Mindsets are the internal operating systems that create and control the filters through which we consciously and subconsciously interpret the world around us. They determine how we listen and perceive. They determine how we choose to behave including whether we act proactively or reactively; consciously or unconsciously. Not only do they control our attitudes and actions, they ultimately define the quality of our relationships and results in every domain which, of course, includes sales performance and the quality of an individual’s overall contribution to the company.
When building your sales team, these are the 12 mindsets you should look for in every candidate.
1. Strong Identity Structure
Do the candidates naturally see themselves in the top 10 percent of any group, such as a sales team, or are they comfortable as long as they are not at the bottom of a stack ranking? Strong sales professionals tend to see themselves as naturally capable, resilient and gritty enough to overcome whatever obstacles arise in the pursuit of a goal. This is different from arrogance as it leads them to learn and achieve without having to be pushed forward by management. At the very least, they respond well to management if they step in to encourage, coach, and teach.
I refer to this concept as an individual’s “success thermostat” though there are many names for it. There is a world of difference between being motivated by the discomfort of being on the bottom and the comfort or familiarity of being on the top. The former will be comfortable in the middle of the pack as long as they are not at the bottom. The latter will not.
We must constantly be seeking new points of view and knowledge if we are to remain relevant, creative, and ahead of the pack.
2. Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset
Many of us pay far too much attention to notions of innate talent, intelligence, genetic disposition, and luck (fixed mindset) while not giving nearly enough credence to our ability to learn, grow, and excel through persistent learning and effort (growth mindset). The best candidates are ones who understand that mastery of any endeavor, certainly sales, is predominantly up to them and set themselves up for a life of learning and growth over time. Hopefully they also realize that much of what we learn is temporal and that we must constantly be seeking new points of view and knowledge if we are to remain relevant, creative, and ahead of the pack. From a knowledge perspective we are all, by nature, slowly becoming extinct. That is of course unless we are replacing our old, potentially now irrelevant, knowledge with new current and future-based knowledge.
3. Resilient & Persistent vs. Entitled
Alluded to above, resiliency, and the associated notions of persistence and grit, are key to sales success, especially in early stage companies. Being able to see the lesson in every failed attempt and continuing to learn, pivot, and try again are hallmarks of high achievers. Knowing that there are prices to be paid for every worthwhile achievement, and being willing to pay them, is crucial to success. Conversely, having a sense of entitlement is a serious problem in most sales situations. Management should do everything they can to make it as easy as possible for sales people to succeed. But management is not responsible for handing people success. This ties closely to the Accountable mindset below.
4. Operating From Commitment vs. Operating From Feelings
Most of us are now familiar with the scene from Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back where Yoda says to Luke Skywalker “Do. Or do not. There is no try”. It’s often used to support discussions about what it means to be committed. While I agree with the core notion, that black and white approach to commitment is very difficult to fully understand and apply in the real world. While it has great value when fully explored, it’s too often used as a binary distinction to hammer any kind of breakdown or apparent failure that occurs. But breakdowns or failures happen daily, especially in a startup company.
A more nuanced approach to commitment is far more effective. At any moment a person is either operating out of their commitment to a desired future and taking aligned action, or they are operating out of their feelings and taking actions that address those feelings, which may or may not be aligned with the desired future.
At any moment a person is either operating out of their commitment to a desired future, or they are operating out of their feelings.
A simple example may be when someone has declared (committed) to running a marathon. Every single day that person has to choose whether their training run happens or not. I can assure you (having done several) that if runners operated from the question, “Do I feel like running a 12 mile training run after work in the cold rain?” no one would ever complete a marathon.
Alternatively, training runs happen daily, regardless of the weather, based on the commitment to run the marathon (the desired future goal). On that cold rainy evening, people who operate out of commitment will complete the training run because they have enough self-awareness to understand that their feelings aren’t their commitments therefore they choose to operate out of the latter. Skipping the run is not aligned to the future goal but completing the run is. It should be a simple decision. This is a key distinction to explore in an interview.
