Recession-Proof Your Sales — Your Mindset

“What the hell are we going to do now?”

“No one is buying, and they’re saying there is no money.”

These words were spoken by one of my colleagues back in 2008. Our sales team was celebrating a great Q1 and Q2. We were on track to achieve our yearly target by October and achieve over 120% for the year. Heady times for sure. Then disaster struck. Lehman Brothers had just filed for bankruptcy, and this 158-year old banking institution was the ‘vanguard’ of a wave of news and occurrences that signalled the biggest recession (so far) since the great depression.

All of a sudden, our promising ‘Yes’ deals turned to ‘No’. Follow up calls were being delayed till ‘things changed’ and we were staring down the barrel of several companies asking to renegotiate their contracts. It was a tough time for my team and me.

As I said in my recent post, recessions and downturns are an opportunity to learn and grow. Just like they expose and weed out weaknesses and mistakes in companies and policies, they can also expose inefficiencies and weaknesses in your approach. If you decide to just work harder, without reevaluating your strategy and skills, then you will decline. However, if you choose to take the tougher road of self-reflection and improve critical aspects, then you will outperform a market that is declining.

Navigating your sales during a recession requires quite a few aspects to review. This article is part of a series, and we will start with the most important of all them: MINDSET.

Don’t Freak Out

Recession and depression are scary words but, the reality is that recessions and depressions are cyclical; meaning that good times will return. Time and again, we hear stories of companies who are success stories right now because of the actions they took during a recession. The question is, do you have the desire, energy, will, focus, and courage to do what is required so that you come out stronger?

Napoleon Hill once said, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve. You are the master of your destiny. You can influence, direct, and control your own environment. You can make your life what you want it to be.” You ultimately have the power to choose how you react to any situation. The only thing in our known universe that you have complete and total control over is your mind. How you respond to a situation determines the effect those situations have on you.

Think about that for a minute. If you truly understand what I have just said, then you will realise how powerful you indeed are and how much control you have over your ultimate destiny. Unfortunately, a lot of people believe that their lives are outside their control and that their future is determined by things like the economy, politicians, the rich etc. Not true. You ask any high-performer (and I have interviewed hundreds) they will all tell you that they were the directors of their success. Luck may have played a part, but they would never have experienced those lucky moments without the work they put in to get them there. Yes, unfortunate incidents do occur, but it was their force of will and unwavering belief that they can find a solution that helped them turn those seemingly massive setbacks into ‘bumps on the road’.

Consider two scenarios: one person is depressed and focused on the recession and what this would mean for her sales. Her buyers are delaying decisions, and all seems bleak. The second person sees the recession as an opportunity for her to improve her sales process. She knows that in recessions, her competitors are fearful. Her buyers are also delaying their decisions and but she realises that this is not about her but rather economic circumstances preventing them from making a commitment. She decides to focus on new ways to offer them value and shares ideas to help them. Rather than pursuing a sale for selfish reasons, she is empathetic towards her buyers and their situation, and she approaches them with generosity and a will to explore what will genuinely help them get through these tough times and beyond. She views the recession as a chance for her to forge closer relationships with her buyers and create more trust.

Who do you think will ultimately profit?

Stop Patronising Me!

What bugs me about a lot of articles on motivation and mindset is that they talk about the importance of maintaining the right mindset, and they may even talk about the science and evidence behind it. However, they don’t tell you how to manage your mindset. They provide high-level advice by stating that you simply need to ‘get yourself in the right mindset’, but they rarely offer practicals tool on how to do this, especially if you are in a negative mood.

In this article, I will share proven techniques that will help you shift your emotional state within minutes, even seconds.

Warning: I am not saying it is easy, as it requires diligence and practice, but it is easier than you think.

So here is the first advice….

Don’t watch the news

What??! What do you mean, don’t watch the news? How else am I supposed to stay informed on what is going on?

Denzel Washington said it eloquently, “If you don’t read the news, you are uninformed; if you do read the news, you are misinformed.” Unfortunately, the news and the media, in general, are focused on their ratings and viewership. Consistent negative stories create heightened levels of anxiety and fear, and this drives people to become more hooked on those media platforms to seek more answers.

Now, I am not saying you should completely abstain from reading the news. What I am saying is that you should carefully select which platforms and articles you view/read and to do so with the awareness of not getting sucked into fear. Jim Rohn said, “Every day, stand guard at the door of your mind, and you alone decide what thoughts and beliefs you let into your life.” That is what I am advising you to do.

Being fed a steady stream of fear and anxiety makes the management of your mindset much harder.

