Recently I talked about how, as a sales professional for the past 40 years, it's exciting to finally see selling receive the recognition it deserves as worthy of being taught in MBA programs at such prestigious universities as Harvard, Stanford and MIT.
Although this is exciting, considering the sales profession's importance and great contribution to the world economy, I'm certainly not suggesting that salespeople completing these programs or graduating from those schools are guaranteed to have all the skills necessary to be a successful professional salesperson. It is a step in the right direction but being a successful salesperson takes more than skills and education - it also takes the right attitude.
Universities do a good job of educating students but they do not do a very good job of preparing their graduates for the real world into which they must go and earn their living. For example, universities don't teach the selling skills necessary for success. Thus, for a salesperson to survive into the next decade he or she will have to become a highly trained, competent sales professional.
I'm convinced, however, that the negative image of selling prevents many young, well-educated people from entering what they see as a negative profession.
This image can change over time as salespeople become more professional in their education, skill set and attitude. As more sales professionals exhibit a positive attitude about selling, and thus a more positive attitude about themselves and the products and services they sell, so will that attitude begin to permeate the world at large.
Several years ago, while at a convention in Little Rock, Ark., I attended a lecture by author Norman Vincent Peale, who spoke about attitude.
"The most important thing I've learned in my life is that positive thoughts produce positive results and negative thoughts produce negative results," he said. "I only wish I would have learned it as a younger man."
The longer I live, the more I realize that attitude is probably one of the single most important words in our language.
We have within us the power to respond to any given situation in any way we wish regardless of the circumstance. We can choose to respond positively or negatively.
A positive attitude is more than just "looking on the bright side"; it's a conscious choice to always see the possibilities, the way through and the way out of even the worst of circumstances.
Take the example of Aron Ralston, the young Colorado mountain climber who, while climbing in Bluejohn Canyon in Southern Utah, was pinned by an 800-pound rock, trapping him in the canyon for five days. Since he was trapped for so long with no hope of being rescued, the possibility of death loomed. Ralston, however, wanted to live. He chose to slowly and painfully sever his right arm to save his life. He wandered down the canyon and was rescued by a couple and their son less than an hour later.
Isn't it amazing that so many times we see individuals who have severe handicaps or who face significant challenges yet have a positive outlook on their lives and often both excel and inspire others? Yet other times we see people who seem to have everything but who choose to be discouraged and unhappy, never seeing what is worthy about their lives?
"Attitude has critical implications for survival and is influenced by a complex web of personal factors. Optimists live longer than pessimists and tend to recover from illness faster. Your worldview can determine whether you interpret a situation as a threat or an opportunity or even if you perceive it at all," says Matthew Colborn in his article "How Attitudes Shape Our Future" from The Futurist magazine.
Do people who are successful and happy have a positive attitude because they are successful and happy?
Or are they successful and happy because they have a positive attitude?
I've never met anyone I would consider happy or successful at anything who had a negative attitude. There are only two kinds of people in the world: Those who think they can and those who think they can't. They are both right.
I remember as a young man entering the business world, one of my core beliefs was that if you depend only on yourself, you'll never be disappointed.
It was only years later that I discovered the harsh truth: Many people cannot depend on themselves. Well-meaning people make their New Year's resolutions to lose weight, get more exercise, drink more water, go back to school, etc., and then fail, time and again, to follow through.
When a person makes a commitment to do something and then fails to do it, it chips away at their self esteem, damages their confidence and negatively affects their attitude.
Psychologists tell us that one of the best ways to build our self image and improve our attitude is to keep the commitments we make to ourselves.
As a result, we will gain confidence, improve our outlook and build on those successes.
Nelson Mandela, after being freed from 27 years of imprisonment in South Africa, was interviewed by reporters who asked him how it felt to finally be a free man.
"I have always been a free man," he said. "I always knew that someday I would once again feel the grass under my feet and walk in the sunshine."
Attitude is more than simply reacting to a situation or circumstance in a positive way. It is about understanding the reality of a situation and choosing to see the possibilities in it, regardless. A consistently positive attitude transcends the reality of "what is" and becomes, instead, "what can be."
When it comes to selling, your attitude and enthusiasm make all the difference.
Combine the two and, with good education and well-developed skills, you will have the foundation on which to build a successful sales career.
Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.