How to develop a winning sales mindset: Critical self talk vs pep talk

by Steli Efti
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We’ve all been there: you’re in the middle of a sales call, and you start rambling. You only realize it after you’ve been going on for a few minutes. You kick yourself, try to focus on the topic at hand, and wonder why you always have trouble sticking to the topic. You worry that the client is bored and question whether you’ve botched the call.

That kind of critical self-talk distracts you from the task at hand, and may lead to a bad sales call that doesn’t get a deal. Your sales mindset is directly connected to the effectiveness of your selling.

Self-criticism is a healthy and important part of growing as a salesperson. But if you’re criticizing yourself during a sales call, you’re going about it all wrong. There’s a time and a place for self-criticism.

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But let’s step back for a second and talk about why self-criticism is important. Then we’ll get into why you’re probably going about it the wrong way and how you can use it to improve your sales mindset.

Critical self-talk is crucial for growth

To grow and improve your performance in any field requires a healthy dose of self-awareness. If you know what you’re doing well and what you need to improve on, you can make the changes you need to be the best salesperson possible.

Being honest with yourself gives you the necessary information to make changes in how you prospect, sell, or manage. And people appreciate when you’re able to take a look at hard truths. It’s an admirable quality.

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Self-awareness in sales

This is especially true in sales. Being self-aware and self-critical pays huge dividends over time. When you see a strength, you can capitalize on it. When you see a weakness, you can take steps to improve it. That’s what a real sales mindset does for you.

It’s hard—if not impossible—to improve on your performance if you don’t know what’s going well and what’s not. That’s what self-awareness is all about. So don’t think that critical self-talk is always bad.

But there’s one factor that can really mess you up if you have it wrong: timing.

Timing is key for effective self-criticism

Let’s go back to the experience we were discussing before: beating ourselves up during a sales call. Maybe you rambled. Or slipped up and said the wrong thing. Or forgot the prospect’s name. Whatever the case, it threw you off your game and you’re pissed about it.

That’s when self-criticism starts spiraling out of control. And that doesn’t do you any good.

Real-time self-criticism robs you of the energy and time you need to make a solid connection with your prospect and close the sale. If you’re not in the right sales mindset, you’re going to miss out.

It’s the same as when you’re pressured and rushed—you’re going to make a mistake and miss out on an opportunity.

Stay positive during sales calls

Instead of getting down on yourself when a call doesn’t go well, use a different mode of self-talk: encouragement. Positive self-talk helps you stay positive and make the best of every sales call.

Don’t let your inner voice tell you “this call isn’t going well.” Remind yourself that “we have a great connection, and I can easily make a comeback after that mistake.”

Remember that you’re good at your job, you’re capable, and you’ve salvaged sales after slipping up before.

Research has consistently shown that positive self-talk can make a difference in performance. Most studies have looked at athletes’ self-talk (and I can tell you from my own Muay Thai experience that it’s true). But the idea works across all areas of life, including sales.

Staying positive helps you do you best. Even when things aren’t going well.

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Your feelings are contagious

If you’re still not convinced that positive self-talk is a valuable sales technique, think of it this way: during sales calls, it’s your job to make the prospect feel great. And prospects pick up on feelings of passion, excitement, and confidence. Those feelings are contagious.

Unfortunately, so are negative feelings like nervousness, doubt, and self-criticism. Those aren’t the feelings you want your prospect to have on your call.

Positive self-talk helps get your prospect excited about what you’re selling. Even if that was the only benefit, it’d be worth it. But it can change your entire sales mindset, too.

Getting self-criticism right

Okay, so you should stay positive and use self-encouragement during sales calls. When do you start the self-criticism process?

After a sales call or presentation, take some time away, then come back and look at what went well and what needs improvement. With a bit of distance and perspective, you’ll be more effective in finding ways to improve. Ask yourself what you can learn and how you can grow with the experience of your last pitch.

Focus on constructive self-criticism

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Remember that self-criticism isn’t about being hard on yourself. It’s about identifying the areas where you can grow and establishing self-awareness.

During this process, don’t get discouraged or nitpick every error you’ve made. Be dispassionate and identify things you can do better. Find a way to improve your sales mindset.

Tasha Eurich points out that experience can actually get in the way of self-awareness—so don’t let your self-confidence go to your head. Everyone can continue to learn and improve their sales skills.

One thing you can start doing right away to improve your self-awareness is asking what instead of why, says Eurich. It’s easy to see where you might do that in sales. Instead of asking “Why did that call go so badly?” you might ask “What do the calls that I think go badly have in common?”

This question helps you find commonalities between calls that have gone bad, which could help you identify factors that are hampering your sales success. Asking why is more likely to get you answers that are focused on your fears or insecurities. And that’s not helpful for your sales mindset.

Instead, focus on what questions that have constructive potential. That’s how you’ll achieve true self-awareness and growth.

Where are you in this process? Do you skew to one side of the critical self-talk scale? Or have you found a balance between encouragement and criticism? 


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