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Grrrr! I’m a tiger…

Dec 15, 2020

Growled in front of the mirror, hands as claws; this would be how Gareth Cheeseman, the stereotypical salesman alter ego of comedian Steve Coogan would prepare for a day selling. Nonsense? Psychological hocus pocus? Or could there be some benefit from indulging in such behaviour?

Maybe. Studies in the world of sport have shown such preparation techniques to work. Empirical physiological and results-based evidence is available. Perhaps we should consider some of this, look at the theories and ask whether it can be transported into the world of sales. (Certainly one sales trainer has previously referred to selling as a ‘contact sport’ – so why not?)

The tiger scenario is actually an example of self-instruction, sometimes known as visualising. Here the aim is to form a positive self image, through mentally picturing oneself as something that exhibits the desired characteristics. Gareth no doubt sees the essentials for successful selling as aggression, power or dominance, and indeed approaches will be different. It can be anything, (think of the implications), fox, owl, rocket, tree, elephant. Whatever it is the image should be powerful, and include a feeling of well being. Note also this does not just have to only be visual but can include sounds or smells. To return to the feline theme, and borrow the words of a sports coach ‘You cannot perform like a lion if you see yourself as a house cat’.

Another strong use for imagery in the sports arena is that of mental practice or rehearsal. Most of us will have seen this in action such as when a rugby player pauses in deep concentration before kicking at goal, or a sprinter stands at the end of the track, seemingly mesmerised by the 100 metres ahead. What they are doing is going through the motions in their heads, and the theory suggests that whilst doing this the motor programme for that activity is being run, albeit at a lower level, in the same correct sequential order. That is to say that the parts of the brain that need to stimulate various bits of the body are already working in the right pattern to perform the correct movement. Those parts are already starting to fire.

It is fairly easy to see this in action. Take a bolt or something of similar weight, suspend this from a piece of string about 20 centimetres in length and tie it to a finger. Place the elbow of that arm on a table, bent at an angle of 45 degrees – the pendulum should be in mid-air. Make sure that you keep your arm still but try to feel the movements of the muscles in your forearm needed to make this swing back and forth. Concentrate hard. Feel yourself stopping the pendulum. Make it move again, maybe in a circle.

Nearly everyone who tries this can control the pendulum as they imagine. There can be no trick here (I didn’t move it!). What you are seeing is precisely that described above. The signals generated in the brain are sent to the muscles, making them move just enough to create movement, but without us being able to see. Consider now the muscles you would have consciously used and in what order. See how then that imagery can allow us access to a number of these programmes to perform a variety of actions.

So will this help with selling, itself a complex physiological and psychological process ? Perhaps feeling yourself making a sale or undertaking a particular part of the process (telephoning, initial contact, ‘closing’) may unlock one of these programmes and make the whole activity easier. At the very least maybe this is just another method of preparing – the secret of any success – and so assists in the checking off that necessary steps have been taken; the job done professionally.

So far we have discussed ‘first person’ imagery, taking an internal perspective. Maybe you also want to try ‘third person’ or taking an external perspective. This would involve seeing yourself doing the activity, much like watching a film. While probably easier to do, as it harks back to training programmes, role plays and the like, it also allows us to concentrate on the whole environment. This is probably more important in sales than in sport, as in the latter this may be wished to be blanked out for increased concentration on the particulars of the task in hand. Selling on the other hand requires an acute awareness of all going on around. An ability to pick up clues as to the real issues a customer may have, recognising spoof or real objections and seeing potential buying signals. Either way, if we consider that these techniques allow us to ‘dry run’ a scenario, when performed for real, it should be done more effectively.

Other techniques are being used in this rapidly expanding area, both in sport and other walks of life. In the current climate with the shift to virtual selling and the increased use of technology that can include artificial intelligence (AI), I would be interested if people are currently trying out any such methods, and how they are finding them.

As it is I must sign off as I must go and deliver a presentation, ‘Grrr…’

Fred Copestake is founder of Brindis, a sales training consultancy.
Over the last 22 years he has travelled round the world 14 times visiting 36 countries to work with over 10,000 salespeople.
His book ‘Selling Through Partnering Skills’ looks at the evolving world of sales and sets out what salespeople need to do to refine their approach. It explores how to take things to the next level through understanding partnering intelligence and using the innovative VALUE Framework.

Contact: https://linktr.ee/fredcopestake

Photo by Sacha Styles on Unsplash