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The Psychology of Sales: how to keep motivated

Published: Thursday 1st December 2016

Sales, sales, sales. Always be closing. The scoreboard is everything. But what can the psychology of sales teach us about what motivation is, and how we can use this knowledge in a sales job?


Working as a salesman can mean spending a lot of time in a cut-throat environment. An outcome drives it – the sale, which is reinforced with the commission. But is this environment motivating, or potentially unhealthy? What is best for long-term motivation?


If the KPI (an outcome) is to hit 10 sales this week, do you have direct control over it?

For an infinite number of reasons, the answer is no. There might be a slowing in the economy, you might have reached someone on the phone on a bad day, or you simply spoke to the wrong person.

Even worse, if the team of salespeople is compared on a sales table, you might have even less control of a ranking result. You could have a personal best and still be bottom of the table. Or maybe you got lucky with one big sale that puts you at the top when you performed poorly for 99% of the week.


Man displaying anxiety at work

Because you have no control over it, an Outcome Focus can be detrimental to performance. Stress is caused by both the uncertainty of an event, and the importance we place on it. A commission-driven sales environment is high in both. This can negatively impact our behaviours, performance and therefore, ironically, the chance of a better result next time. The psychology of sales works both ways however. The best way to conquer anxiety is to land a big sale. Don’t be afraid the ask for the help of a colleague if you need any help closing. There’s also lessons to be learned in rejection, so don’t always take it personally.


Motivated employees putting thumbs up at the camera

Should we celebrate if we make a sale, but our performance or approach wasn’t good? If we had an Outcome Focus, we would. And it is this example where you can start to see the limitation.

If we are top of sales for five weeks in a row, and are only focussed on the result, we might start to be believe that we are great, and now apply less effort or focus. But if, for five weeks, you are bottom of the leader board, and sales is all that matters, how low will you feel? How long will you last?

The Process

Businessman working at desk using tablet

Contrary to an Outcome Focus, a Mastery Focus is on the process itself. Instead of three sales, a target might be to contact 20 cold leads per day. Or to be warm and energetic in the welcome of the call if you think that’s an area to improve on. Instead of worrying about getting sales, this is the focus on how to get them.

This way, you have direct control over it. Instead of an anxious worry over the results board, this is a focus on the process itself. Because, luck and external factors aside, the old saying of ‘you get out what you put in’ is true. We should focus on what we put into the pipeline, rather than stressing about what comes out the other end. The truth about the psychology of sales is relatable to other aspects of our life too. If we’re told ‘no’ too many times or are kept under constant pressure then we start to see a breakdown of our natural behaviour. Instead the human psyche puts up walls to help protect our fragile state of mind.

It can also then serve as a buffer for when we are on a bad run of results. We can pick up other wins and give ourselves a chance of getting out of the slump in form.

Motivational Focus

Does this mean that the outcome doesn’t matter, or should not be part of our motivational focus?

No, of course, we want sales, and of course, we want to win. Naturally, it will be part of our drive, especially salespeople. But when it’s 100% of the focus it can become unhealthy.

By reducing anxiety and focusing on the process, we give ourselves the best chance of a result. Sometimes the journey is more important than the destination.

If you’re confident and think you’ve got what it takes to make it in the sales industry, visit Zoek to find the perfect sales job for you.

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