The Focused Optimist


The Focused Optimist

The more competitive, challenging, and difficult the selling environment becomes, the more critical it is for salespeople to retain the ability to keep moving forward. This role is all about what top performers do to create a positive atmosphere that makes selling an enjoyable and frequent activity for sellers and buyers alike.

Their secret seems to be a combination of never-give-up persistence and an ability to maintain a sense of optimism that keeps them moving forward and causes others to want to work with them. The star performers of this role enjoy several payoffs:

  • The energy to persevere during tough times

  • Access to the hard-to-reach top decision makers in their accounts

  • Consistently returned phone calls from customers

The behaviors that indicate a salesperson is able to maintain an optimistic outlook include the following.

They are motivated to succeed.

The most successful salespeople seem to love what they’re doing, and it shows. Said one, “Selling gives you pleasure. I couldn’t describe it. It not only fills your pocket, but also your spirit and your heart.” What’s more, this attitude is infectious, as a salesman for security equipment noted about one of his colleagues, “This person exuded confidence. Customers sensed the joy he felt in what he was doing and the confidence that he had.”

Enthusiasm can sometimes make up for lack of experience. “A brand-new consultant in my unit, with very little training, sold over $400 on her very first appointment,” said a cosmetics saleswoman. “She was so excited about the product that everyone who attended (the session) believed her enough to make a purchase!”

Another novice, selling security equipment, did her homework but also used her enthusiasm and lack of experience to land the biggest sale in her group. As a colleague noted, “She was so enthusiastic and eager, and formed a good relationship with the customer because they were eager to help her out. She made 150 percent of her quota.”

About a copy machine salesman who made a sale at the last possible moment, a colleague said, “He had a belief in his own product that rubbed off on the customer. He was determined not to let this sale go—even though he knew the customer had already made her decision.”

A few salespeople in our research fueled their optimism with the doubts expressed by other people. As a salesperson for an alarm systems company put it, “People were against me; they told me it couldn’t be done, I could never make the sale. I just wanted to prove to them that they were talking nonsense. And I did.”

They meet their commitments.

One way of demonstrating a positive attitude is by meeting—and exceeding—your commitments. “I have always been able to deliver what I promise,” said an enthusiastic salesman, “and (the account) appreciates it. Because of this, I was able to sign them to a $300,000 contract.”

“I don’t mind rolling up my sleeves and going to work,” said a salesman of heavy manufacturing machinery. “If the customer is really busy, I might jump on a forklift and help out.”

They get and keep the customer’s attention.

Optimism helps, but without persistence it serves no purpose. Persistence, in fact, was one of the most frequently mentioned qualities of top performers.

According to the research, top performers are not afraid to be creative to get their foot in the door, as in this example: “The salesperson had a great idea of sending a coconut with a note painted on the outside. The customer laughed and called to find out who had sent such a crazy thing.”

A representative for a greeting card company in France described five years of effort just to land a meeting. “I kept calling the store owner,” he said, “and sending him my cards, and eventually I succeeded in getting the meeting.”

There’s a fine line, however, between being persistent and being a pest. One salesperson said, “I always feel that you should be in a client’s face, so that when they need you, they remember you.” It would be interesting to know how his clients view this behavior.

The following examples illustrate the negative behaviors that can undercut this role:

  • Persistence combined with a lack of preparedness is a recipe for failure, as in this incident: “If the salesperson had spent more time learning about our company and less time badgering people for a meeting, he would have done better.” (Buyer of office products)

  • “We maybe had a chance for the sale. However, I didn’t feel like giving up my weekend for a maybe.” (Salesperson)

  • “He got ‘busy’ and buzzed off a client too many times.” (Store manager)

  • “I got too proud of my excellent results in the first half, so I didn’t work hard the second half. I even went home for naps during business hours. Because I wasn’t trying to get new customers, I had to rely on my existing customers for referrals. My sales results plunged.” (Car salesperson, Tokyo)

  • “Instead of letting them know we could get it within the hour, the salesperson just told them we didn’t have it.” (Sales manager)

  • “She spends too much time complaining about her problems. People don’t like to be around that for too long. It’s heavy.” (Sales manager)