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Sales Psychology – The Theory of Mind

July 25, 2013 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Communication, Emotional Intelligence, Life Skills, Mindful selling, Sales Psychology, Sales Relationships

When we interact and work with people (customers, colleagues, managers, friends, family, etc.) it is important to be able to interpret and understand where the other person is coming from – their perspective, especially if we want to continue interacting and working with them in a manner that is beneficial to both parties.

Interpreting and understanding where another person is coming from does not automatically imply that we agree with their perspective.  We may not agree. However, we at least know where they stand, what their perspective is, how they see the world. Ideally, the other person would respond in kind but that is not always the case.  It is critical to our survival that we understand that others might see things differently to ourselves.

This is about Theory of Mind.

customer-relationshipImagine that you are conducting a test with preschool children:

  1. You get a tube of M&M’s and take out the chocolate and put in coloured pencils.
  2. You then ask the child what they think is in the tube (they haven’t seen you take out the chocolate and put in the pencils) and they would (if they know what M&M’s are) say that they think there is chocolate in the tube.
  3. You then show them that there isn’t chocolate, but pencils in the tube.
  4. You ask them: ‘if your best friend (name) walked through the door and saw the tube, what would he/she think was in the tube?’
  5. If the child says pencils, the test is failed. If the child says chocolate the test is positive.

What is being tested here is if the child has developed Theory of Mind or not.

Theory of Mind is the ability to interpret and understand another person’s mind and see their perspective. Successful sales / business professionals have Theory of Mind.

Theory of Mind is a theory insofar as the mind of a person is not directly observable. Therefore one has to make the presumption that others have a mind because each human being can only intuit the existence of their own mind through introspection, and no one has direct access to the mind of another.

Having Theory of Mind allows a person to attribute thoughts, desires and intentions to others, to predict or explain their actions and to posit their intentions.

Empathy is a related concept of Theory of Mind. Empathy means there is recognition and understanding of the different states of mind, including beliefs, desires and particularly emotions of others. It is the ability to “put oneself into another’s shoes”.

empathy-explainedWhat is interesting is that Theory of Mind appears to be an innate potential ability in people, but an ability that requires social and other experiences over many years to bring to cultivate and bring to fruition.  We know that different people may develop more, or less, effective theories of mind.

To be able to accomplish this essential capability successfully is a life time’s work.  It involves the regular practice and coordination of many skills and capabilities including: active listening, questioning, empathy, reflection, analysis, interpretation and association, paraphrasing, innovating, challenging ideas, assertiveness, diplomacy, etc.  These capabilities, in themselves, can and need to be crafted over many years as a part of our sales / business and people resources if we are to master our roles as sales professionals and leaders.

The mastering of this psychological construct is essential for our success in any professional or personal relationship, especially Sales.

Why is Theory of Mind important to sales and business?

You cannot hope to survive or thrive in business or life without a well developed Theory of Mind. Only through the continuous practice and implementation of Theory of Mind can we fully understand our colleagues, partners and clients’ perspectives and then look for mutually beneficial solutions based on real, tangible and fair exchanges of value.


Remember, everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, MD www.barrett.com.au

Ego is a dirty word in sales & sales management

February 1, 2013 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Coaching, Communication, Competition, Complex Selling & Transactional Selling, Emotional Intelligence, Resilience, Sales Management, Sales Talent, Wellbeing

Having a big ego is often associated with the sales profession.   For many years the supercharged Alpha male, 600 lb sales gorilla has been the poster person for successful salespeople.   And then there is the larger than life sales manager who charges in to save the day by taking over the sales call, making the sale and demonstrating to everyone present just how much better he is than the salesperson.  With stories like these swirling in the ether, it is often assumed that a big ego is the key factor that makes salespeople and sales managers successful.  This assumption is wrong on so many levels.

Yet you hear, even today, that business are still looking for ‘hungry, aggressive sales performers’. 

The truth is that these supercharged, salespeople; for all their so called sales success and supposedly legendary status, actually fall well behind the real sales superstars in terms of achieving high level of sustainable sales results.

leading based upon fear

leading based upon fear

As for the domineering sales manager… they cause more harm than good; they take over the conversation to demonstrate their superiority. By showing off in the sales call and calling it coaching they make everything about themselves and leave salespeople withering on the side lines as they suck all the ‘ego air’ out of the room and tell their salespeople to ‘just buck up and be like me’.  What a joke! 

