If you've ever watched the opening of ABC's Wide World of Sports, then you've seen the winning runner break through the finish line, arms upraised in triumph, elated by the "thrill of victory." Of course, you've also seen the championship skier as he miscalculates and goes tumbling down the slopes into the "agony of defeat."

Victory and defeat. Winning and losing. Good and bad. All similar concepts – right? The thing is, both these people are winners. Why? Because only winners enter the race in the first place.

Whether it's business, professional life, athletics – or even love – only those who are ready to risk losing, willing to accept the consequences, and able to profit from their losses will ever know the taste of victory.

The risk involved in becoming a winner is a tall order for a salesperson, and the reason so many sales forces are suffering isn't because they don't have winners on their teams, but because too many of their players won't enter the race. While the "thrill of victory" is undeniably seductive, the "agony of defeat" is often more intimidating.

Just what makes the fear of losing so immobilizing? The reasons are buried in our social conscience, where attitudes we hardly understand and barely acknowledge shape our thinking and actions. Perhaps the most powerful mixed message we receive as children is the belief we hold about winning and losing. "It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game," we learn to say. But what we really believe is the dictum of coach Vince Lombardi, "Winning isn't everything – it's the only thing." Is it any wonder then, that most people would rather forgo the "thrill of victory," than risk the "agony of defeat"?

The Comfort Zone
Most people tend to be non-riskers. Their tombstones could easily read: "Died at 30... buried at 80." They're men and women who've settled at an early age into the comfort zone of mediocrity. As justification for the grayness of their lives, they tell themselves, "Well, I may not have won, but at least I didn't lose."

In years of working with sales organizations, we've found that 60% of the nation's sales force is made up of these "At-Leasters." Stymied by their fears, hung up between failure and world-class success, occasionally actualizing their potential (but sure to fall back), At-Leasters – with their seesaw sales performance records – are a mysterious drain on their companies' sales records, representing a major hidden loss and often infecting the entire corporation with the At-Leasteritus.

More than most other professions, salespeople are judged – by themselves and by others – on "measurable results," which makes them particularly susceptible to At-Leasterism. For managers, the challenge becomes one of how to revitalize this group – to turn those mushy "60 Percenters" into true winners.

In their attempt to put solid ground under their psyches, salespeople define themselves in one of three ways, all based on "measurable results." They are Losers, Winners, or something in between. How they see themselves – this internal picture – becomes the face that looks back at them in the corporate washroom mirror.

"Loser" salespeople see themselves inescapably hedged in by their limitations. Lifelong low self-esteem chronically inhibits their sales ability. They blame themselves when something goes wrong, unable to examine the circumstances or analyze the situation. Loser salespeople occupy 20% of the sales jobs in this country, but since they almost never make quota they eventually get turned over, making room for a new crop of underachievers.

At the same time, the infamous 80/20 rule tells us that 20% of the sales force is making 80% of the sales. This 20% is naturally made up of "Winner" salespeople. Despite the fact that we may all be "born winners," after a good dose of mixed messages, eroded confidence, daily pessimism and fear of failure, most "born winners" metamorphose into something else. Those who do survive are the ones who've developed the tools they need to keep their high self-esteem intact. Winners see themselves as winners and deliver like pros – even when they fail, lose and lose again. They're self-motivated, they believe in themselves and they know they make a difference. In major-league baseball, the leading home-run hitter often leads the league in strikeouts as well, but that doesn't keep him from going up to the plate and taking a swing.

Winners also take full responsibility for what went wrong – they just don't blame themselves. They feel good about themselves no matter how they perform on any one day or in any one role. Winners know you can't win if you're afraid to lose, and that's where they differ from At-Leasters.

At-Leasters look in the mirror and see confusion. They define a string of successes as a "run of luck." When they do extremely well (for instance, closing 10 for 10 on a given day), At-Leasters worry they really aren't as good as they may appear. Initial elation quickly gives way to secret fears: exposure, expectation, inability to repeat their success, and, ultimately, failure. They quickly retreat back into that gray area of mediocrity, where they hug their lucky win and say, "At least I didn't lose."

And when At-Leasters strike out, they deny responsibility for their failures. "It wasn't my fault in the first place," they cry. "Hey, I'm really not that bad." They do whatever it takes to get back to that comfort zone between success and failure. Most significantly, whether winning or losing, they forfeit the opportunity to learn from their experiences. They won't risk failure, and because of this they never grow into Winners.

Reversing the Image
It's paradoxical that so many companies, while investing in state-of-the-art business technology, remain in the Dark Ages when it comes to incorporating modern behavioral knowledge into their sales training structure. They're big on drilling their salespeople on technique, but at the same time, they neglect to address their workers' negative self-images. Make no mistake, At-Leasters are smart and skilled. They learn new techniques quickly enough, but their lack of internal reprogramming negates all this packaging. The result? More seesaw sales performance, more new salespeople added to the staff, more training programs, more money spent, and few positive results.

