Even if you’ve only been in B2B sales for a short while, you already know this: Sales is exciting and fun, but also comes with disappointment. As sales professionals, we are exposed to many events that can cause stress, anger or frustration. We have prospects who don’t call us back, we miss out on RFPs, we don’t get shortlisted, we miss our target, we lose an existing customer, we get meetings cancelled on us without reason, and we are given territory restructures and targets we don’t always agree with. Most of all, we lose more deals than we win. I’m not asking for pity here, but a career in sales is also a career with enough, let’s say, opportunity for disappointment.

Good sales people brush themselves off after getting knocked down. Great sales people go further. They actually thrive in the face of stress, setbacks and adversity, and come out stronger. They are resilient sales professionals. After 20 years in sales, I like to think I am one of them. I’m still going strong, with the conviction that every year, I am getting better at it. But at a personal level, my resilience got the test of a life-time a couple of years ago. I am a very experienced kitesurfer, but got involved in a horrible accident; I somehow got entangled in another kitesurfer’s lines, got lifted up and fell 30 feet down onto the beach – face first. A trauma helicopter raced me to the hospital where X-rays revealed my face was shattered into 9 pieces, my pelvis broke off my spine, my wrist was beyond repair and vital organs had been damaged by bone splinters. I was in a coma for the first 10 days, and had dozens and dozens of hours of surgery in the weeks after. I left the hospital two months later, and although I lost 10 kilos in body weight, I gained a total of 47 screws, 11 titanium plates, and one brand spanking new titanium eye socket.

It took nearly two years to fully recover, with lots of setbacks along the way. Once I got my life back, I felt the way a race horse must feel after her blinkers are removed at the finish line of the Melbourne Cup Race. Exhausted, satisfied but not exactly sure what happened. From doctors, surgeons and physiotherapist, I kept hearing how lucky I had been and how my determination made it a very unusual recovery (did I mention I am kitesurfing again?). They told me that other people wouldn’t have made it to such a great outcome. To start with, a third of Intensive Care Unit survivors falls into depression. What Nietzsche said is wrong. What doesn’t kill you, doesn’t make you stronger. Not necessarily. Many people come out weaker, or barely get their old life back; physically or mentally. 

In the corporate environment, people who experience serious setbacks don’t always come out stronger either. Instead, the continuous flow of setbacks slowly demoralises or burns them out. Which explains why we are all familiar with terms like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Anxiety, Stress at Work, Burnout, Depression and so on. Sure, there are inspirational stories of people who somehow scramble back up, but in popular media, not much attention is devoted to how these people exactly manage to come out stronger. 

I became curious about that very topic. What is it they do, and what can we learn from them so we are better equipped when we face a great deal of adversity in sales? Because the reality is that in my career, I’ve had many, many sales trainings, but not one of them on resilience. Not even a few pointers. We’re just supposed to dust ourselves off and get back in the saddle. Clearly, more resilient sales people would bring higher productivity, create a more fun work environment, more stability and consistency, more happiness, and lead to more deals won. So I started reading. About resilience. About positive psychology. About the plasticity of the brain, and the working of hormones like cortisol, dopamine, and adrenaline. I read autobiographies from Mandela and Malala, to understand their incredible journeys of resilience. I read books from CEOs about how they guided their companies through turbulence and setback after setback. And I found a few common themes, or skills which resilient people apply. All of them are applicable in corporate sales. I am super excited to present these in a first workshop this week, and will be sharing my findings on my website and linkedin in the coming period. Stay tuned!

Click here for Part 2 of this article.