How does Fear Affect You and Your Sales?

Fear is a powerful emotion and has a powerful effect on your physiology. When you are in a state of panic, your mind narrows its field of view to focus on three things:

1. Stay still and quiet

2. Fight

3. Flight.

From an evolutionary perspective, this was very handy for your survival. If you suddenly heard a rustling in the bushes, you immediately stop whatever activity you were doing and solely focus on identifying the source of that noise to determine if it is a friend or a foe. Your brain’s emotional centres light up when experiencing fear, and this triggers the release of neurochemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol. These neurochemicals sharpen your senses and increase the speed of your responses. Your body becomes tense and ready to take defensive action. Being in such a defensive state means that you are in reaction mode.

In a recession, you do not want to be in a reactive state. Being reactive makes you vulnerable to external forces, and they will control you. When you narrow your field of view, the various sections of your frontal lobe downregulate. This downregulation impairs your creativity and higher-level thinking processes. What that really means is you will be unable to create a solution for your problem, you will find it tough to have a strategic approach to your sales, and you will lack the courage necessary to adapt your processes. What is worse is that you will subconsciously project your fear onto your buyers. They will detect this, heightening their worries. All this will damage your sales as, now more than ever, buyers need to feel confident about their decisions. A buyer is unlikely to invest in a seller’s solution when that seller is not confident.

If you want to outsmart your competitors, if you need to think strategically, then you need to critically assess your sales process to improve it for the recession. To do this, you must have the right mindset. That is why ‘staying positive’ is so important, although that term can also be damaging. In a recent interview during the lockdown, Simon Sinek stated the difference between positivity and optimism. Positivity is blindly saying that things are good no matter the circumstances. You don’t adapt your lifestyle or approach and live in passive hope. Optimists, on the other hand, also have faith and belief that good times will return, but they are also realists who focus on what they need to change to tackle a situation. They become adaptable. It is not the strongest who survive, but the most adaptable. You need to become an optimist.

Avoid exposing yourself to overtly negative people and information. Fear and anxiety are your enemies right now. They will hinder your beautiful mind’s ability for creativity, logical thinking, and the habit of ferocity to push your boundaries and improve your skills.

Remember the Last Time You were Powerful and Weak

Note: I advise you to conduct this exercise in a quiet location where you will be undisturbed. You should stand up when recalling your memories and observing the 4 points below.

We have all experienced moments when we felt upset, down, depressed, when we felt the world was against us. I want you to cast your mind back to the last time you felt this. Do this exercise right now; it can potentially change your life!

Try to relive the moment.

Where were you?

Who is there?

What is happening in that memory?

Focus on details such as sounds, colours, shapes, smells, and your surroundings. Features help you relive the moment more vividly. Enlarge the image. Bring it closer to you. Now, imagine yourself stepping into your memory. I want you to feel the emotions and even feel the actions of your movements.

As you are doing this, follow the 4 points I am going to describe below. You may want to read the 4 points below first and then conduct the exercise.

After completing this exercise do it again but this time recalling a time when you felt on top of the world, when you felt unstoppable (as Tony Robbins says), on fire, when you were at your best and performed in a way that made you proud.

Note: you must recall negative experiences first before positive ones so that you notice the difference and end in a positive mindset.

Your Posture

What is your posture like as you relive each memory? Are you standing up straight? Are your shoulders rolled back or are you hunched over? How is your breathing? Are you breathing fully and comfortably or are your breaths shallow? How about your gaze? Are you looking down or straight ahead?

You will find that your posture is entirely different when you are ‘on top of the world’ versus when you feel that the ‘world is against you’. In the former, you will be standing up straight, your shoulders will be straighter, and your breathing will be comfortable. In the latter, you will find your shoulders hunched, and your eyes cast downwards. You will also find that your breathing is not comfortable due to your hunched posture, and your voice will not project as powerfully.

Consider the Language You are Using

“I hate you!”

“I dislike you.”

Which of these two provoke the stronger response?

Language gives meaning. The words we use have a direct impact on how we feel. Failure versus setbacks; challenges versus a disaster.

Let’s use a sales example. Imagine you have a call with a client who is notorious for being a tough negotiator. How would you describe that person? Chances are you might use terms like:

Stingy

A nightmare to work with

I always dread our conversations

I hate negotiating with this person; they are always so inflexible.

Now, what if we decided that this person is not a tough negotiator but someone passionate about getting the best value? Would your emotions be as intense? You might instead use terms like:

They seem only to view money as an indicator of value

I am curious to see which approach this client will take on this call.

