February 4, 2013

The Playground of Sales Calling for Creatives


Last Friday I met with a family friend who is president of the Broward Council of Miami Association Realtors for two hours. Judy has enjoyed a long career as a manager and sales coach in the Fort Lauderdale area, mentoring a number of successful real estate agents over the years. I asked for this meeting so I could pick her brain for ideas about selling myself, because, like many creative folks, this is something I am never particularly comfortable doing.

Selling is a playground just waiting for you.
Judy offered very practical advice, but advice that surprised me, as her focus was not on numbers of calls or quotas of income, nor the benefits or rewards of making successful calls, but on my motivation and what was missing there and holding me back.

“Why do you find this difficult?” she asked. “What happens?” We talked it through and she immediately offered solutions. I mentioned for example that, like many writers, I have one of those brains that never shuts up. As an introvert and INFP on the Meyers-Briggs personality indicator, my mind goes a hundred paragraphs a minute. I see associations in EVERYTHING. This leads to that and that to this and so on and so forth. It makes me talk slowly sometimes (I always think of things to say about subjects everyone else has dropped 5 minutes ago). Intense external stimulus (such as a conversation) means more internal creative associations are being churned out in my brain--until I am excited but also sometimes mentally exhausted. Then--a tendency other writers and introverts will recognize--I find it impossible to write until my head has recharged.

Judy and I discussed using meditation to break what Buddhist practitioners call the monkey-mind pattern. I used to meditate to give my brain a rest. And it does help. So I made the commitment to begin meditating again for 20 minutes every day.

We also agreed that my lack of energy to do what I don’t like doing is substantially influenced by a sedentary lifestyle and less than optimal health. Since 2007 I have gained 40 pounds and I feel the weight dragging me down all the time. It affects my self-confidence meeting new people, and I get tired much too easily for my age. But while physical activity is important at my age, like many writers, I don’t particularly like to exercise when I could be reading or writing or thinking. I have years of couch-potato behavior to overcome. But the lack of physical stamina is affecting my ability to find emotional strength. So exercise has become a top priority for me. I walk (without the dogs) every day for at least an hour, and I do upper body exercises indoors as I go about my day—a little at a time. This makes a difficult task manageable and enjoyable for me.

Judy then gave me an affirmation exercise to use when I find myself feeling negatively about my work objectives or tackling my daily to do list. She has me identify the negative statement and then change it to a positive statement that I feel comfortable with. The trick involves using a sentence that begins with “I…” followed by “can/have/will/know/love/create/enjoy.” I must find a statement that is true for me using one of these prefaces—and it must be a belief that opposes the original, negative statement. If in making warm calls, for instance, I find myself feeling “nobody is really going to want to hear from me,” I might instead say:

I can call and just say ‘how are you/what have you been up to?’” (Making the phone call about the other person/not me).
I have made such calls in the past where people were happy to hear from me and it made me feel good.”
If one can't figure out how to play while living in
Miami Beach...well, THAT'S just crazy!
I will make at least two calls and then I can go for a walk.”
I know I have the ability to communicate well in a friendly manner.”
I love hearing about other people’s successes.”
“By making this call I create more energy for myself.”
…etc.

I don’t necessarily go through all of these affirmations each time—just through as many as it takes to find the motivation I need to carry on. Judy says I should say them out loud. While that feels uncomfortable at first, it begins to make sense the more you do it. It helps break the loop of those internal tapes that keep interjecting with “no you can’t.”

I put these statements on paper and tape them on the wall in plain sight to keep motivated. When I told Judy that I felt a little nutty doing some of these things, she told me to make myself an aluminum foil hat and wear it while I work at home if it helps. This, she said, would give me super powers. When I laughed, she said, “No I’m serious. Whatever it takes. Let yourself go.” This, I soon discovered, is part of her attitude to approach networking as a game—and to get me to laugh over something I was taking all too seriously. “Have fun with it,” she suggests. “Of course you don’t want to do something you’ve made it into an overwhelming chore in your head.”

“When I walk into one of those real estate functions where you are expected to schmooze,” she says, “I will often choose the weirdest person in the room to approach first. It helps break the ice for you. And if someone is weird you can basically say anything or be anything to them and they don’t look at you askance. That builds your confidence to approach the next person.”

She also suggests walking into the room pretending you are someone else—a much more confidant schmoozer or someone you know who fits the bill. I told her that Martha Beck, famous life coach, suggests something similar: that you walk into the room thinking, “These people LOVE me!!” That has helped build my confidence when feeling uneasy entering a new class I am teaching at the start of a semester.

Next, she helped me break calls down into more edible bites. We identified three different types of calls I need to make: warm calls (connecting with people in the business that I’ve worked with before but have since lost touch with); warmer calls where I call people I am in touch with currently and ask for referrals; and cold calls to secure new business in Miami. Then we prioritized these. Instead of focusing on a quota of calls, she had me focus on the quality of the calls. “Make a small number of warm calls to begin with just to connect--not to sell. When you have had a very positive call, make one cold call, then stop—unless that call is negative. Don’t ever stop on a negative call, or you won’t want to pick up the phone tomorrow."

Finally, I am supposed to toss “I don’t know” and “I’ll try” out of my sentence vocabulary. Apparently, she detected me saying these frequently as we chatted. Decisiveness will help make me a more confidant sales person. "Practice," she said. "When someone says, 'What do you want to do?' or 'Where do you want to go eat'  never say, “I don’t know.” I had to laugh, because, yes, that is my frequent response and is exactly what I had said when I walked into her house and was asked what I wanted to do for lunch.

Hope this summary helps someone else. I’ve agreed to call Judy every Friday and let her know what I’ve accomplished each week, so I must get busy now. Otherwise, I’m afraid she’ll really make me wear that aluminum foil hat.