Many experts believe optimistic sales professionals will improve the bottom line for any organization. Should you hire a sales professional who sees the glass as half full? When you’re interviewing candidates, how do you know if they possess the right attitude about optimism? It turns out that researchers have asked these questions too, and they have some answers.
Michelle Gielan writes about the research conducted by Dr. Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania. That research took place at MetLife. The academicians studied the sales success of optimists versus pessimists. The bottom line was 56% higher for optimists. Once the MetLife hiring managers got a look at the research, it didn’t take them long to change their hiring practices. They started officially screening candidates so they could be sure to hire the most optimistic sales professionals.
As a sales manager, you may rank optimism as a key trait when determining who to bring into your organization. The emphasis on optimism runs deep in the sales profession. In our Voice of the Sales Manager survey, about 64% of hiring managers believe a sales professional must be positive and optimistic to succeed on their team. In fact, optimism ranks third in a list of 20 traits we asked about. The only traits that scored higher on our survey were problem-solving ability and confidence.
Managers sometimes mistake being extroverted with optimism. The natural extrovert is always talking. They seek out people and they enjoy engaging with others. However, that behavior doesn’t necessarily mean the extrovert is also optimistic. Conversely, the introvert is not always pessimistic. Introverts may actually possess some of the qualities that managers seek in top-performing reps. These folks often excel in listening, a skill that extroverts find difficult. It’s the listeners who understand what a prospect needs, can develop a solution for them, and ultimately close the deal. You can measure an individual’s sociability aspects by using a sales assessment test like SalesFuel HIRE that categorizes this element as a work tendency. Similarly, sales assessment tests also measure an individual’s level of optimism based on the answers they select.
Should You Be Wary of Optimistic Sales Professionals?
Is there a danger in hiring sales professionals who are too optimistic? Ken Kupchik, trying to make light of the dangers of being irrationally optimistic, says these kinds of sales professionals might have a mantra that goes something like this: "So what if the customer said 'no' the first time? There will be lots of opportunities for them to say 'yes' after I call every single day for a month straight." Kupchik is trying to encourage reps who might lose their confidence and optimism after a series of rejections. And we all know rejection is a big part of the sales profession.
While we may imagine that there should be no limit to optimism, there is one area of sales where managers and reps need to restrain themselves. That area is sales forecasting. The sales forecast is crucial to business operations. With members of the c‑suite using the sales forecast to set strategy, the sales managers must work with reps to reasonably estimate what is likely close especially during the current year.
Coaching for Optimism
If your preferred candidate comes in a bit low on the optimism scale after taking a sales aptitude test like the one from SalesFuel HIRE, don’t act in haste. Review the individual’s entire profile. For example, if they score high on coachability, you may be able to help them change their mindset.
Kim Wiley has written about the mental game that is remarkably similar between athletes and sales professionals. In fact, Wiley’s talking points could also extend to any elite performer who goes into a competition or a stressful situation, well-prepared and willing to give their all. In Wiley’s opinion, a sales manager can help a rep increase optimism. The manager can make specific suggestions to the pessimistic rep. They can encourage their rep to:
- Get control of their inner dialogue
- Believe in the power of their will
- Develop and believe in optimistic outcomes
How would this look in a one-on-one coaching session? If your rep is anxious about an upcoming meeting with a big prospect, ask them what the worst outcome could possibly be? The answer, typically, is that they might lose the sale. While that’s certainly not fun, it’s not like a nuclear bomb will go off if they make a mistake. Remind your rep that, even if the outcome is lousy, they’ll have another chance to succeed. Instead of dwelling on the negative, encourage them to clear their minds. Wiley reminds readers to keep Dr. Singer’s advice in mind. “By eliminating the internal distractions inside your own head, you can make sure your natural sales ability shines through.”
Once your rep is able to clear their mind of negative thoughts, talk with them about making incremental progress toward a goal. Getting a prospect to talk with them is cause for celebration. Reinforce that they can succeed at the next level and use role-playing strategies to help them anticipate what a prospect might say. The more they practice the scenarios, the more confident they’ll feel. That confidence will sway their levels of optimism.