You see, the words I used like curious or money is the only indicator of value have now given new meaning to your emotions when describing this client. We no longer see them as someone to dread or someone who you hate engaging with, or someone who is trying to cheat you. Instead, they are now someone who’s perspective you are curious to understand further, someone who views value differently to you. Are you more likely to approach your conversation in an exploratory way rather than a combative or defensive way? Absolutely!

Language gives meaning to our experiences, emotions and our lives. It is how we communicate, so we attach different levels of emotional intensity to each word we use.

What words are you using to describe each memory? Can you think of more empowering words that will serve both you and your client?

The 3rd thing to observe is…

Your Focus

Let’s again use the above example. Before your call with this client, what are you focusing on? Chances are you are thinking about how tough this negotiation will be. You are dreading what they will say and do. You are probably focusing on the last time you had to drop your prices and how you had to explain this to your manager. And you are perhaps focusing on the amount of commission you lost. If you’re thinking these things, your preparation will focus on how to prevent a discount and what you will say to counteract any ‘combative’ approach.

Now, what if you decide to focus on other aspects using the alternative language I offered above? What if you now focus on:

Understanding why money is the only lever of value to this person?

Is this person in Procurement and if so, how are they measured?

Is this person just doing their job to save money?

What if they are under pressure to cut costs with everyone?

Is there something else that this client values besides money that we can offer?

Do I truly know how much this person values our solution and relationship? Do they see us as a commodity rather than a growth partner?

Do I truly know how they use our solution and how it makes them feel?

Do you see how radically different your mindset and approach will be with a different focus?

In both your memories, identify what you focused on. Did you focus on the same things repeatedly? Do you observe a trend or theme for the things that you focused on?

Now we come to the final thing I want you to observe….

Your Emotions

“Perception is reality.”

I would wager that you have heard this. Here is what you may not know: IT IS NOT TRUE!

Perception is the 2nd stage in the cognitive-behavioural process. There are five stages:

It is your emotions that create your reality.

You have a network of neurons in your brain called the Reticular Activating System. Although its primary role is to regulate arousal and sleep-wake transitions, it also filters which environmental stimuli make it to your higher-level thinking; number 4 and 5 in the process above.

You see your brain can theoretically detect a 0.5-degree drop in temperature through your skin or the individual blood pulses in your left earlobe. It can sense hundreds of thousands of such things. However, continuously being conscious of such stimuli can be draining and will prevent your brain from its sole purpose: to keep you alive. To effectively do that, it drones out stimuli it deems to be ‘normal’ and not worthy of energy-intensive thought and action.

Your emotional state is a critical tool that your brain uses to filter stimuli. If you are in a bad mood, your brain looks for danger and filters out any positive or beautiful stimuli. If you are in a good mood, flowers look more attractive, the sky is bluer, and you feel that all is well with the world. Therefore, your existing emotional state has a significant impact on how you view a situation. It also determines how you remember something.

Suppose you are in a bad mood (whether caused by professional or personal circumstances) when reviewing your pipeline with your manager, your reaction and response to the discussion will be completely different than if you were in a great mood.

Two weeks into the future, science tells us that you will remember only about 10%-20% of the words from that meeting, but you will remember 100% of how that meeting made you feel. So, if you were in a bad mood, then you will more likely recall that meeting as a bad one, even though it may not have been.

Your buyer does the same with your meetings. If they are in a negative state, they will likely view your discussion as a negative experience. However, if you had spoken to them on another day when they are in a positive state, then their recollection of your discussion will be different. That is why controlling your emotional state is vital as you have the chance to shift your buyer’s mood to a positive one that will help advance your sale.

In both your memories, identify your emotions and the intensity of those emotions before and after the scenario occurred. Did your feelings influence your view of the situation? How are your emotions affecting what you remember? Are the colours brighter or duller in each memory? Do you remember everything, or are you only remembering things that are congruent with your emotions?

Here is the Exercise I Promised

Full disclosure: at the time of writing this (16/06/2020) I was feeling down about things both professional and personal. It was tough for me to complete this article. I forced myself to use this exercise and, well, you are now reading this article.

Why did I ask you to go through all this? Because these are the four tools you will use to ‘hack’ your emotions. Your posture, language, and focus will ultimately shape your emotions, and vice-versa.

You see if you are ultimately in control of your feelings and responses to a situation, then you can control and direct your emotions almost instantaneously; if you have the right tools to do this.

#1 Write Down Your Feelings and Focus

I gave this exercise to a client of mine who I started coaching just three weeks ago, and the results have been phenomenal. This client owns three successful businesses, and he remains actively involved in sales because he enjoys having close contact with his customers.

