This article is by Peter Kazanjy, co-founder of Atrium and TalentBin (acquired by Monster Worldwide in 2014). It's excerpted from the first time sales mindset changes chapter in his book, Founding Sales, which tackles everything founders and first-time sales staff need to know about building and scaling winning sales teams. Here, he takes on one of the most challenging yet overlooked steps in building a strong sales arsenal: adopting the right mindset.
I always like to kid new members of my team that working in sales changes the neural pathways in your brain — but that’s not actually a joke. A lot of the behaviors required for sales success are a massive departure from the ones you’ve probably valued in your career to date (and, you know, those generally accepted by society). So they may feel uncomfortable to first-time sales staff, but truly, I’ve seen them work time and time again.
My goal is to lay out a number of mindsets you’ll encounter in sales. The more you can recognize, anticipate and welcome these new ways of thinking, the more successful you’ll be. You shouldn’t expect to adopt all of these behaviors yourself immediately — that would be unreasonable. It’s all about proactively driving toward them over time.
With that said, here are some of the mindset changes that will help you transition from founder or domain expert into a formidable sales professional.
We’re all taught to conserve resources. Don’t waste things. Stock up and store extra.
Stop that now. You have to reject a mindset of scarcity — and therefore hoarding — and embrace a mindset of plenty. Your thinking should be, “Even if this sale doesn’t work out, there’s a line of thousands behind this person that I need to get to.” If a deal is stalling; if a customer doesn’t have the budget right now; if an account doesn’t seem like the perfect fit — great. Close it out and move on to the next.
Time is your scarcest resource when it comes to sales. To quote Brad Snider, one of TalentBin’s key early sales staff, you have to make sure you’re spending “good time with good opportunities.” By extension, that means not spending time on opportunities that are unlikely to pan out. There’s an art and a science to judging whether an account is “worth it.” But in many cases, good old instinct points in the right direction.
You have to be ruthless about cutting off unproductive conversations with marginal opportunities.
If you don’t do this, poor opportunities will gunk up your pipeline and obscure the golden prospects that deserve your investment. The good is easily hidden by the bad, reducing your ability to scale your efforts and eroding your efficiency. Even if you end up closing a marginal opp, a customer who is a bad target will probably be a bad customer — taxing your customer success resources, damaging ROI, and eventually churning anyway.
Spend good time with good opportunities. Let go of the others, knowing that you can bag them in the next round when they become more viable customers. Most of all, remind yourself continually that there’s plenty of opportunity out there.
Everyone’s a fan of working “smarter not harder” these days. But you still have to grind. Sales, like recruiting, is all about activity and leverage. Activity in equals value out. You can take steps to make sure your activity is high quality; you can use technology to boost your impact. But to quote Joseph Stalin (I know, interesting choice), “quantity has a quality all its own.” In sales, internalizing this fact is paramount.
More time on the phone. More demos. More proposals sent. More emails out. More dials. More keystrokes. All of this is activity, and upping this quotient matters.
Focusing on quantity might seem inversely correlated to quality of work. You want time to think deeply about a meeting, or to plan out a call, or to thoroughly read every nuance of an email. You want to perfect every detail of your pitch. I get it. But stop doing it.
Just as you need to shift from a mindset of scarcity to one of plenty, the reality is that maximizing activity is the best way to close deals. Jump first and prepare mid-air. Template all your communication. Drive activity and output will follow.
I’m not saying that your work should be sloppy. Just that productivity should be priority one. Ask yourself, “How can I do more of X (an input in the deal process) in a given time period?” If you can find ways to automate that work to keep quality high, fantastic. This is an exercise in recognizing the point of diminishing returns. Really nailing an email probably won’t give you much more leverage than dashing off a response immediately after a meeting for instance.
Always ask yourself, ‘Why am I not on the phone?’ or ‘Why am I not sending an email right now?’
This is why sales managers hate it when the floor is quiet. A palpable lack of activity is always a bad sign. What does this look like in practice?
Don’t read your email communication history with a prospect before calling them. Just call.
One proofread is all that email needs. Send it and move on.
Learn what succeeds in your demos and bake it in on the fly during your next one.
Automate and templatize anything you find yourself doing more than twice.
Set the agenda of a meeting at the start, not in a separate email beforehand.
Don’t overthink. Just act.
Society runs on polite obfuscation; minor misdirection; courtesy; formality. Just think of all the small talk required at the start of most of your interactions. This doesn’t work in sales.
Winning in sales is about getting down to brass tacks: Do you have the problem my company is trying to solve? Do you want to solve it? Are you prepared to spend money to solve it?
To efficiently attack an account, a sales professional needs to take full license to be direct and ask those types of questions. Even better, directly state to your prospect with full confidence that your solution and their problem are an excellent fit, and they should buy X amount of your product to help their business.
Asking for the sale is not optional. You need it to be second nature.
