Leveraging the Power of Negative Thinking in Sales
Before we explain how you can leverage the power of negative thinking, let’s first discuss what it is.
There are two views on negative thinking:
The first, and probably more common, view of negative thinking is linked to things like depression, complaining, worrying, and stressing about everything. It’s the process of finding the worst in even the best situations. It’s about inaction and fear.
The second view, and the one we’d like you to focus on today, is about growth, understanding, and learning. It’s the process of visualizing all the bad things that could happen to you, so you become less afraid of taking action.
This second view of negative thinking helped me train and successfully swim across the English Channel as well as start my own business in a recession.
I’ve always been a believer of this notion, but recently watched this TED Talk by Tim Ferriss who drives the point home by explaining “Why you should define your fears instead of your goals.”
In his talk, Ferriss explains how to handle life’s difficult choices, and the results from either taking action or not taking action. Ferriss shares an exercise he calls “Fear Setting” as an important tool to help you overcome the fear of making difficult choices.
Consider the many choices salespeople make every minute of every day. Of all the possible people we could reach out to, emails we could send, phone calls we could make, research we could possibly do, proposals we could write, we make a choice and at that moment we believe we are doing the right thing. But, is this because we are operating on autopilot and staying within our comfort zone?
Everything you do is a choice. Your year end results are the final product of all of those “right” choices. Will you wish your results were different? Better?
We all know if in the upcoming year we use the same system of choices we’ve always made, then our results will be the same.
Here are 5 ways you can leverage negative thinking to change your results:
1. Speak to the Negative Thought
To change your results, you first need to practice becoming aware of when these thoughts come up.
Are you tired, hungry, disappointed, stressed out?
When you try to ignore negative thoughts, they don’t go away, they continue to pop up.
To counteract these thoughts, you must define your fears. Write them down. Why are you having these negative thoughts? Is there something you’re afraid of? What’s holding you back?
For example, let’s say you have a big meeting or presentation coming up. But instead of using your time wisely to prepare and plan, you spend your time stressing about how you might blow the meeting.
Speak to this negative thought. Why do you think this? What could you do to prevent messing up the meeting or presentation? And in a worst-case scenario, if your fear does come true, what could you do to repair the situation?
2. Stay in Pain.
Keep remembering how disappointed you are rather than sweeping it under the rug as you begin again next month, next quarter, next year.
Why should you choose to stay in pain rather than rush to the relief of a blank slate?
When things are feeling okay, we don’t analyze why everything feels good. But as soon as something hurts, we turn into detectives trying to solve the case of why we have pain. What happened? What could we have done differently?
That is the necessary mental climate to find the weak spots and do something about them. If you had a disappointing first half of the year, keep thinking about it in the next half of the year. You will end up making different choices all along the way which is precisely what is needed to change our results.
3. Trust Objective Results Only.
Don’t simply go by “it doesn’t feel right”. Have you ever gotten good at doing something and then someone showed you a shortcut? Only then do you realize that your way “worked” in the sense that you eventually got what you wanted, but this new, previously unfamiliar way works better.
The same applies to sales. Every single sales technique will eventually produce sales. To get more sales, you need to keep your eye on the right objective measures, such as the sales cycle length, average order value, and number of leads you need each month to hit your goal.
4. Make Uncomfortable the New Comfortable.
Have you noticed that nothing this year worked the same way it did 5 years ago? Well, in the upcoming year there will be even more new changes. To keep up, sellers need to learn to feel comfortable being uncomfortable.
While your habitual choices guide you into actions that feel right, keep remembering that the solution to improvement is to always be in a place that feels uncomfortable because to improve you need to do new things that you are not doing now. You are, by now, comfortable doing the things—making the choices—you’ve always made. So, by definition, it will feel more comfortable to choose the same patterns and more uncomfortable to dip your toes into new patterns.
Listen to yourself. Are you hearing yourself say “I already know how to do that” a lot? If yes, it may be your signal to yourself that you believe that the answer to improving lies in what you already know.
Really? If you already knew, you wouldn’t need to improve.
While learning is hard, unlearning is even harder. Despite the “painful” process, keep going, because the outcome will be worth it.
5. Pain It Forward.
The reason I want you to dwell on our own pain is because it triggers off the mechanisms needed for improvement, which will enable you to develop a mental toughness that only the most successful people have.
I want you to imagine it is this time next year - you’re looking at your results and you fell short of your goals. You feel that pain. It’s frustrating. You wanted the success so badly yet somehow it eluded you. All along the way your plan was to do the right thing. Yet somehow something went wrong.
Now let’s go back in time all the way back to today, so we can make the daily changes we’ll eventually figure out that we should have made. Let’s leverage this power to CSI the events in our lives. Let’s look through the binoculars backward, so-to-speak, and learn in advance where the soft spots in our plan are going to be and what we will need to “sure” them up.
The opportunity cost of pain-free living is never experiencing the success you would have experienced had you allowed yourself to learn from your pain. Being sales smart is learning from your pain in time for it to do you good.
Everything you do is a choice, but how do you know you're making the right choices? Negative thinking can be applied as a positive sales strategy when you take the time to define what's holding you back, develop a mental toughness, and be proactive with your time.
*Originally published December 2015. Updated October 2018.
About Steve Bookbinder
Steve Bookbinder is the CEO and sales expert at DMTraining. He has delivered more than 5,000 workshops and speeches to clients all over the world and has trained, coached, and managed more than 50,000 salespeople and managers. Steve continuously refreshes his training content to reflect his latest first-hand observations of salespeople across industries and regions. Through him, participants in his workshops and coaching sessions learn the best practices of today’s most successful sellers and managers across industries. Steve understands that sales is a competitive game. To outperform competitors and our own personal best results, we need to out-prospect, out-qualify, out-present and out-negotiate everyone else, not merely know how to sell. Through his specialty programs in Pipeline Management, Personal Marketing, Great First Meetings, 2nd-level Questioning, Sales Negotiating, and Sales Coaching, Steve trains sales teams to master the skills they need to overcome the challenges they face in today’s world… and keep improving results year over year.