Like a lot of us, this client sometimes feels nervous before a particular sales discussion. He has noticed that his approach is not significantly different from each meeting, but the outcomes are.

Before any sales interaction, I want you to observe your feelings and the words you are using to describe your upcoming sales call/meeting. Write down what you are feeling. Don’t try to analyse them; just write them down as you observe and feel them. The aim here is to be honest with yourself.

Note: you must write your feelings down. Studies show that the acting of writing things down creates more cognitive processing and increases long-term memory. Plus, you can also review your answers.

#2 Read Out Loud

Read aloud what you have written. If you need to read your words multiple times for it to sink in, then go ahead and do that.

#3 What Would Superman Say?

Once you have read your thoughts, feelings and especially the words you are using, I want you to think about 1 or 2 people who you greatly admire. These are your heroes and people you look up to. They need to be people who are also high-performers in their field.

Imagine now that you have read the same words to them. Ask yourself, “Would my hero feel those same emotions and have those thoughts?” If they felt nervous, would this be the same intensity as yours? Would they dwell on those negative feelings, or would they move into solution mode? What words would they use to describe your upcoming meeting?

I want you to write their words down. Their words are now going to become yours!

Now, read those words out loud at least seven times. If you need to read them a few times to let them sink in, then do so.

#4 Change Your Posture to Change Your Emotion

Amy Cuddy conducted a series of studies to find out if ‘power stances’ can influence our mood and mindset. It turns that they can!

I want you to cast your mind back to that last time you felt powerful while remembering the ‘heroic’ words and feelings you have written down. Put your posture in that same position: straighten your back, stand tall, stand like a superhero and breathe deeply. You need to exaggerate your posture to ‘hack’ your mindset; for example, you could place your fists on your hips in a ‘superman pose’. Tony Robbins advocates the use of a power move. A power move is a physical movement where you express supreme joy and pump your fists in the air, or jump up and down in excitement, or you could pump your chest in a way that makes you feel powerful. Here is an example of this. If you play full out, it would be tough to remain in a negative state.

To help, think of the last time your country or sports team won a major championship. How happy and amazing did you feel? Or, think of another time when you celebrated something amazing that happened in your life. Were you jumping for joy? I want you to imagine that you are experiencing that moment once again. You need to flood your body with feel-good neurochemicals such as dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. This flood is a form of ‘hack’ to force your mindset into the right state, especially if you are in a low mood. The goal here is to get yourself in an empowered emotional state.

This exercise may seem a tad silly or weird to you, so obviously do this in private but, do not be afraid to really ‘go for it’. A lot of my clients find themselves thinking of reasons why they can’t do this exercise. I will share with you what I say to them. We live in a world where it is reasonable and acceptable to hear about violence, war, and to discuss our negative thoughts and emotions openly. But, for some reason, we find it uncomfortable or weird to express extreme joy even in private. Don’t you think this is strange and somewhat masochistic? I mean, we are all constantly seeking happiness, and the moment someone gives you a way to do this, you shy away from it.

Robin Sharma says that “If you want to have the results only 5% have, you must be willing to do and think like only 5% do and think.”

This exercise is something that a lot of those 5% use. Go ahead and try this exercise. I am confident you will find this an exhilarating experience if you play full out.

Smile Like You Mean It

If you are genuinely uncomfortable with this exercise, then there is another exercise you can start with (although I highly recommend that you progress to the above exercise as it is the most powerful). Studies have found that smiling can dramatically elevate your mood and change your body’s stress response. Smiling was also found to be contagious, which you can leverage during your sales calls.

What is very interesting about these studies is that you don’t even have to be in a good mood to feel the positive effects. MRI scans have shown that by just engaging the muscles you use to smile, you can stimulate the parts of your brain that control emotional responses.

There is a type of smile called the Duchenne smile, and this is the smile found to be most effective in changing your mood. The Duchenne smile is the smile that signals pure enjoyment. It activates the muscles that lift the corners of your mouth and the muscles that lift your cheeks and crinkle your eyes. It is the broadest smile that ‘reaches your eyes’. Scientists used to believe that you couldn’t fake a Duchenne smile; turns out you can.

Psychologists conducted a simple study with patients suffering from chronic depression. They divided the patients into two groups:

1. Smiling Group — this group start every morning by smiling a Duchenne smile, while looking at themselves in the mirror, for 5 minutes. No matter their mood, they had to do the exercise.