By contrast the best performing salespeople; the real sales superstars, are the open minded, curious, collaborative, team oriented, open to learning and aim for partnerships on every level type of people. These superstars have humility too – a direct contradiction to the behaviour of the ego driven salespeople. The equivalent enlightened sales manager shares the same qualities as their salespeople and, as this manager knows, success can only be as good as the success of their salespeople.

These sales managers bask in the glory of their sales teams’ success, not in their own.

So why do these ego maniac images prevail when we know that the opposite is a better approach?

We all know selling is a competitive profession; everyone is competing for the time and attention of their customers, trying to get in before the competitors.  There are tactics, strategies and power games; and ultimately people’s jobs and livelihoods are on the line if these things don’t work out.  Fear is never far away from the mind of a salesperson or sales manager.

 An out of control ego is all about fear.  It is all about survival!

If a business has created a climate of fear around selling and salespeople’s jobs and livelihoods are at risk, then there is likely to be lots of unhealthy egos at play. Often shielded by bravado (another manifestation of fear) many sales teams can look quite dynamic and ‘normal’ on the surface. But dig a bit deeper and there lies many distressful stories of survival.  We know that in times of life threatening situations (or in the case of many Western salespeople, when their life styles are threatened) self interest will prevail and unhealthy egos will prevail.

To get that time and attention with the prospect or customer salespeople do need the skill, commitment and courage to contact and follow up on opportunities, knowing that they could get knocked back at any time.  So, yes, there needs to be a certain degree of mental toughness, resilience, a thick skin.  However an ego driven by self interest and fear will never get as far as a person who can effectively weigh up their interest with the interests of their company and their clients and find the right path for all.

The same applies for effective sales managers.  They know that to get the best results they should work with and through people, not around them or instead of them. Good sales managers are self and other aware, thoughtful, respectful and respected, well prepared, and know what constitutes good sales performance. This means they can coach to the specifics as these relate to each person and where that person is, on their sales journey to excellence.

Regrettably too many sales managers get promoted to their position without the training needed to be fully effective as sales managers and coaches.  As a result, they often function at their Peter principle and their fear (of operating at a level beyond their competence) causes them to take control of the sales calls, dominate customer interactions and generally behave more like the Alpha male and 600 lb gorilla, than the effective leader, mentor and coach they should be.

what are you afraid off?

so, what are you afraid of?

So, if you or someone you know has an overly active ego that gets you/them into trouble in sales or sales management situations here are some questions to consider:

  • Are you currently letting fear hold you or your sales team hostage? If so what are you really afraid of?
  • What would happen if you got rid of fear as the overriding motivating factor for achieving sales? How would that change the dynamic of your sales approach or sales team approach to finding and winning new business with existing or new clients?
  • What would happen if you put your pride in your pocket and listened to the real needs of your clients and/or sales people instead – gave time and attention to their needs; seeing the world from their perspective? And then what would happened if you worked together to create viable solutions for everyone?
  • What if you have someone listen to you and really hear what concerns you are having; what your priorities are and what you want to achieve?  How would you feel when they took you seriously and then looked at how they could assist you in achieving your goals?
  • How would it feel to put confidence back in your people by letting them do what you employed them to do and that is… sell?

Don’t let fear, and by default ego, drive your sales career or leadership style.  It’s not a long term strategy for success.  It will only end in tears and that is not what people want for themselves or we want for you. 

By the way if you have hired the ego driven, supercharged alpha salesperson and they are wrecking havoc in your business you may also like to read Why hiring and keeping the 600lb sales gorilla is a mistake

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au 

PS You can get a Sneak Preview as well as purchase and download the detailed 49 page report of the 12 Sales Trends for 2013 now to see which trends will have the greatest impact on your sales optimisation efforts in 2013.   In the meantime you can download our past trends here for free.

Empathy – The New Sales Edge

January 18, 2013 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Brain Science, Complex Selling & Transactional Selling, Emotional Intelligence, Life Skills, Mindful selling, Neuroscience, Sales Psychology

Late last year we published the 12 Sales Trends Report for 2013 and released a brief summary of each sales trend in December.  Over the year we will delve a little deeper into each sales trend.  To kick off the New Year we will focus on the Sales Trend Empathy.

