It’s Not What Happens to You, but How You React to It

By David Yesford

Thinking about her recent successes and accompanying commission check, Taylor proudly called out her sales numbers at the Monday morning roll call. Several other salespeople looked at her, wondering how Taylor was so consistently posting these great numbers. Fresh out of school, Taylor thought about her first several weeks as a salesperson and the sheer dread of these Monday callouts when she had to pass. In fact, it all came to a boiling point when she found herself, out in the hot summer sun, being rejected by 12 straight businesses in her attempt to face-to-face prospect. She had lost it, spending 20 minutes in the car crying and hating her job. How could people be so mean?

Just a few weeks later, she had five business meetings and closed three for significant revenue and profit. What changed? It wasn’t what happened to her—the fact was prospects were still saying no. How she reacted to these situations, however, seemed to give her great power.

The Story of Larry Wilson

More than 50 years ago, Larry Wilson—whose sales success at an early age eventually led to the founding of Wilson Learning—started selling life insurance at the age of 23. He earned his pay only through straight commission, making about $400 a month and spending $440. Whenever he found himself close to a sale, he would start imagining himself spending the commission. Then he would start actually spending the commission. He was setting himself up for a beautiful game of “What if?”

Of course, the more he dwelled on “What if I don’t make the sale?” the more he was really saying to himself, “I’m not going to make the sale and that will be a tragedy and the end of the world!” He was making it impossible to be at his best as a performer—relaxed and outwardly focused on what was actually happening. Instead, he was making himself more and more uptight and inwardly focused, consequently lowering the odds that he’d make the sale.

Soon he’d lower the odds to zero, lose the sale, and say, “Well, I was right—my gut told me so.” And he kept on losing sale after sale. Eventually he said to himself, “Larry, you’re becoming an emotional basket case; you’re not going to make it in this business. You’ve got to change.”

Larry then made a very simple deal with himself: “No one sale is ever going to be important to me. No one sale is ever going to tell me who I am or who I’m going to be.” And that was it. “And all of a sudden, I just released energy,” Larry explained. “I got power. Things became easier; I could make sales. I could lose three in a row, but they were one at a time.”

At the time, Larry averaged 20 sales calls to make one sale. “For one whose basic irrational belief is that ‘everyone must accept me,’ things weren’t turning out too good,” explained Larry. “What I was saying to myself was I have 19 people who don’t accept me and only one who does.”

Then Larry reexamined his approach again. “One day I went back over a year’s records and figured out that I averaged about a $500 commission from the 1-in-20 guy who actually bought a policy,” explained Larry. “Then I divided 20 into $500 and I got $25. From then on, l decided to say to myself after every sales call, ‘Win, lose, or draw—thanks for the $25.’ And I did and found it worked. My worries were gone, I relaxed, and I just started to be myself with my prospects.”

Taking a Wise Approach to Sales

When Taylor explained to her sales manager the approach she took, similar to Larry Wilson’s approach, it was clear the activating events didn’t change—prospects still said no. Instead, Taylor’s beliefs changed. And when her beliefs changed, so did Taylor’s feelings about what was happening.

As a salesperson, how do you replicate this change in perspective? Take the first step by realizing, as Taylor and Larry did, no one sale will ever define who you are as a salesperson. As one of the greatest basketball players in history, Michael Jordon didn’t tell himself he was a bad basketball player when he missed a shot (more than 9,000) or lost a game (almost 300). These events were just inconvenient, not the end of his career. Based on this belief, use the following approach:

  • Stop: Mentally interrupt your conversation to yourself (self-talk).
  • Challenge: Identify your self-talk and check the reality of your thinking. Is it true? What will happen if I continue to act on this self-talk?
  • Focus: Determine the gain and how to achieve it. What do I want to happen in this current circumstance? What do I need to tell myself in order to achieve it? What steps can I take to gain what I want?

It’s not what happens to you that gives you the power, but how you react to what happens to you!

David Yesford

“David Yesford, Senior Vice President of Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc., brings along over 30 years of expertise in developing and implementing human performance improvement solutions across the globe. He is an active member of the Wilson Learning Global Executive Board, with current responsibility at a global level.

Mr. Yesford is the contributing author of Win-Win Selling, Versatile Selling, The Social Styles Handbook, The Sales Training Book 2, and several other books. He has been published in numerous business publications throughout the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Asia Pacific, and he is also a frequent speaker at international conferences and summits.”