2. Control Group — this group did not change their activities.

After two weeks, Group 1 participants found that their mood was more than 60% more positive. These patients even started talking positively about their role in the world and their high opinion of themselves!

So, start with just smiling a Duchenne smile, while facing a mirror, for only 2–5 minutes. This will dramatically improve your mood. Remember to repeat to yourself (in your mind) the ‘heroic’ words you wrote down while you smile.

If you need a trigger to help you smile, watch something that makes you laugh. Maybe it is your favourite comedian or a scene from a show or movie. Choose something that puts you in an incredibly joyful state and makes you laugh or smile a Duchenne smile.

That is the Exercise

Not only do I do this, but I have also shared this with hundreds of people who are clients, work colleagues, team members, partners, family, even my 2-year old daughter (well the celebration part with her; she can’t write just yet). The results have been transformative. Every week I hear stories from my clients about how amazing this technique has been and the incredible results it has delivered not only in their sales but also in their personal lives.

I hope it does the same for you.

I must share that I too was sceptical about this technique. It took time for me to accept it and apply it. It also took time for me to consistently do it whenever I felt down or whenever I was preparing for a sales call/meeting. However, looking back, I wish I had done this earlier in my life. It would have changed so much for the better.

Before we end this article, there is one more powerful tip I have for you.

Knowledge ≠ Power, Knowledge = Confidence

As I stated earlier, buyers are less tolerant in a recession. They are in a state of heightened fear and anxiety. The last thing they want is to have their time sucked away by salespeople. However, they will spend time with a seller who they view as valuable to their role and the growth of their company. Notice I did not say spend time with a valuable product or solution or company; I said seller.

High-performing sellers are deeply knowledgeable about their products and what makes them truly unique amongst their competitors. But what separates high-performers is the knowledge they have about their buyers and clients.

In a recession, average performers are exposed and can quickly become low-performers. Sellers who haven’t bothered to do a good level of research are considered lazy and time-wasters by buyers. They don’t have the professional courtesy to do their homework, especially since the buyer has graciously agreed to share their time with them. In effect, they have total disregard for their buyer’s time, and buyers find this insulting. In a recession, your buyers will be far less tolerant of this.

Do your research! Learn about your buyer and their business. You will find that the more you know, the more confident you will become. The more confident you are, the more articulate you will be.

The 4 Circles

This is a large topic, but I will share four critical things you must research, and know, for every sales call/meeting. If you would like more information on how the best to conduct this research, then please leave a comment and I will fast-track that article.

Note: I appreciate that not all businesses can afford to spend a lot of time conducting in-depth research. I recommend you use your judgement for how much research you need to do depending on the complexity and price of your solution. What I do recommend is that you at least know the first point below as this will provide you with scalability. Buyers have said that they find sellers with this knowledge to be the most valuable.

The Four Circles comes from The Challenger Sale book and has been proven accurate by a lot of other research. There are four categories of information you should research when preparing for a sales interaction.

Research into B2B buyers have shown time and again that they value sellers with in-depth knowledge and experience in their (the buyer’s) industry. Luckily for you, this is also the most scalable knowledge to have as you can quickly apply it to a specific business and buyer.

Doing your research (proportionately) on each of these circles is critical and fundamental to your sales discussions. Knowledge is potential power, but more than this, knowledge, with an empowering emotional state, will provide you with the confidence to present the best version of yourself in your sales discussions.

Summary

Your mindset is said to contribute 70%-80% of your success. Your emotions are the gateway to both how you view your world and how you conduct yourself. High-performers have mastered the ability to control how they see the world and react to circumstances. If you want to present the best version of yourself in every sales interaction, no matter what happens around you, then you should become proficient in controlling and changing your emotions to empower your mindset.

Four dimensions determine your mindset: posture, language, focus, and emotions. You won’t necessarily use all these for every situation. Remember what they all felt like when you were in a positive mindset. Put yourself in a heightened positive state by either celebrating in a big way or smiling in a big way. Change the language you are using to describe your feelings towards an upcoming sales interaction and shift your focus to more empowering goals and outcomes.

Finally, have fun with this. Don’t think of this as an exercise that you need to do and become nervous about getting right. The goal is to create a powerful state and enjoy the process. Experiment with what helps you quickly become empowered and ‘unstoppable’ and use triggers that work for you.

My company, Proverbial Door, gives CEOs, professional sellers, and solopreneurs practical tools and techniques to grow their sales in a tough market. Clients have grown their sales by over 40% in just 4 months. To learn more visit us at www.proverbialdoor.com

Persuasion and sales expert using cognitive neuroscience & psychology and sales best practices.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store