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Developing Competence Based Self-Confidence in the Sales Environment

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The Oxford English Dictionary defines self-confidence as: A feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgement. This can be a fleeting and sometimes elusive trait that we can be in awe of in others and find elusive in ourselves however, my observations with over 35 years of leading sales teams and consulting projects in sales transformation is that self confidence in sales is quite often an outward show, or at worst, delusional. Also, our own self-confidence can become fragile when compared and contrasted with others. This quote from an anonymous source sums up this paradox well: ‘ Do not compare yourself unfavourably with others, for you are comparing your inside with their outside, which is comparing your inner feelings with their outward show.’

While self-confidence can seem like a gift from the gods I am going to argue that it is contextual and can be learnt and developed in any area of life that one has a strong desire to do so.

First, about context: If you have been responsible for hiring and interviewing prospective candidates how often have you been faced with a highly confident individual sitting on the other side of the table. You give them the job based on their ‘outward show’ he or she has demonstrated in a short period of time. Three months later you find yourself asking the question ‘Could the person I hired please turn up for work’? If this has resonance, this is due to the contextual issue. In the context of having an interview and selling themselves the individual was probably very self-confident. But put him or her in role, it’s a different story. So how can we learn self-confidence? First we have to give it context and scope. A black belt in karate is going to be confident of his or her own ability on the mat, but is unlikely to have the same confidence on the first tee if they have never swung a golf club before. I am going to use the sales profession to demonstrate how self-confidence can be developed.

The development of self-confidence can be divided into the following constituent parts:

Fixed v Growth Mindset

Adopt a growth mindset to the area you want to develop confidence in. Whatever our start point we can improve. We are not the product of what we were born with – the nature v nurture debate. Carol Dweck sums this up nicely in her book aptly named Mindset “In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence and their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or that anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”

Have faith in a best practice process

What are the activities that if you invested your time skill and knowledge to would give success the best possible chance of being a natural output of the time, skill and knowledge you invested? Most activities from a golf swing through DIY to sales can be broken down into a process. A basic process model is made of the three areas: Inputs, Transformation and Outputs.

Inputs are made up of a number of joined up activities. In sales a basic process can be described as Prospecting-Needs Analysis-Demonstrating Capability–Gaining Commitment.

Question: Can you identify the best practice process that would support the area you want to develop your self-confidence in?

Self Development

A very simple concept: If we have the desire to grow our confidence in a particular field and we have identified the process (set of activities that would make success a natural output of the time we invested in them), then what are the skills and knowledge we need to develop and learn to master the process? Once these have been identified, block time into your schedule to learn and practice them.

Deliberative practice

To learn any new skill or gain expertise you need to practice. Most people would accept this as a given. But here’s what you might not know: scientific research shows that the quality of your practice is just as important as the quantity and, more interestingly, the research indicates that expert-level performance is primarily the result of expert-level practice, not due to innate talent. (Linked to Fixed v Growth Mindset). Using Golf as an example, one could practice by hitting 100 balls in 20 mins at a driving range. Or alternatively, using the principles of deliberative practice one could choose to hit only 20. The difference being focusing on one particular aspect of the golf swing say. Practising that one move three or four times before hitting a ball. Setting up a video camera and getting feedback, learning, improving and repeating. The observation in sales is that we tend to get all our practice in front of customers! The challenge would be to improve confidence one could bring a spirit of deliberative practice to new sales methods, value based propositions, overcoming typical objections or specific presentations.

Grit and Persistence

Grit and Persistence can be defined as courage, resolve and strength of character over time. If we are endeavouring to improve our performance in our chosen field then we need to lean into the fact that we will make mistakes and things will not always work out the way we planned them. Developing a spirit of grit and persistence and viewing the inevitable set backs and adversity as learning opportunities are key to developing our abilities.

Learned Optimism

Learned optimism was introduced as a concept by Martin Selgman in his 1990 book, Learned Optimism. His theory contends that Learned Optimism can be developed as a personal trait by the term explanatory styles. The three P’s of explanatory styles listed below can be a useful toolset in examining our emotions and feelings when an adversity or set back occurs. This can help us overcome the initial knee jerk narrative that our minds immediately generate at the time.

Personal: This is where we think, ‘its all on me, this has happened on my watch, what a fool, idiot I have been’. The ‘Personal’ self-question can be used to ask, were there other external circumstances that were beyond my control that I need to consider?

(This is not an abdication of responsibility as inevitability in reflection there are always things we can learn and things we could have done better and can improve on with the learning when we next face a similar scenario).

Permanent: This is where our self-talk tells us, ‘its always going to be like this’. In a sales context this can be witnessed in language such as, ‘we will never be able to sell this product in this market, this territory has been covered to death, this account is a dead duck’. However, we can use an evidence-based argument to disprove a lot of these initial reactions.

Pervasive: Where the corrosive thoughts then bleed into other areas of our lives. Again, we can question whether this really is so. Is the one lost sale going to cause us to miss our target, loss our job, become unemployable, loss our home, family and loss of any future prospects! An unchecked mind dealing with adversity can get us there pretty damn fast!

In conclusion: Competency based self–confidence, can be developed but it needs both desire and personal commitment. I have, in this blog presented a tool kit that when this desire and commitment is in place, enhanced self–confidence becomes a natural output in proportion to the effort that is applied.  Our sales training can help you adopt a growth mindset.

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