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Selling under pressure

Em! An interesting statement in itself. If you are like me, pressure is an integral part of being a sales professional. You use it to motivate yourself, it gives you a buzz, you cope with it well and no other person in your company has the same pressures to deal with. If it was not for customers, targets, reports, time schedules and managers you would have the perfect job.

But what happens if the pressure is really on? You know those times when you experienced a greater sense of urgency, when there never seemed to be enough time in the day, when customers and managers seemed to have higher expectations than normal and your own capability to keep a number of balls in the air was seriously questioned. And whilst you seemed to be the only one in such a pickle, you knew that there must be other sales people out there who are struggling with similar issues.

I don’t believe that you can have a “one size fits all” strategy to deal with these pressure situations. The combination of your circumstances, skills, customers, and environment are all unique to you. However, I would like to share with you a few thoughts I have found to work with successful sales professionals.

1. Things are as they are. Commit here and now to accept that “Things are as they are”. Sure there may be things that you could have done differently to stop getting into this mess, but there is no point in beating yourself up. There will be a lot of others to help you at a later stage. First accept reality and then deal with it.

2. Stay cool. Easy to say but hard to do in any pressurised circumstances.  But it’s a well-known fact that “stress makes people stupid”. Who do you know that seems to stay cool under pressure? James Bond comes to mind; no danger is too great. Imagine how James would approach this situation. What would he be thinking? What might he do? Who would he call? This simple technique allows you to adopt a different and more impartial view of the situation. And you will be amazed at how more obvious might be the ideal solution.

3. Be honest. Be honest with yourself, your customers and your manager. The temptation is to try and be superman and solve all the issues before anyone notices. Chances are they have already noticed and an opinion has been formed. The other stakeholders may not like the situation, but you are more likely to engage them in helping to construct a solution by being honest. As De Bono once said. “You can’t dig a different hole, by digging the same one deeper”

4. Remember a time when you were “in the zone”. You felt invincible as a sales person. Your customers could not praise you highly enough, your pipeline was full of profitable business and you were closing all your deals. What was it that you were doing at that stage? How did you feel? What approach served you well? Taking time to reflect on strategies that served you well in the past is likely to give you the confidence to address your current issues.

5. Have a written plan. Most businesses have a Disaster Recovery plan, discussed, well thought out, documented and executed to make sure it works. Why not consider having your own disaster recovery plan; your own “pressure plan”. What would you do if a deal goes sour at the last minute or if the supply chain lets you down? No doubt there are specific aspects of your own business that are unique to you. Now is your chance, without the pressure pot, to plan for almost any eventuality. The key task here is to generate as many valid options for yourself to cover all situations. Be prepared to miss out on something. Disasters by their nature are unpredictable in scale, timing and severity. What are the guiding principles that will serve you well, irrespective of the specific nature of pressure? It is said that every minute you spend in planning, saves you 10 minutes in execution. So it’s well worth the effort to plan.

6. Stick to it. The dreaded day comes when you are called upon to enact your plan. The temptation might be to deviate because you never imagined that the situation could be as bad as this. Trust yourself, you did image how bad things could get and you did construct a winning action plan.

7. Debrief and review your “pressure plan” afterwards. Things have died down, you weathered the storm. Some things went better than planned; other areas could have gone better. Now is your chance to take the learning and improve your plan.

8. Prioritise. When you are under pressure, there is never just one thing that needs to be done. Lots of issues all seem to be of equal importance. Two suggestions here. Ask yourself “If I wasn’t under pressure, what would the most important priority be”? Strange as it may seem, phrasing the question like this challenges you to look at the situation from a detached position, one where you are better equipped to answer in a constructive manner. Secondly, whilst there may be lots of things to be done, pick one or two that you know you can finish within a sensible time-frame. The very act of successfully completing some part of the jigsaw, allows you to address the other areas from a position of higher power.

9. Narrow your focus. It is so easy to panic at this stage. You have done your prioritising, and still the task seems insurmountable. Here is a simple tool to help you narrow your focus onto what can be achieved within the time available. For each of the tasks, ask yourself “ is this something I can influence or is it something I have direct control over.” No guesses then on where you are best advised to spend your time. Spend 80% of your time on what you can control and 20% on that which you can influence but not control.

10. Work with someone. Work with someone who is impartial, emotionally detached and has your best interests at heart. This is the individual or group who will support you when the going gets tough, and who is  best positioned to help you through. It may well be a sales or performance coach who can offer practical and constructive support. All the better if you feel your manager can ideally fulfil the position. It could be a peer from a networking organisation whom you feel is well placed to offer insightful advice. Consider whom among your circle of friends can remain impartial, emotionally detached and has your professional interest at heart and will not start their sentences with “now, you know what you should be doing…”

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