How to cope with all this negativity

How to cope with all this negativity

With all this overwhelming negativity around us, we have to be a bit more deliberate in finding ways to stay upbeat. Here are a few tips to help you with just that.

1. Don’t feel anxious for being anxious

Our brains are wired to prioritise negative messaging over positive messaging. Cavemen who dismissed that rustle in the grass as ‘probably just the wind’ didn’t stick around long enough to procreate. Our ancestors were those who paid attention to potential dangers, not those who ignored them. It’s in our DNA to be drawn to doom and gloom, and we shouldn’t feel bad for that.

2. Choose your sources selectively

Because of this wiring of the brain, we are more likely to click on videos of empty supermarket shelves or headlines with alarming predictions. Be conscious around which sources you check and how often, and question how staying up to date with all this negativity helps you make the right decisions. If it doesn’t, tune out. Instead, limit your intake by watching quality news just once a day.

Similarly, your friend who keeps warning you of armageddon is probably not a helpful resource; the panic he’s stirring up doesn’t help anyone. Even if he points you to supposedly credible research that predicts how many people will get infected, again, how will that help you? Be selective around who you listen to; national health organisations are a safe bet.

3. Look for upside

Your optimism is just lurking in the shadows waiting to be called upon. Try it for yourself by asking the following question: ‘What good could possibly come out of this bad situation?’. Here are a few answers from my direct network:

  • Now that events are cancelled, we have time to fine-tune our account plans, re-do that sales training, and finally agree on changing the qualification process;
  • This is a great opportunity to hone our phone pitches and improve our online webinars;
  • Now that I travel less, I am going to spend more time with the kids and eat well;
  • Now that the gym is closed, I can go running outside and get some fresh air;
  • Now that we all travel less, the climate could be better off.

4. Keep your chat group virus free

Many of our social media and WhatsApp chat groups provide a level of lighthearted entertainment and joy that (digitally) ties communities together. People who – unintentionally – hijack your chat group by constantly sharing their opinions about how bad it’s going to be, can undermine that joy and, hence, the sense of community. If you notice people tuning out, isolate your group from the virus and suggest to create another chat group dedicated to coronavirus views. Especially now, your digital communities should not serve as an amplification of all that doom and gloom, but as a counterweight. Protect it.

5. Encourage rational thinking

We’re all on edge and fear is everywhere. That doesn’t mean we should not ask critical questions, or stop looking for a more positive narrative. That’s unlikely to come from the media so it’s up to us to encourage more rationality. When you make an important decision, consult people with a more balanced view rather than one devoid of optimism.

6. Reach out (but don’t touch)

‘Social distancing’ is the right thing to do right now, but it can also lead to social isolation. Plan to regularly connect with your colleagues and friends – even if it’s just to shoot the breeze or share a joke. Don’t limit yourself to chat or text messages – do regular video calls to really get a sense of how someone is holding up. Agree that the aim of such calls is to come out with a more positive mindset, not to share the latest alarming stats. Make sure to extend such check-ins to the wider community, particularly elderly neighbours and people who have lost their jobs.

7. Count your blessings

Just before you go to bed, the late night news or a quick glance at social media will alert these ‘rustle in the grass’ receptors in your brain. Every night before it shuts down, pull your brain back into positivity, by expressing (out loud) three good things that you experienced that day. For instance:

  • I progressed a deal and locked in a new meeting;
  • The sun felt nice and warm during my walk around the block over lunch;
  • Christine told a really funny joke during our conference call.

Whatever it is, end the day with some gratefulness. There’s a lot of good in our beautiful world and this challenge is sure to strengthen our communities and bring out the best in us.


Like to get more tips on how to get to target with a calm mindset and a smile on your face? In my new book, In the face of challenge: Perseverance in sales, I tell the story of my life-threatening kitesurfing accident that left me in a coma, and explore what my two-year recovery taught me about perseverance. I share over a hundred practical tips for AEs, CSMs, SCs, SDRs and their managers on how to deal with challenges in sales, and how to avoid them in the first place. For more details and a list of retailers who carry the paperback and ebook, see here.

The problem with sales training

The problem with sales training

Ahh, Q1. The quarter with the most valid excuses and distractions for sales people, including the invigorating Sales Kick Off (SKO). Most of us flew to HQ and were treated to an energetic week packed with reviews of last year, exciting announcements about this year, award ceremonies, and … sales training.

While the excitement of SKO tends to last for a while, the impact of sales training often doesn’t. By the time the hangovers and jet lags have worn off and we get back to work, most of us pick up our old habits like nothing happened. Notwithstanding our great intentions, only a couple nuggets of gold from the multi-day sales training actually end up “sticking”. This is not just an SKO phenomenon; of all the great frameworks, tips and skills that our sales trainings cover, not much ends up properly getting embedded in the field. Why is that? Why is it that so much of this great investment to help increase our win rate, goes to waste?