5. Seeking Purpose vs. Seeking Only Pleasure
There is nothing wrong with a salesperson wanting to have fun at work and make good money. Most of us do. As a sales leader, I try to generate abundant opportunities for my teams to do both. However, beyond fun and money there are motivators such as purpose and the hunger for meaningful work that motivate people more profoundly than fun and money, even when they aren’t aware of it. A discussion of purpose is beyond the realm of this article but suffice it to say that if people find that their work resonates with their own core values and impacts others in a positive way, their desire to learn, as well as their commitment, grittiness, and resilience, are exponentially increased. Management can help people find their meaning in their work, but the employee needs to want to make those connections.
6. Abundance vs. Scarcity
Most of us have likely heard and used the “half full” vs “half empty” distinction. Sales professionals have numerous opportunities to feel as if there’s not enough territory, commission, coaching, leads, product, time, marketing, and a variety of other areas they perceive are lacking. However, it’s essential to seek out individuals who naturally view change or challenging circumstances as growth opportunities and whose starting point is “there is plenty to go around”. As humans, we tend to find what we are looking for so if we are oriented toward finding the opportunity, we will find it. Not only does this make them better sales people, it also makes them better teammates and lower maintenance for the management team.
7. Future-Based vs. Past-Based
There is a human tendency to lean too heavily on our past to dictate the actions we take today and in the future. This typically leads to a future that looks very much like the past or present because it’s largely based on the same thinking and actions that caused the current state. Past-based thinking, while sometimes positive and constructive, tends to be negative and limiting far too often. Future-based orientation leads to creative, aspirational, and limitless thinking. Its creation oriented and based in possibility. It also acknowledges that our future is designable and that we are the primary architects.
There is a human tendency to lean too heavily on our past to dictate the actions we take today and in the future.
8. Accountable vs. Victim Mentalities
We all know people who have multiple reasons to explain why something they were responsible for didn’t happen or failed. None of their reasons appear to be in the control of the person and therefore can’t be considered as their fault. Their claim is that they are victims of circumstance. Conversely, people who are accountable for their actions take full responsibility for them because they understand their role and own all parts of it as circumstances unfold. They are not assuming fault or blame, they simply see that they likely had a hand in the situation, how it was handled, and that ultimately, they contributed to the outcome. More importantly, they realize they are fully responsible for how they respond to any circumstance and, as a result, they learn more effective ways to respond going forward. This distinction is highly nuanced and challenging for many to understand it’s importance.
9. Solution Orientation vs. Problem Spotter
It’s possible that simply identifying or “spotting” a problem can be helpful. However developing creative solutions is a much more desirable attribute. There are people who take great pride in finding problems, which is not difficult to do in most companies so it’s value is minimal without an associated solution. Problem spotting, and the inevitable socialization about that problem, is an energetic drain to the people who do it and to those who listen to it. Conversely, problem solving tends to be uplifting to all the people involved including the team as a whole. It takes both creativity, resilience, and optimism to stay solution oriented in most environments.
10. Living by Design vs. Living by Default
Some people drift through life seemingly in reaction to and a victim of the circumstances in their life. Conversely, I want to hire people who are designing what they want to achieve in the primary areas of their life (financial, career, health, relationship, spiritual) and have at least a rough plan on how to make progress in those areas. They don’t have to have it figured out, few do. But to be constantly contemplating and growing towards a future consciously designed by them is a key predictor of future success. People have to plan to be excellent or they end up mediocre. No body plans to be mediocre. They don’t wake up in the morning and say “Wow, I can’t wait to go out and be mediocre today!” In reality, mediocrity is just what happens to them in the absence of a plan to be excellent.
In reality, mediocrity is just what happens to them in the absence of a plan to be excellent.
11. Intellectual Curiosity vs. “That’s Just the Way It Is”
Generally speaking, people who are curious about the way things work make strong employees. The ones who ponder the status quo by productively questioning the predominant thinking about “what is” are the ones who have a higher tendency to succeed. I like well-intended “why” questions and the people who ask them.
12. Workability vs. Self-Righteousness
Most of us have worked with people who feel a strong need to be right in practically all aspects of their lives. When encountering a point of view or a way of doing something that is different than their own, many people are more interested in pushing for the “rightness” of their idea than they are in being open to a different approach voiced by someone else. Workability implies an orientation that naturally respects other people’s point of view and a mutual collaborative approach to problem solving.