Without the proper inner resources, even the best skills in the world won't make a sale, and all this fine-tuning simply shackles the organization with a disproportionate share of unhappy At-Leasters. Given the fact that At-Leasters are a common product of the way we're brought up, how can a sales organization convert them into Winners?

A profile of Winners shows that these people have internal resources that outside negativity just won't erode. Here are a few examples:

Winners are self-motivated, they believe in themselves and feel they make a difference. They're driven by a "fire in the belly" and won't be corrupted by naysayers. They've got their priorities straight. Winners have the tools that keep their internal belief systems running, repairing and revitalizing themselves every day, every hour.

When Winners don't feel good, they act as if they do. This isn't brainwashing or denial; it's purely a technique for getting over the hump until that original spontaneity comes back.
Winners prepare for a challenge by thinking positively. They focus their minds on instances in their lives where they truly wanted something and got it.

Winners literally keep their heads up. They keep smiling no matter how hard their opponent is trying to beat them down. Just try feeling lousy while looking up at the sky. Tough, isn't it?
Winners build a support group of positive people around them, even though their background, circumstances or social circle may not have given them that support when they were growing up. Winners know they can't change the past, but they can create a healthy environment in the present – which carries them into the future with optimism and positive feelings.

Management can help guide employees toward these winning goals by introducing workshops for self-growth into the job curriculum. Such programs assist salespeople in building internal strengths to reinforce their external selling skills.

And it's up to the company to create that healthy environment – to become the support system, mentor and guide their salespeople need. Here are a few basic suggestions on how to acknowledge your salespeople and treat them like the precious resource they are:

Begin the day with positive interaction. Listen. Let the worker be the talker here. Similarly, end the day on an upbeat note. Get rid of any negative energy in the office.
After a sale – or the loss of one – talk about what went right. Always start positively and encourage your people to think that way too. Next, get your salespeople to feel good about those things that went right. Congratulate them. Make sure they acknowledge themselves and feel positive about their accomplishments.

Teach them to "disassociate" themselves from the sale. Have your people separate, step back from the actual situation, and put some space between themselves and the sale. Have them look at themselves in the "role" they were playing as salespeople.

Using this same technique, analyze the sale. Separated from their roles as salespeople, workers are in a much better position to analyze their own performance for learning and improvement. Have them ask themselves what they could have done differently. Encourage them to come up with several variables. Then, change the scenario and play it again. Let them ask you for ideas. Be available, but keep listening; the more your salespeople discover their own strategies for success, the more success they'll have.
Teach them to ask for help – and not just from you. Were you the coach of a sports team, you could see your players in progress and analyze their performance first hand. But your salespeople win or lose the sale in their prospect's office, not yours. Have them go back to the very prospects or clients they didn't close with and ask them, "What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently?"

Be available. Getting feedback will help your salespeople solidify their feelings, so encourage your staff to ask you for help. Build a team. Hearing a member of your staff ask, "Can you help me?" will become music to your ears.

Finally, teach your salespeople to fail. Send them out to get a no and praise them for each one they come back with. The mere fact that they went out again and again – like that winning home-run hitter – means that they deserve your praise. As At-Leasters, they'll never know the "thrill of victory" until they realize that the willingness to risk the "agony of defeat" is just as praiseworthy and that defeat doesn't mean disaster. ''

Brian Azar

Author's Bio: 

Keynote Speaker, Workshop Presenter, Facilitator, Mediator, Author, Executive Coach & Trainer

For more than 30 years, Brian Azar's sales training and coaching methods have changed the way people do business. As president of The Sales Catalyst Inc. for the last 27 years, he has been a keynote speaker, consultant, coach and facilitator to thousands of individuals, companies and associations, committed to making a difference through blended learning and INDIVIDUAL SHIFTS TO higher purpose ACTIONS.

Brian Azar has conducted entrepreneurial, business development, teambuilding, masterminding, collaboration, sales training, management, and workforce development seminars throughout the United States and around the world.

A dynamic, results-oriented public speaker, coach, noted sales trainer, mentor and business consultant, Brian has helped sales and business professionals just like you, to experience success through training, coaching, motivation technology, strategic planning and consulting.

As a former record-breaking sales representative and sales manager for Xerox Corporation whoutilized "out of the box" creative processes, he has a unique viewpoint on both large and small businesses, and the needs of companies, institutions and associations in today's global economy and digital world.

Today, as part of the well known Avadon Group, workforce development specialists, Brian applies his legendary "Sales Doctor's Prescriptions For Success", and technology, which HAS trained thousands of sales professionals, to teach and train individual workers how to promote, market, and bring out the best in themselves in every situation.

For each person, Brian is able to provide the means for breaking down one's internal barriers and realizing one's own inherent potential for success, through the use of "NLP". He is able to HELP them discover their unique "communication style", how it relates to others and how to apply it effectively and efficiently, in the workplace.