Executive Sales Training – Is Your Ego Driving the Bus?

How Would You Respond?

Those of you that regularly follow my blog know I have been producing content at a furious pace over the last six months, and that’s going to continue throughout 2013. However, over the holiday break I put away my pen (more accurately my laptop) and took a break from writing, which was really nice. I believe it is important for everyone to make time to check out completely every so often. Unplugging provides an opportunity to clear your mind and reconnect with family members as well as other ‘real world’ people.

As I was getting back into the groove after New Year’s, I met up with an old friend (and former client) for lunch. He brought along a gentleman, Bruce, who has been working with him in a sales consulting capacity (similar to the work I do). Bruce has been a sales consultant longer than I have and his early experience includes working directly with Neil Rackham, the originator of SPIN selling (one of the earliest sales methodologies to gain widespread acceptance). It was a wonderful conversation, and I hope to have the chance to collaborate with Bruce on some articles for readers of this blog.

Over lunch, Bruce and I agreed that one of the hardest things to do as a sales professional is extract our Ego from the process. We approached the topic from the perspective of consultants engaging to serve our clients but also talked about how this challenge applies to all selling roles.

Introducing: The Ego

So my conversation today for continued executive sales training is about Ego and the negative role it plays (or can play) in everything we do. Specifically, I wanted to share some recent experiences where the emergence of my Ego created some ‘dysfunctions’.

In general, I work hard to keep Ego out of my work. When I say Ego, I am referring to the voice inside each of us that speaks for those things I want to happen. As I hinted at in my article Stay Out of the Guru Zone, it used to be important for me to be ‘right’ as far as my clients were concerned. It used to be important for me that they think of me as ‘the smartest guy in the room’. These days, while I understand the natural desire for credit and the need to be right, I believe that approach is counter-productive to the goal of truly serving others.

To keep my Ego in check, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to approach my prospects and clients. I strive to avoid working from preconceived notions of what I think they should do or how I think they should behave. Instead, my goal is to approach each situation with an open mind and then apply my knowledge, tools and experience to present them with options from which they can choose the best course of action. I believe you can help others best by presenting paths they can follow rather than telling them what to do. Stated simply: my clients own their decisions, and they don’t always choose to do things the way I would. Those of you with children understand exactly what I’m talking about.

When Ego Takes the Wheel

In this first week of 2013, I’ve had several situations arise with clients and prospects that didn’t go the way I thought they should. More accurately, they didn’t go the way I wanted them to go. 

In one case, a client chose to pursue an alternate strategy than the one we’ve been using for some time. In another, a client decided to change our engagement structure dramatically. Finally, a prospect that was committed to starting a project (the kick off and several events were scheduled) changed their mind at the last moment. Each of these situations produced an immediate emotional reaction. I was upset. I was hurt. I was angry. I was disappointed. I was judgmental. My selfish and emotional reactions were hardly surprising. Every one of these scenarios was outside my control, counter to my plans for them and represented a negative impact on my income.

My ego (the force that speaks for what I want or need to happen) was driving the bus.

Acknowledging the Problem – Anxiety as a Feedback Mechanism

I went to bed that night and dreamt about clients (both real and imagined) the entire time. The next morning I woke up with an obvious epiphany. Everything I was reacting to, each condition I felt that was causing my discomfort was, in fact, a normal part of business. These were common situations representing how normal clients and opportunities come and go. My internal reaction (anxiety) was simply a ‘notification’ that my ego was showing up.

Overall, I consider anxiety a feedback mechanism. It is no different than any other gauge on the dashboard. Anxiety is not automatically a bad thing, but rather an indication that internal communication and emotions are not flowing smoothly. In my case, these clients, prospects and revenue opportunities weren’t going the way I wanted them to, and this was causing a reaction because they were tied to money and credibility and reputation, things everyone cares about.

The challenge lies in accepting the fact that our reaction to the situation, and not the situation itself, is irrational. As most people might, I found myself making all sorts of internal proclamations and issuing ultimatums. Phrases like, “I’ll never work with them again” and “If they don’t listen to me then they deserve what happens” worked their way around my brain.

Kicking Ego Out of The Driver Seat

In the end, the experience was extremely positive for me. It reminded me that very same force which enables me to serve my clients – my knowledge, my expertise, my motivation, and my drive – has an unattractive and unproductive relative ready and waiting to jump in and spoil the whole situation. This ‘uninvited guest’ is something I always have to guard against.

Most everything I do (and probably you as well) involves engaging with other human beings, each of them on their own path. If you believe as I do that your role is to serve others, to truly help them, then you can’t accept their choices with judgment or with the secret hope that an ‘I told you so’ will be your ultimate reward. Instead, you must accept the decisions others make with true respect and grace. And if (when) you find yourself passing judgment or thinking disparaging thoughts, challenge yourself by asking if it is you or your Ego making these statements.

I hope this post makes sense and has been helpful. I promise this will be the last touchy-feely entry for a while. I’ll get back to more nuts and bolts and process stuff starting next week. May 2013 bring health, happiness, and prosperity for you and your families.

Now let’s go sell something!

By Townsend Wardlaw

photo credit: celine nadeau via photopin cc