I read some years ago that the most consistent trait successful sales professionals demonstrated, across cultures and industries, was optimism. Optimism as defined by, for example, a belief that after a bad quarter the next one would be better or, say, after a difficult sales call a belief that the next call would be successful, and so on. In summary, however bleak the present might be the future promises to be brighter. I try to embrace this in my own sales efforts, and can attest that during a dry spell it is a trait that needs some conscious effort to fully embrace!

However, when it comes to setting and achieving goals optimism that is not tempered by “defensive pessimism” can work against our success. Here’s what the research reported by Kelly McGonigal, an author and psychologist, says about the need for having defensive pessimism: People who are most optimistic about what they are going to do are more likely to fail. This is because they are shocked when setbacks happen and tend to give up. The idea of defensive pessimism as a source of willpower is that in anticipating setbacks or predicting failure we avoid the shock to our systems and the “Therefore I must be bad at what I do” response we can sometimes have.  It also gives us the opportunity to plan for how we will recover when things get off track. McGonigal suggests the following steps in a defensive pessimism plan – pay attention to steps four to seven, particularly:

  1. What is my goal?
  2. What would be the most positive outcomes?
  3. What actions will I take to reach the goal?
  4. What is the biggest obstacle?
  5. When and where is this obstacle most likely to occur?
  6. What can I do to prevent the obstacles?
  7. What specific thing will I do to get back to my goal when this obstacle happens?  

Following a strong 2018, I have set an ambitious sales goal for myself this year. The biggest obstacle I have identified is complacency. Complacency can occur at any point throughout the year, though it is most likely to occur in the third quarter for me, as I eye the end of another year. To prevent this from happening I have created SMART activity goals broken out by month.  I have reduced activity goals in July and August to account for vacation time, etc.  This year when October 2019 rolls around if I am off track I have put a reminder in my calendar on Friday October 4th, “Reach out to my business partner to state goals out loud and get help holding myself accountable.”

So, as you execute your sales plan, take some time to consider what might get in the way of your success and what specific things you will do to overcome these potential setbacks.