As Alec Baldwin’s character famously explained in Glengarry Glen Ross, “A guy don’t walk on the lot lest he wants to buy.” People go to singles bars with a specific goal in mind. No prospect would be on the phone with you or taking your demo if they didn’t have some intent to buy.
Don’t think of it as being impolite. Everyone in the interaction knows the dynamics. Consider it respectful of their time and yours to get to the heart of the matter.
For the first-time sales pro, the scale of person-to-person interaction is a massive adjustment. Think about how many people you typically speak to in a week. If you’re like most professionals, it’s likely a constellation of one or two dozen people you have frequent, ongoing interactions with over time. These relationships have grown over time. You have substantial history.
With sales, you’re shooting for the opposite. If you’re doing it right, you’re having dozens of net-new interactions a week and maintaining a pipeline of anywhere from a few dozen to a hundred ongoing, concurrent conversations.
This is a huge change of pace, and it can be extremely stressful to quickly build and maintain rapport with new contacts while juggling deal info. The onus is on the sales pro to remember relevant details about many many people, their organizations, their pain points and even their personal interests at once. This is not possible for the normal human brain. It’s exhausting. This is why keeping an iron-clad CRM is so important. You can use that to store and call up anything from where someone is in your sales process to which sports team they support.
More than that though, it requires the willingness to have and partake in shallow relationships. It’s not that they’re fake or not valuable or meaningful. They just demand a different way of speaking to people than you’re probably used to. To make the most of these connections and manage them well, requires a massive shift in your social mindset.
Approach every conversation with the conviction that the prospect will inevitably be a customer. If you’ve qualified an account, then your mindset should look something like this: “This is going to happen. It makes sense for you. This solution is the future and will make you more successful. So we can do it now or later, but it’s going to happen — either with me or my competitor.”
This mindset is helpful for a few reasons:
It frames the conversation in terms of “when” a deal will take place, not “if” it will. Adopting this attitude makes you more of a helpful consultant for your prospect, and more focused on their business needs and problems.
It boosts confidence. Sales pros have to be fearless experts. It’s hard to embody those qualities when you feel like you’re asking for or dependent on something.
It lays the foundation of an ongoing relationship with the prospect. Even if you can’t close them this time, they’ll be prepped for the next pass.
It reinforces your record-keeping process since you’ll be more likely to document and take notes on conversations you believe will convert. Your future self will thank you.
It may feel odd to be presumptuous on purpose. And by no means am I suggesting you should be arrogant or defensive if someone doesn’t go for the sale. But approaching every interaction with certainty will drive much more success than you’ll have otherwise.
If you work outside of sales you’re probably used to achieving most of your goals in your work. You write down a list of the things you want to get done and you end up checking most of them off. You probably wouldn’t be in your job if this wasn’t the case.
The sales experience is very different. You’re going to get shot down the bulk of the time. People won’t convert for many reasons: They don’t have the money, the timing isn’t right, they’re happy with their current tools, they’re choosing to go with a competitor. Prospects disappear. It happens.
If you’re out there trying to sell a new, innovative solution, a win rate of 20 to 30% is solid. That means you’re losing 70 to 80% of the time, and that’s a lot.
To contend with losing this much, you need to hold two opposing ideas in your head at once. First, you need to project full confidence that you’re going to win the deal. But you can’t be fazed when you don’t. Being unfazed by rejection — not internalizing it as a negative reflection of you or your product — is absolutely vital to maintaining the tempo and energy you need to close other customers.
Of course you should learn from your losses. Record the reason for the loss every single time to help with product iteration. Reference what to focus on the next time you engage with a customer. Be intellectually honest about the loss. Did you get beaten by your competitor because you didn’t follow up appropriately? Or did the product have a feature deficit? Even if it’s the former, make sure that answer gets shared around so they don’t have to learn the same hard lesson.
Once you’ve done all that, put the loss aside and move on. Don’t agonize over what this means about your performance. Don’t get nervous about making the same mistake. Don’t get held up investigating what happened again and again. You should still expect to win the next one.
To keep activity high with many prospects at once, you’ll need to keep really solid records. Along with good communication skills, great note taking is one of the most important talents you can have as a sales pro. You can’t rely on your own memory to figure out what to work on next or what you last said to someone. That simply won’t work.
As you revisit and resurrect previously closed opportunities, you’ll want to be able to look back on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. And you’ll need to anticipate what information you want to have when you do. What knowledge or data do you think you’ll need at your fingertips to close a prospect in the future? Write it down now in the present. Make the ephemeral permanent.
While your CRM will be the primary repository for this info, you’ll need a host of other tactics too. For instance, at TalentBin, all of our sales pros had a lab notebook to jot down thoughts during calls — including the size of the opportunity, qualification details, etc. to be transferred to the CRM later. You don’t need to transcribe what a prospect says verbatim, but you do need a mindset of persistently pursuing and checking off key pieces of information you know will come in handy down the line.