The answer is nearly 150 years old and was first revealed by Hermann Ebbinghaus who studied the brain’s ability to retain information. Numerous follow-up studies have proven his thesis to still be valid. It’s a pretty simple one. Most of the information that we absorb soon leaves our brain again. Yes, we forget. Quickly. With sobering clarity, Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve illustrates just how quickly. Within one hour, people will have forgotten, on average, 50 percent of the information which they were presented with. Within 24 hours, that memory leak increases to 70 percent. Within a week, people generally have forgotten nearly 80 percent of what was taught. This has nothing to do with intelligence. It’s more of a protection mechanism of the brain. Survival mechanisms have made it selective around spending energy to store information. It’s not the sponge to which we figuratively refer. The brain has built-in protections to cope in overwhelming situations. Like SKO.

e-Learning modules that allow you to process easily digestible snippets of content are only part of the solution. Your brain is still wired to forget most of what it has been presented with.

So what to do?

Focus and repetition is key. As a team, agree on two key elements from the training that you will be holding each other accountable for this quarter. To support the brain in creating the new habits, use templates. For instance, if discovery is your priority this quarter, focus on proper use of the discovery template that (hopefully) came with your training. As a manager (or SC!), if you see poorly filled in templates, go through the discovery questions from the training and coach the rep towards a better completion. If your priority is to elevate the conversation away from features and functions towards business issues, focus on the appropriate template to uncover these. Make a habit of attaching the completed templates to opportunities in your CRM and hold each other accountable. Once you feel comfortable the new habit or skill has properly been embedded (say, 90% of opportunities have a properly completed template), you move on to another set of priorities.

Don’t try to do too much at the same time. If you focus on five priorities, chances are you’ll do a half-assed job on all of them. Just focus on two and do them properly before you move on to the next couple. Oh and just to prove the forgetting curve applies to your brain, too: what % of information has generally been forgotten after 5 minutes?


Like to get more tips on how to get to target with a calm mindset and a smile on your face? In my new book, In the face of challenge: Perseverance in sales, I tell the story of my life-threatening kitesurfing accident that left me in a coma, and explore what my two-year recovery taught me about perseverance. I share over a hundred practical tips for AEs, CSMs, SCs, SDRs and their managers on how to deal with challenges in sales, and how to avoid them in the first place. For more details and a list of retailers who carry the paperback and ebook, see here.

The biggest mistake made at Sales Kick Off

The biggest mistake made at Sales Kick Off

It might not be up there with throwing up on your CEO after partying too hard at SKO, but it’s a big mistake nonetheless. Sales teams from all over the world fly all the way to the US for the annual Sales Kick Off, only to clique together with colleagues from their home country.

They all sit close together in the big presentation hall and stay close to each other during the break-out sessions. At the end of the day, they gather at the hotel lobby bar and then go out – with their local colleagues. They miss out on one of the most valuable (and lasting) take-aways from SKO: a strengthened social support network.

Social support networks are people you gather around you to obtain and provide support when facing challenges. They stimulate perseverance by providing practical support that develops skills and insights, to emotional support that strengthens mindset and resolve. Social support networks are the cement for a strong team foundation; without it, we’re weak.

While sales people like to clique together, underneath that pleasantness often sits a level of competitiveness that works against the proper formation of such a network. Some selfishly (or a least unconsciously) think that spending time on helping someone who’s struggling is a distraction with no payback for them. Some are keen to keep the best accounts, and quietly see their peer knocking it out of the park as a threat. Most are just too busy.

In sales, the typical attrition rate (the percentage of the workforce leaving their job in a given year) is around 34%. It’s three times higher than the average attrition rate across companies (11%). A strong social support network isn’t the only way to fix this, but the topic doesn’t always get the attention it requires either. If you’re in sales, it’s often up to you to create and maintain your social support network.

So what to do?

Consciously create and maintain a network of people who you can help, and who can help you. At the start of each quarter, sit down and think about who you would like to have in your social support team. You don’t have to ask them formally; a modus operandi based on an informal give-and-take works just fine. Catch up with them regularly, and make sure to give, and not just take.

International Sales Buddies can be a hugely valuable element of such network. An International Sales Buddy is someone in your company who has the same role as you but in a different country. They lack the competitive tension your peers in the local office might exhibit and will be more willing to help you succeed. Before Sales Kick Off, do your homework and reach out to a shortlist of potential candidates from across the globe. During SKO, spend time to network with them and find one (or two) with whom you click. 

Chances are your buddy is going through the exact same challenges as you, so agree to check in every other week to compare notes. These could be practical tips around how to better pitch that new solution, finding a case study that really resonates with CFOs, or a way to accelerate the discount approval process. Maybe you want to test your new pitch in a role play, or bounce some ideas around on how to best segment your accounts. Be careful to not make it a ‘whinging session’. It’s easy to vent your frustration with someone who doesn’t sit right next to you, but that could make it hard to build a healthy relationship over the phone.

Whatever you do, fly back from SKO with a strengthened social support network. And don’t drink too much.