This sales trend is seeing smart businesses making it a priority to redress the balance and develop our brains’ Interpersonal sensitivities: our empathetic side to take into account the needs of others as well as our own needs.  We will see people working more in collaboration for the mutual benefit of each other while maintaining the best of analytical thinking and risk taking. 

Why?  Well, 2 reasons:

  1. Sadly, for some years now the business world, by and large, has been worshipping at the corporate alter of Profit which has created an Empathy deficit… and most people (read employees, customers, communities, etc.)  do not like it.  It’s not sustainable by itself.
  2. There has been, and still is, a shift away from product as central to the complex sale with businesses and markets becoming more intertwined, and people now featuring at the heart of viable business relationships.   

emotional qualities such as compassion, empathy, and benevolence can be trained

And the good news is that the emotional qualities such as compassion, empathy, and benevolence can be trained: they can be proactively developed and mastered.

Effective selling and building profitable businesses in 21st Century is all about developing viable relationships based on real value and substance which is a combination of the tangible and intangible.

The challenge will be to reconcile the prevailing norms of the cool headedness of the analytical thinking brain and the risk taking brain of the ‘cowboy’ entrepreneur with the empathetic moral compass brain as we navigate and manage the impact of our decisions on individuals, customers, suppliers and communities.

However, making Empathy a priority is not that easy.  A lot of emphasis has been placed on the importance of being ‘analytical’ in business, being rational, yet the newspapers are littered with stories of CEOs and leaders whose rationality and analytical thinking was of the highest order yet the decisions they made failed to consider the people factors, at worst, put the lives of people and communities at risk, destroying or severely eroding their business brands and future viability as well, creating horrendous consequences for those affected by their decisions.

We also read countless stories of risk taking entrepreneurs who are lauded as business celebrities one day for the way they have taken a business from zero to hero faster than the speed of light and then canned the next when their venture takes a dive leaving people jobless and out of pocket, and investors poorer for the experience.

Interestingly, in this increasingly complex world, capabilities such as empathy, compassion and benevolence are emerging as critical qualities of highly successful people, teams, organisations and communities. Even in the highly competitive world of business and selling, it has been found that those sales people and leaders who are able to incorporate these qualities into their daily work and personal lives are finding greater levels of success. This is coming in the form of better sales results and healthier, more prosperous client relationships as well as better personal health, resilience, and overall job and personal satisfaction.

Numerous articles and books are written about that ‘One thing’ or that ‘Secret to Success’ that will solve all your issues – and what happens? It doesn’t work by itself – it needs to work as part of a system.   And so it is with the brain.  The brain is a complex network and being able to access and develop key areas of the brain allowing them to work in concert and counterbalance each other for positive outcomes is the key. 

If you want to understand more about Empathy as a powerful societal force you may enjoy watching a very interesting video (see below)  about a concept called Outrospection by philosopher and author Roman Krznaric who explains how we can help drive social change by stepping outside ourselves. 

Now is the time to reconcile and place equal importance on developing the empathetic parts of our brain as our new sales and business edge.

If you would like to you can purchase and download the detailed 49 page report of the 12 Sales Trends for 2013 now to see which sales trends will have the greatest impact on your sales optimisation efforts in 2013.

 Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au 

Sales Lessons out of the mouths of babes

December 13, 2012 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Business Acumen, Communication, Emotional Intelligence, Life Skills

‘Out of the mouths of babes’ is one of those expressions you hear adults utter occasionally.  Often amazed at the remarkable or insightful things children say, I think we do children an injustice by thinking this is an infrequent or rare occurrence.   The many children I have met over the years are very perceptive, smart and able to see through weak arguments and call people on them, even if the children, themselves, have not acquired the worldly experiences we accumulate as adults.

climbing frame

persistent, focused, determined, creative, curious and uninhibited

You may recall that I wrote an article a couple of years ago titled, ‘Where is your inner 6 year old when you need them?’ In that article I pointed out that the very qualities we want in effective salespeople are those we often see in young children.  The wonderful thing about most children is that they are persistent, focused, determined, creative, curious and uninhibited.  They often stand their ground to get what they want – many of them are unyielding… at least for a while until society in some way shape or form knocks these qualities out of  many of them. 

