Sales is Like Riding a Bicycle

Most salespeople are wired for praise because of their tendency to extroversion. As I’m sure you know, the terms extroversion and introversion don’t refer to being shy or outgoing. Rather, these terms refer to how a person gets their energy, which in turn, drives shy or outgoing behavior. I’m an extrovert. I get my energy from being in front of groups, the larger the better, and being with people, the more the merrier. My wife is an introvert, and while she, like me, spends the majority of her time professionally teaching and coaching others, it doesn’t give her energy as it does me. I can’t get enough of the limelight. The limelight exhausts her. So after a full day of teaching, she wants to sit quietly on the couch and vegetate. I want to go to a party. We get our energy from two completely different sources, one from inside ourselves and the other from outside ourselves, and we act differently as a result. Again, most salespeople—not all but most—get their energy from outside of themselves and need consistent positive praise, or external energy, to do their best work. This is the sales persona. An engineer does not have the same persona. A constant flow of positive praise is likely to exhaust most engineers who would prefer to be left alone in silence. Another dynamic of the sales persona is this: While we may appear strong and confident on the outside, many of us struggle with inner doubts and insecurities on the inside. Very often, our bright public face hides darker, more difficult emotions, which again, need consistent doses of positive praise to counteract. The sales profession is also wired for praise, not just the sales persona. Salespeople call on prospects who want to avoid them and customers who want to replace them (or at least get a better deal from them). They do their work against aggressive competitors who want to beat them and earn their compensation, either whole or in part, from the commission they receive from dealing with these prospects, customers, and competitors on a daily basis. Sales is like riding a bicycle … uphill … with the wind in your face … all day, every day. It’s hard work. Positive praise is like having a sales leader riding beside you and cheering you on. It’s what gives you inspiration to get up the hill and win the race. The first fundamental for a winning sales culture is the nature of the relationships in it. Here, again, is where who comes before why or what, the who being how sales leaders and sales representatives view and treat one another. Note those words, in that order: view and treat. Many times we try to get people to treat others with respect without addressing how they think about that person or group of people. This is fatally flawed. Behavior flows from belief, how one acts is shaped by how one thinks. Respect begins between the ears, then finds its external expression. How do you think about your salespeople? Leaders who create a winning sales culture don’t view their sales staff as interchangeable parts but as unique human beings worthy of dignity and respect. They see themselves as a first among equals, not higher or lower than the people they lead. They don’t assume the worst when things go wrong and believe the best in others. Yes, I know, not everyone will live up to these high expectations. But most will, and that’s worth the risk for me in thinking this way about them. For those who don’t live up, I can look myself in the mirror and know that I believed the best in them until they gave me no other alternative. That’s how leaders who build a winning sales culture think. Here’s how they act. They speak with respect to the people who report to them, never demeaning them outside of their presence or behind their back. They give others the credit they deserve, fully and completely, and accept blame themselves. And they insist others do as well. Leaders building a winning sales culture correct with respect. When a salesperson makes a mistake, which most every salesperson finds a way to do, that conversation is conducted in private, not in public, refusing to humiliate this person in front of his or her peers. Conversely, when a sales leader makes a mistake, which most every sales leader finds a way to do, apologies are done in public, displaying the authenticity and vulnerability that engenders respect. Respect is like offering someone a handshake. Only the rare individual will refuse to shake your hand. When you offer respect in the manner described above, your salespeople will respond to the gesture and give you respect in the return. Then they’ll reach out to others on your team and shake their hands as well. That’s how a winning sales culture is built, one handshake at a time.