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by Victor Antonio, Sales Influence

How many times has this happened? You’re trying to schedule two meetings on the same day and you anticipate the first meeting will take about an hour and you estimate that you’ll be done by 3pm. You then need to set a time for the second meeting so you start the following scheduling exercise in your mind:

* Okay, if I’m out of the meeting and in my car by 3:00 I should beat rush hour.
* Without traffic I should be able to make it in 20 minutes.
* But this is downtown Atlanta and there’s construction going on.
* Hmmm…last time it took me about 20 minutes but that other time I got caught in traffic and it took me 45 minutes.
* Although there was that one time when I saw Client X and I was able to make it in 15
* You know what,…I’m going to give myself 30 minutes.
* Wait a minute; I’ve never been to this new location so maybe I’ll need another 5-10 minutes to find the location.
* Maybe I should give myself more than 30 minutes. Last time I went to see a new client it took me 20 minutes to find the office
* Let me play it safe and tell the customer I’ll be at their office at 4pm; I should be able to get there in an hour.

Whether you’re in sales or not, does any of this mental to-and-fro sound familiar? Now, the day of the meeting arrives and you end up arriving at the second customer’s location in 1:20 minutes instead of the hour you predicted.

The difference in what you predicted and what actually occurred is called a Prediction Error. Arriving 20 minutes means that the next time you’re in a similar situation you’ll remember to adjust your timeframe accordingly.

Now lets go ahead and look at what’s going on inside your brain when planning your next side-by-side meeting. The next time you have to schedule a second meeting, your brain will recall from memory, the last few times you were in this scheduling situation. Depending on the outcome of the previous attempts to make the second meeting, will determine how much time you decide to give yourself.

In other words, your brain calculates a numerical rolling average based on the results of the last few previous experiences. Every time you either arrive early or late, your brain tries to reconcile the prediction error from past results and forecast what the new time gap should be to get to the next meeting.

When you reflect on past results and they happen to be positive (i.e., you made the meeting on time) your mind is at ease. Your brain recognizes this situation from before (i.e., going from one meeting to another across town) and doesn’t feel anxious about scheduling a second meeting close together.

On the other hand, if the last two or three attempts to make the second meeting on time failed, your dopamine neurons will fire actively causing you to feel anxious, which in turn will influence how much time you give yourself when scheduling the next meeting. For example, if the last three times you were late an average of 15 minutes, you’ll want to give yourself at least 20 minutes to ensure you make it on time.

Interestingly enough, your most recent experience carry most weight when predicting how much time you should give yourself the next time. Scans of brain activity using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) equipment confirm that when you’ve reach your destination at the anticipate time, your dopamine activity is low. But if in the past you failed to make the second meeting on time, your dopamine neurons are firing. You may have forgotten about getting their late last time, but your brain hasn’t.

Whether dopamine neurons are triggered or not will depend on the last 5-7 experiences with the majority of the influence coming from the most recent results; say the last 2-3 attempts.

So our perception (i.e., our predictive process) of what will happen the next time you attempt to schedule a second meeting on the same day isn’t based on some long historical analysis (i.e., more accurate accounting over a longer period of time), but rather on what recently happened the last few times you tried to make it on time. That’s just how our brain works; it will only go so far back in time. And, if being late cost us greatly in the past, we are more likely to remember that experience which in turn will influence how we feel (i.e., more anxious) and make decisions (i.e., more cautious).

Sales Influence Effect
So what does scheduling foul-ups and the predictive error have to do with selling? More than you think! Since our past experiences dictate how we behave in the future, it’s worth taking the time to see if we are ‘remembering things’ correctly.

For example, many times, salespeople get into what is known as a sales funk; they can’t seem to sell anything to anyone. The natural tendency would be to feel sorry for oneself, followed by a pity-party in which they remind themselves how bad they really are at selling. During this funk they’ll also recall with vivid clarity the last few sales attempts and how poorly they performed. They’ll look at how much they expected to close in terms of sales and realize that they only managed to close a small percentage of those deals. From there it’s a short mental leap to the conclusion that they aren’t any good at selling and maybe they should change their career.

But much like the person trying to make the meeting on time and not making it, salespeople commit the same prediction error by only looking back at recent history. They’ll remember the last 2 or 3 deals that went south, and conclude that they stink at selling. They too are committing a prediction error by not taking into account, not only the last few deals, but the last 5 to 10 deals they worked on and the percentage they closed.

Our mind is our worst enemy when it comes to our self-esteem and self-worth. The mind’s tendency to look at ‘recent’ events and not take a longer view of all past events is why we often get down on ourselves. Our mind is cheating us out of other victories by not going far back enough in time.

At one time or another I’m sure we’ve all sat quietly in our offices or home to take some mental accounting of what’s going on in our lives and how we’re doing. Sadly, most of us are fixated on the most recent events, which in turn affect how we feel going forward. Since are brain is programmed to look at recent events, it’s up to us to instruct that grey matter in our skull to back and recall our past successes.

You’re better than you think; you just have a lazy, preconditioned brain that only wants to remember recent failures. Here are some other examples of prediction error thinking:

* Instead of going back a year or two, some financial analysts go back only a few weeks or a month to predict how well the market will do over the next year.
* Corporate executives will look at the sales results of the last two quarters and raise the following year’s quota by some indecent amount. If they were to go back a few years they may be able to see the cyclical patterns of an ebbing and flowing marketplace.
* Individuals will look at how much they’ve spent on their credit cards over the last 2 months and create a budget. If they were to take the time and go back 6-12 months they would realize that they’re spending more than they know.

If you’re in a sales funk, forget the last 2-3 deals you lost and focus on the last 10 deals altogether! Think back to that big, white elephant deal you bagged last year that no one thought you could get? How about that dead account that you were able to reactivate after 12 months of zero sales? Do you see where I’m going with this?

It’s up to you to force your mind, your brain to look farther back. Instead of hanging your disposition on the latest streak of bad deals, go back in time and recall all the other deals that went right. Staying positive REALLY IS about looking backwards to go forward, but only if you go back far enough to recall past successes and wins.

Take some time to contemplate and reflect on what you have accomplished in the past by scanning a longer time horizon in your mind. If you do, you might begin to feel a surge of excitement and enthusiasm; that’s the dopamine in your brain signaling other parts of your brain that you’re better than you thought you were and Shazam, you’re back in the game (i.e., the hunt).

Hobgoblin Warning
Studies have shown that when you’ve gone through a traumatic sales experience (i.e., lost a huge deal or client), your brain doesn’t forget quite so easily no matter how long ago the incident occurred. Extremely negative outcomes have a deleterious affect on how we as people, or salespeople to be more specific, see ourselves. Unfortunate events, unfortunately, can become mental hobgoblins that toy with our confidence and affect our performance in the future. The only defense against past failures is to be vigilant, if not mindful, of how these past failures attempt to sour our present sales mindset. Force your mind to stop and include, in that inventory of past failures, those times when you did score the big deal or close the one deal that couldn’t be closed. Challenge yourself, your thinking, by remembering all the good things you’ve done and all the deals you managed to close. By including a true accounting of your sales past, you’ll be able to fend off those moments when you lose a deal or are feeling down about yourself.

Remember, selling ain’t hard once you know how!

Victor Antonio, Sales Infuence

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Copyright © 2009 by Victor Antonio. All rights reserved. This article MAY be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, as long as the author’s name, website and email address are included as part of the article’s body. All inquiries, including information on electronic licensing, should be directed to Victor Antonio at info@victorantonio.com.

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