Sadly, too many times we inadvertently shut down these very qualities we want to encourage in later life.  So it was with great pleasure and curiosity that Peter Finkelstein and I recently attended a business presentation pitch prepared by two young boys from The Melbourne Montessori School*.

max spencer mms

max & spencer during the presentation

A couple of months ago one of the teachers,  informed us that, as part of their end of year project, Max (aged 11) and Spencer (aged 12)  wanted to do a business pitch and were wanting honest feedback on their idea and a chance to present in front of experienced business professionals.   Peter Finkelstein, our head of sales strategy, and I jumped at the chance to see how well these young boys would stand up and deliver in this space.   The result was amazing; far better than we hoped for and, far better than many adults we have seen perform in similar conditions.

So what was it that made these boys special?  Well let’s set the scene with some background information.   Firstly the boys were allowed and encouraged to do this assignment as a part of their school education.   This was seen as normal (and so it should be).

The Business of their Business: Max and Spencer’s business specialises in creating new innovative products and ideas.  They then look for viable business partners who can manufacture and distribute these products in various markets showing them how they could grow new markets, make more sales and, yes more money.

lego graph bar

present an exciting concept for Lego to make profit

The purpose of their presentation: To present an exciting concept that could open new markets for Lego. (It was our job as the adults to be Lego executives in this instance.)  Post the presentation we were able to ask questions and the boys would do their best to respond.

The boys had invested many hours in researching their markets, coming up with ideas and concepts, preparing a detailed presentation with the WIIFM (what’s in it for me the customer), product designs, target market information, projected earnings, partnership and IP arrangements, etc. It was impressive.

After the hour long presentation and Q&A session, Peter and I were walking back to our office discussing what we had just participated in. 

Peter says the analogy is simple. “As young minds, we are free spirits, less inhibited and prepared to ask questions. As we grow into adulthood we become reluctant to ask, more conscious of our egos and more willing to guess at the answers.”

Peter went on to say, “Well, this week I learned another valuable lesson that all salespeople – myself included – can learn from. And you guessed it, it was from two elfin-like boys.

Asked to do a business presentation as part of a school project these two boys researched the facts, had a clear view of what they wanted to say and what they wanted to get out of the presentation. And here’s the rub… they stuck to their guns.

Quizzed after their presentation by five adults – two of whom were total strangers – these boys were prepared to answer the questions, courteously refute and counter argue with adults, without displaying any disrespect. But the big thing is that unlike many salespeople, when pushed, they didn’t back off and offer discounts or rebates, special deals or off the table discussions. They presented cogent arguments for why their proposition was valid and in the best interests of the customer.

Here were two youngsters demonstrating that if you are confident in yourself and in your presentation, if you truly believe that you are offering value that the buyer wants, there is no reason to resort to needless discounting.

Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned

There were many other lessons to be gained from the exercise, but for me watching the two boys perform I couldn’t help but think of the many excuses I have heard from salespeople over the last 40 years about why they didn’t get the sale. What came to mind was the counter-arguments put forward in the many coaching sessions I have had, when I tried to point out that the salesperson backed off too early, or failed to fully grasp the value of his or her proposition. When challenged, these youngsters relied on facts to support their argument. They had researched their argument and had hard, irrefutable data to back up their claims. Now, if salespeople took the trouble to do the same thing, rather than relying on someone else to produce a brochure, sales would be that much better.”

I agree with everything Peter said.  But what I also love is that these children wanted and were allowed to do this project in the first place.  I know there are other schools encouraging similar projects and it is a testament to a teacher’s ability to see the valuable lessons at every level of this project.  Here are just a few examples the teacher gleaned as being educational and relevant to school and business:

  • Maths: working out percentages, averages, values, distribution, pricing, margins
  • Language and Communication: written and verbal; getting your message across and making yourself understood; asking and responding to questions
  • Research: finding and gathering information; making sense of it and putting it into sensible charts that can make effective cases
  • Design and spatial awareness: creating specifications and plans, mapping country distributions
  • Interpersonal skills: presentation skills, questioning and listening, thinking on your feet, etc. 
  • IT: using PowerPoint, the internet, computers, etc. for all sorts of things.
  • Confidence and resilience

I do not know if Max and Spencer truly understand the feat they achieved that day and in this project.  They may think that they could have done better and of course we all can, but Spencer and Max, Peter and I want you to know that you did an amazing job; you were outstanding and no doubt this experience will be a bedrock in your foundation of life if you want it to be.  The courage, confidence, consideration and determination you displayed will take you far.  We are indeed very proud to have attended your pitch presentation.   

So as the school year comes to a close I think we can all take heart that some of our future leaders, business entrepreneurs and innovators are already planning their and our futures.

