Learning to Love the Pressure to Perform

When thoughts of a seemingly impossible quota get you twitchy with anxiety, focus instead on the rewards to be reaped by overcoming a challenge

By Michelle Nichols

The great Duke Ellington once said, "I don't need time. What I need is a deadline." In sales, we think of deadlines as quotas, targets, or goals -- and while many reps think they are the last things they need, the unvarnished truth is that the challenge and pressure of reaching them can bestow immense benefits on those who achieve them. No matter how much we may detest the pressure, deadlines are our friends.

Slow and steady doesn't always win the race: A competitor could jump in and steal your show, or your bills and overhead might grow even faster than your sales. Whatever the motivation, if you want to sell a lot more, set an aggressive and specific sales goal -- called a "stretch goal" -- and, if your sales manager hasn't done so already, give yourself a specific time to reach it. Believe me, you will putting yourself in the fast lane to a sustainable jump in sales results.


  Trouble is, this is the point where human nature muddies the picture, at least for most of us. When we confront the task of selling many more units by a certain deadline, the tendency isn't to compute the higher commissions and bonuses and say, "Thank you for the opportunity!" Au contraire! Almost inevitably, that inner child the shrinks like to talk about starts throwing a tantrum and wailing a defiant "No!"

If that reaction sounds familiar, you're not alone. Even sales superstars gasp when they first see a quota markedly higher than last year's. What separates the great sales people from the mediocre ones is that, instead of putting their energies into whining and complaining, they take a deep breath and devote some serious thought to the best and most innovative ways of meeting those quota deadlines. What follows are a few points to help focus your thinking, lift your sights, and succeed.

Creativity before activity. Stretch goals force you to see the bigger picture. Look for the untapped market, focus on your best opportunities, and search for shortcuts to shrink the time between sales pitch and purchase order. Sometimes, it takes a leap of creativity to produce a jump in sales results. You'll discover areas where your horizons have been limited, and then replace them with bigger, more ambitious and inspirational vistas.

Selling is mental chess. You must have a strong plan if you're going to win or reach your goals. Also, just as skyscrapers in earthquake-prone California are but strong but pliable, flexibility should be a key element into a plan.

A goal demands a plan. The questions are: "How much, and by when?" If it's a one-year goal, divide it by 12 and that's your monthly target. Adjust it for any big projects due or vacation time planned, and you're set. Not everyone can mentally envision the full year ahead, but most of us can manage 12 sets of 30 days apiece.

A plan demands a strategy. In the past, where have you scored the biggest wins, and why? Can you discern a trend or common thread running through those triumphs? Where is the biggest unanswered need for your products or services? Are you exploring the niche or industry you identified? if so, are you doing it as thoroughly as you might? This is the moment to choose your target customers and identify the special qualities or needs that places them atop your prioritized to-do list.

A strategy requires a set of tactics. The most common sales problem I encounter is with folks who have umpteen tactics, but no central strategies. Settle on the strategy first, then choose the 10 or so tactics that best support it.

Tactics produce results. Like exercise, executing your tactics may not always be a barrel of fun, but it will produce great, long-lasting results. Like luxurious vacations, fine cars, paid-for homes, and comfortable lifestyles.

So, the next time you find yourself confronted by an "impossible" deadline, look upon it as an opportunity. And don't just take my word for it, listen to what Duke Ellington said: "While waiting for my mother to finish cooking dinner. . .in fifteen minutes I wrote the score 'Mood Indigo.' 'Black and Tan Fantasy' was written in a taxicab on the way to a recording session. In each case, it was a matter of deadlines."

Deadlines really are your friends – they help your sales to leap and your business to boom. Happy selling!

Michelle Nichols is a sales speaker, trainer, and consultant based in Houston, Tex. She welcomes your questions and comments. You can visit her web site at www.verysavvyselling.biz, where you can order her new CD, 72 Ways to Overcome the Price Objection. She can be contacted at Michelle.nichols@verysavvyselling.biz