This is an excerpt from my second book, Managing the Sales Process, available on Amazon.com. You can find a series of these excerpts in a dedicated blog category to get a broad overview, post-by-post, of the book (they are listed in reverse order in the category, so start with the oldest).

From Chapter 1 – The Core Attributes of Sales Failure

Internal noise
Samurai warriors had a term they used called mushin. It is roughly translates into empty mind, or without mind. It is the desired state of mind for the kind of duels that took place between these expert swordsmen. The two warriors would stand ─ frozen ─ within striking distance of each other, razor-sharp swords drawn and cocked into striking position.

Then, there would be a kind of stare down. To put it colloquially, whoever blinked first usually died. In most cases, this was the warrior who moved first to strike, for in doing so, he left an opening that allowed the other to counter and kill. But I digress.

The point here is mushin. A similar kind of empty-minded focus is found in various modern day “flow” sports and activities, such as off-road mountain biking, skiing, and snowboarding, martial arts of all kinds, and even the performance of music. When the participant in these activities reaches a high level of expertise and comfort around the activity, the performance of the activity does not require conscious thought about each action. Rather, the totality of the activity has been integrated into the performer’s mind. A state of flow can occur when execution is, for lack of a better term, a full-body experience that is practically automatic, timeless, and seamless.

If you have experienced flow, you know what I am talking about. If not, you’ll have to imagine.

What does this have to do with selling and with the mysteriously named negative sales attribute of “internal noise?”

Internal noise is that “inner voice” in your head that you hear when you have not reached a level of expertise around an activity. Imagine the kind of inner dialogue that a samurai warrior might have while standing inches away from his opponent’s blade:

“OK, breathe in through the nose, and out through the mouth; belly is too tight ─ relax it!; soften the eyes; oh gosh. My hands are sweating … I wonder if my sword will slip…..”

As you can imagine, the more that our warrior is actively engaging with his internal mental dialogue, the less he is present for the situation that he is in. Warriors, athletes, and performers develop the expertise to allow flow after long periods of practice, study, and engagement. They permit the capacity for flow by eliminating the need for this internal dialogue about the mechanics of what they are doing.

Unfortunately, most salespeople don’t make strong conscious efforts to learn their trade. Generally, most just show up for work and wing it. Salespeople are told that they have two ears and one mouth and should use them accordingly, but a part of that equation is missing. The ears work much better when listening is the focus. When part of the focus is on the internal dialogue, active listening suffers.

Salespeople who study their craft, hone their skills, map out their process, know what they want to achieve with each meeting and know their product and their services cold give themselves the opportunity to be present absent internal dialogue that might sound like:

“Oh gosh, what should I say if he objects to the price … he looked at his watch, does that mean he is bored? I only have 15 minutes with this guy to get something done or I will be late for my next appointment ….”

When salespeople are not in command of their work, they succumb to this kind of internal dialogue. They are not focused on the prospect nor on understanding what will make the prospect buy. Nor are they likely to discover it.

The potential for internal dialogue or flow can be ferreted out in an interview by asking a salesperson how he or she would go about setting up for and executing the first month on the job with your company. You want to hear something first about getting up to speed, but more importantly, some very specific ideas about ways to find leads, contact them, ascertain qualifications and needs, deliver proposals, etc. Listen for details and certainty. Those who know the craft of sales well will be able to spontaneously map out a plan. They may need to make some assumptions about what they need to learn about your company, but not so many that it will keep them from creating a general plan. By the way, this is another good place to look for excuses!

You can do the same with your existing salespeople. Those who can articulate clearly what they do to get from point A to point B in a sale probably have a clear head when they are with a prospect. With respect to the subject at hand, that is a good thing.

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Authors note (AKA shameless plugs)

So, this 7-step sales process and associated topics…. Yup, I write about that a lot. I’ve been working with it since I developed it about 25 years ago – in my own diverse work experiences, with my teams when I had them, and with clients ever since.

If you would like to develop you own personalized and customized, highly effective and efficient B2B selling system, here are some further steps you can take:

The Salesman’s Guide to Dating is a free or very cheap (depending on Amazon) Kindle book that walks you through the sales process using the familiar analogy of dating. It’s a good, fun and quick way to get your mind around the whole process and how the pieces fit together.

Building Your Sales Process (BYSP) is a free and very thorough exploration of the same 7-step process that will walk you through the development of your own customized, personal B2B selling system. When you are done, you will know exactly what to do to get new business.

The Momentum Selling System® is an inexpensive but very robust online sales training course that is similar to BYSP, but goes deeper into the concepts behind each of the steps, and also helps you develop a plan not only for the 7-step process but also addresses mindset, repeat business and client base management.

If none of that sounds right, I do personal coaching and offer a free 30-minute intake session so that we can both learn if it makes sense to work together 1-on-1. If this sounds interesting, click over to the coaching page on this site and sign up for the free session.

Here’s to your success!

-David