*Some of you may be aware that my children are Montessori educated. A Montessori education is characterised by an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits and respect for a child’s natural psychological development, as well as technological advancements in society. It teaches children how to think, not just what to think and encourages an enquiring, curious mind that wants to explore Why? How? Why not? as much as What?. FYI Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google fame are Montessori educated. I want to say thank you to Naomi, the Melbourne Montessori Cycle 3 teacher who encouraged Max and Spencer, and to our Principal, Gay Wales and the other parents who attended the presentation and treated it with the professionalism and respect it deserved.  More power to you.  And while they do say it takes a brave mother to raise a Montessori child , I wouldn’t have it any other way.

sales trends 2013

sales trends 2013

PS You can get a Sneak Preview as well as purchase and download the detailed 49 page report of the 12 Sales Trends for 2013 now to see which trends will have the greatest impact on your sales optimisation efforts in 2013.   In the meantime you can download our past trends here for free.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au 

Recognition or Praise?

June 7, 2012 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Communication, Education in Sales, Emotional Intelligence, Sales Leadership, Sales Management, Sales Motivation & Rewards, Sales Relationships, Sales Results, Sales Talent, Sales Tips

Sales managers are being told to do more with less, to work smarter to get peak performance from their sales teams, despite increasingly limited resources. As tough as it is, there is one tool in the sales manager’s portfolio that is never in short supply – Praise!

Yet for some reason, many sales managers find it challenging to show their appreciation for their sales people’s efforts, reluctantly doling out praise as if it was in short supply. The reason is not because managers are unappreciative of their team’s efforts, it’s just that too many do not realise that sales people need to hear that they are doing well and are on track.


Self driven and self motivated

about 20% are self driven

Around 5% to 20% of sales people have the rare characteristics of being internally driven or self (intrinsically) motivated; they have a growth mindset and understand they can control many aspect of their destiny. Whilst these sales people can enjoy receiving praise or recognition, they do not often seek it out or need it to keep them going. However many sales people do not think or feel this way. The sales people who are extrinsically motivated need frequent external praise, recognition, validation and encouragement to keep going. So what? Typically many sales managers come from the ranks of the self (intrinsically) motivated sales people pool. This means that they tend to view others through their own lens of self determination assuming that all sales people must be motivated like them. It often comes as a complete shock to them when they discover that the majority of sales people in their teams are extrinsically motivated and are in need of praise, recognition, encouragement and validation.

This can be very draining for the intrinsically motivated sales manager and very disheartening for the extrinsically motivated sales person when respective needs are not met. How do we make this work so that everyone benefits and sales results are achieved?

For the sales manager it is important to distinguish between Praise and Recognition:

  • Recognition is when a sales manager holds a sales person up in front of their peers and acknowledges exceptional performance.
  • Praise on the other hand is individual, applied with mindfulness, discipline and forethought to develop and encourage effective behaviour and mindset in sales people.

The use of praise is ‘best practice’ in sales management. It is used to reward behaviour that sales managers want to encourage and see repeated. To be of real merit the praise needs to be specific and relevant. Here are a few tips on giving praise…



  1. Never praise and criticise (at the same time) – praise is a reward. The real value of that reward is diminished when sales managers start of by saying ‘nice things’ and the focus in on the areas that need improvement. As a result, is only given when the performance or behaviour is totally positive and when the sales manager’s intent is to encourage the sales person to repeat it.
  2. Be specific – saying something like “Hey, good work there” is a meaningless statement. What was good? Why was it good? How was it good? are important to state when giving praise. So when a sales manager decides to give praise they should be able to say explicitly WHAT, WHY or HOW the person did something well and WHY it is valued by the sales manager and why it should be value by the sales person. By being specific the sales person can see why they are doing well and hopefully repeat this later on when needed.
  3. Personalise Praise – indentify the aspects unique to that person that made their performance notable when they applied that specific skill or behaviour. Telling the person what special characteristics he or she has, not only personalises the praise, it also helps the salesperson identify what capabilities they have that the sales manager values. This is what makes praise so important to the person and interestingly, begins to open up those people who have been more extrinsically motivated to start to look inwardly and find what intrinsically makes them effective.

So before you think of implementing a costly sales incentives program, try praise first. Effectively praising sales people doesn’t cost a cent but can return an enormous profit in improved sales performance.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au

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