Once you and your team have adopted this mindset, you can start looking for tools and hacks (email capture, call recording, templates) to collect and organize this information automatically. First, you need to make it a value.
Modern sales is not about trying to sell snake oil to a “mark.” Rather, sales professionals are the grease of the market. Good sales pros seek out market inefficiencies in the form of qualified prospects who have pain points that their solution resolves. They seek to fix things that hold industries back from efficiency.
This is why you must have expertise in the vertical you’re selling into. You need to be a student of the game you’re playing, and ideally even more knowledgeable than your prospects. This means absorbing as much information as possible about the field, the business processes within it, the common organizational players, and the solutions that already exist.
This expertise will make you fearless. The confidence you get from it will boost your activity, save time that might be spent over-prepping, and empower you to be more direct. Demonstrating authority will help you quickly establish rapport with prospects and foster that important certainty that the deal will close.
It takes time to build this level of expertise. You can start feeling fearless even earlier. It’s all about knowing you have “enough” expertise to engage in a conversation. I’ve found that sales pros who work on fostering fearlessness actually find it easier to strike up conversations with strangers in their real lives because they know they can handle anything that comes next.
You’ll start seeing this mindset shift show up organically, but you can also drive yourself toward it. Start conversations with grocery store clerks, strangers at parties, people in line in front of you with no introductory context. You’ll actually be exercising your fearlessness muscles.
The level of transparency in a well-instrumented sales organization is a massive change for most people. Win and loss notes, closing ratios, leaderboards — everything is right there showing how well you’re doing you’re job for everyone to see.
The best sales teams record every single email, presentation and call. You need to be fine with your teammates jumping into these records and asking why a call when this way or that way. Creating this transparent data is critical for the success of the whole organization. It’s what will lead to a better product, more market traction, higher revenue.
On the flipside, transparency makes low activity levels clear and inescapable. If a sales rep spaced out for a day for some reason, everyone will know. If the CRM is doing its job, it will be obvious down to the hours during which the rep was lagging. It will also be easy to see which accounts aren’t getting the attention they need, which ones are in danger due to slacking. When activity is tracked to this granularity, you’ll be able to see the strategy that led to your biggest wins. For every lost opportunity, you’ll be able to see what went wrong. That’s why transparency is so necessary.
For most professionals, this can sound like a Big Brother nightmare. The right mindset recognizes how beneficial it is. Transparency creates an environment of accountability and shared learning that drives positive, self-reinforcing feedback. There’s no excuse not to work on high-priority items because everyone will know what they are. Flubs and failures are socialized so other staff won’t crash on the same rocks. It’s not all scary.
Transparency helps people realize that failure is part of the game and not to be feared.
Taking the fangs out of failure foments a culture biased toward action rather than loss aversion. Fear of failure is one of the biggest roadblocks to activity. Removing that fear helps your sales force switch into a whole new gear.
Document all of your team’s activity and everyone can put in their maximum effort without worrying what information is available to which people — because the answer will be everything to everyone.
When people think about how to succeed at sales, they jump to a lot of “right brain” skills — storytelling, persuasion, relationship building, etc. Good sales people need to socialize, wine and dine, shoot from the hip and make it up as they go. But that ignores all the metrics, math and reporting that really makes up the bedrock of a winning strategy.
All of that recording we just talked about can’t exist in a vacuum. It needs to be monitored and analyzed. Want to know how many emails to how many prospects are needed to get a demo set up? You need relevant Salesforce reports for that. Want to know how many opportunities it takes to close a deal and what each of those opportunities is worth? You need to make sure your wins are thoroughly reported. Can you afford to hire a sales development rep to keep your meeting pipeline full? You need to know your average contract value. Which of your sales reps is best at landing conversions? You’ll need to look at revenue per win per rep.
Not only do you need to make sure all this information is recorded in real time all the time, you have to know Salesforce reporting and Excel pivot tables well enough to make that data actionable for your company. That’s the only way to scale a high-velocity sales team.
These are the mindset changes that I’ve seen be the most crucial as a founder gets into sales. The best thing about them? They’re complementary and multiplicative of each other. As you achieve one mindset, that success will beget the next change.
For instance, if you start rigorously recording everything, you’re more likely to see how many opportunities are out there and let go of scarcity. You’ll free yourself to move on from imperfect opportunities, knowing you can come back to them again because you took good notes for future engagement. All of this will raise your activity levels and efficiency.
If you expect to win, have accrued expertise, and don’t let yourself get fazed by rejection, it will be much easier to view deals as inevitable. You’ll enter into conversations as a fearless authority, allowing you to be more consultative and close more customers.
Finally, if you’re able to maintain many shallow relationships, you’ll be prepared to be more direct, learn more about your customers and ask for the sale sooner.
The permutations go on and on.
While some of these shifts are easier than others, the real lesson is that the universe of sales has its own “physics” so to speak. You’re subject to a whole new set of rules. Now that you know what they are, you can proactively go after them and shorten your learning curve.