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In Sales, You've Gotta Be Soft on the Outside and Hard on the Inside

By Deb Calvert (1342 words)
Posted in Sales & Business Development on December 2, 2013

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You know those types of people we refer to as marshmallows? They have a tough exterior, something about them seems hardened or brusque. But when we get to know them, they turn out to be softies. Actually sweet. They have a squishy inside because they care about people. That's just not what they show at first to the outside world.

Effective sellers do well to be the opposite of these marshmallow types. If you can be soft on the outside, empathetic and compassionate and interested in your buyers, while being tough on the inside you'll do well long-term in sales.

Sellers who develop a tough exterior usually do so because they have a defense mechanism. After all, selling is difficult, and you have to develop the strength to be able to hear the word “no” over and over again. But that should be what is happening internally. That toughness should be a fortitude, a determination, a resilience so that you can keep pressing forward.

When you stay soft on the inside, you let the word "no" and the disappointment of not making a sale eat you up from the inside out. You feel like you have to play it off in front of the customer or your co-workers. But what's really happening is that your toughness, that protective veneer, will grow thicker and work against you. It will become increasingly difficult for buyers to relate to you and to see you as someone they can bond with and trust.


Being soft on the outside means you show a little vulnerability and an orientation to others. It means you are open, that you have room for taking a chance with a new buyer. Buyers respond favorably to sellers who are inviting and pleasant because they create human connections.


By contrast, sellers who have developed tough exteriors project a walled-off, business-only persona that is off-putting. It can come across as disinterested, arrogant, rushed or pushy. Buyers respond in kind because there is no invitation to connect. 


Being so closed off may be a protective measure for a seller. But what good is a protection that cuts you off? It's like erecting a fortress around your house so that supplies like food and water can't make it in, either. 


Many sellers get this backwards. They stay soft on the inside and let sales disappointments erode their confidence. 


I'd go so far as to say that getting this turned inside out is the single most important lesson any seller can learn.


What you need to be on the outside, with buyers, is soft enough to show openness and to invite connections.


What you need to be on the inside, with yourself, is resilient and determined. You need fortitude. This is, in fact, so important that I'll break down each word with a definition and an example you can replicate.


The single most important lesson any seller can learn - It comes in 3 parts.




To be resilient means to spring back after a disappointment or let down, to rebound or recover quickly and without lasting negative effects. A resilient seller responds to disappointment by saying things like "I need to sell something else to make up for that" and "I'll get it next time" and "What can I learn from this and improve on next time?"



To be determined means to be fixed and resolute in your course and not easily deterred. A determined seller says things like this when faced with a challenge: "I need a Plan B since this isn't working as I'd hoped" or "I'm down, but I'm not out for the count. I need to pick myself up and come out swinging."



The dictionary definition of this word is "mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity or danger." Sellers with fortitude say things like "That's a big stretch to get to goal, so I need to dig deep and work hard to make it happen" or "Losing that account is going to hurt me, so I need to figure out how to replace it just as soon as possible."


Sellers need all three overlapping qualities. 


Without determination, sellers go whichever way the wind blows. They may or may not make goal because they leave it up to circumstances and outside forces rather than being resolute and fixed on making it no matter what it takes. 


Without resilience, a seller can be easily defeated. The blow of a single "no" can crush a seller who is not resilient. I've seen it take hours and even days for sellers to recover from disappointments. That's lost time, lost sales and lost opportunity for developing a tough interior. 


Without fortitude, the profession of selling will make you miserable. You have to start from a place of strength and confidence. Your resilience takes you back to your strong starting point. But if you don't start with fortitude (mental and emotional strength), then there's nothing worth springing back to. 


A seller with all three qualities will always out-sell a peer with equal training, competence, leads and work ethic. I can't think of a single quality that trumps these three in terms of what makes sellers successful over the long-term.


Some would argue that innate qualities like these are impossible to get if you don't naturally have them. I disagree. I have coached sales people who started without these qualities and developed them because they chose to do so. In each case, it started with a decision to be determined. It's no different than anything else we do in life – losing weight, finishing a marathon, reaching any goal – we do it because we decide to do it. When we are determined to succeed, we do. No one says "she can't lose weight because she isn't wired to be determined." (I wish it were that easy to be off the hook on this one!) The same is true here. If you truly want to develop these qualities, you will.


By the same token, people with these qualities sometimes flounder, too. When they feel a little burned out, a little overwhelmed, they may not be as resilient. But they do overcome those feelings more quickly and more completely than their counterparts who are unused to springing back. 


It takes practice and a conscious effort. But it is so worth it to feel better in the day-to-day stresses of selling and to become more successful as a result. 



{#/pub/images/DebCalvertNew.jpg}Written by Deb Calvert, President, People First Productivity Solutions-Author of the DISCOVER Questions book series, Deb has worked as a sales productivity specialist and sales researcher since 2000. She is certified as a Master Sales Coach, Master Trainer, and host of CONNECT! an online radio show for selling professionals where listeners ignite their selling power in just an hour. Deb helps companies to boost productivity through people development. This work includes leadership program design and facilitation, strategic planning with executive teams, team effectiveness work, and performance management program design. 


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