Like to get more tips on how to get to target with a calm mindset and a smile on your face? In my new book, In the face of challenge: Perseverance in sales, I tell the story of my life-threatening kitesurfing accident that left me in a coma, and explore what my two-year recovery taught me about perseverance. I share over a hundred practical tips for AEs, CSMs, SCs, SDRs and their managers on how to deal with challenges in sales, and how to avoid them in the first place. For more details and a list of retailers who carry the paperback and ebook, see here.

You’re looking in the wrong spot for your new sales rep

You’re looking in the wrong spot for your new sales rep

Sales has changed. Thanks to the transparency and wealth of information the internet provides, prospects are more knowledgeable than ever. They research trends, compare vendors, learn what questions to ask, hear what to be heedful of, back-channel references, and uncover so much more before they accept our reach-out for that first meeting. According to CEB, the typical B2B buyer is already 57% through the purchase process before reaching out to sales.

This makes B2B sales, particularly complex enterprise sales, very challenging. For us to build rapport, influence strategies, requirements, budget and evaluation criteria, getting in early is crucial. Most of us have smartened up and adjusted our selling strategies to this fundamental shift. But I often see sales professionals in this cat-and-mouse game where they come up with smart ways to get in front of prospects, while prospects do everything to avoid just that. A new perspective is required to break this silly game that the customer always wins.

What we’ve been trying to do is to transform sales reps into domain experts. Which at face value makes sense – the last thing a prospect wants, is to get a meeting with a sales rep who starts the meeting with “So, tell me about your problems…”.

Prospects have no time for sales reps who only ask questions and need to call in the troops to go deep and share relevant insights. If prospects haven’t learnt anything from you in your first meeting, they’re not going to respond to you chasing them for that second one. Today, domain expertise is the currency in sales.

To meet that expectation, we’ve tightened the collaboration between sales and marketing. Great marketing content has allowed sales to be seen as thought leaders who keep prospects interested with a constant stream of insights. But having great white papers, webinars, case studies, and industry events will not turn the sales rep (or even the organisation for that matter) into thought leaders. The sales rep needs to speak the prospects language, understand the technology ecosystem, be able to articulate examples, refer to what other clients have done, and always be able to add value. Merely referring to the marketing content, however great it is, doesn’t turn the rep into a domain expert. It just makes the prospect leverage that content while still trying to keep the rep out of the conversation.

So we have gone further – we’ve trained the reps to be more consultative. We changed our sales processes to create value for prospects in the early stages of the buying cycle. Rather than waiting for the prospect to define their needs and counter with a solution, methodologies like the Challenger Sale and Insight Selling have positioned reps to get in early to teach and tailor. But it takes time to develop the credibility and confidence of a rep to bust open doors based on his or her domain knowledge. Lots of time – depending on your industry, buyer, or solution, this could easily be a two-year journey, as reps in Analytics, Security, Marketing Automation, CX and AI (to name a few) will attest.

So, what to do?
I believe there is merit in exploring this challenge the other way around. Rather than transforming sales reps into domain experts, we should transform domain experts into sales reps. Rather than taking commercial acumen as the foundation to build domain expertise onto, we need that domain expertise to be the starting point. We should look into our organisation and leverage the Solution Consultants (SCs), the Client Success Managers (CSMs), even the Professional Services (PS) or Delivery professionals and see how we can expand their skillset into sales. They have a credibility that easily gets them that first meeting, and the knowledge and experience that reps yearn for to be seen as a trusted advisor.

The problem of course is that SCs, CSMs, and PS professionals are typically not skilled up to be reps. And they sometimes think they can’t deal with the pressure, anxiety and rejection that comes with the sales job. While I always assumed that the skill and mindset gap would be too much of an uphill battle, several people have proved me wrong in the last few years. I have seen SC-turned-rep’s get their first meeting way quicker than sales reps. I’ve seen CSM-turned-rep’s develop deep relationships that traditional reps can only dream of. I have seen them close deals faster than traditional reps. Most of all, I have seen them get more satisfaction from their job, precisely because their domain expertise is valued so much, and is the springboard to develop a whole set of new skills.

Naturally, to successfully turn SC, CSMs, and PS professionals into sales reps, they need to learn sales skills like account planning, presenting, negotiating, etc. They need to develop commercial acumen, they need to learn to independently set a course and make tough decisions on qualification, win strategy, pricing etc. They need to learn to say no. Most of all, they need to learn how to deal with rejection and develop their resilience. I’ve been in sales myself long enough to know that that’s not a small feat, and I know that not everyone will be cut out for sales. But depending on your industry and product, exploring this option could be easier to accomplish than the other way around.

Even if you’re not willing to try to move people from these roles into sales, I suggest you leverage them more in your sales process. Get them to work closer with the reps, particularly in the early stages of the sales process. Because that domain expertise is what prospects want. That’s the currency. People with domain expertise don’t need to chase prospects for that second meeting. The prospect will be chasing them.