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