Sales and Sales Management Blog

January 4, 2012

Having a Tough Time Getting Started? You Need a Ritual

Filed under: attitude,career development,motivation,sales,selling,success — Paul McCord @ 3:47 pm
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Do you, like many others, have a difficult time getting yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically prepared to begin certain tasks?  Some have a hard time getting “in the mood” to make cold calls while others have trouble getting themselves geared up for a face-to-face meeting.

Certainly we can force ourselves to make the cold call even though we’re not prepared or we can make ourselves go through the motions of the job interview or sales presentation even though we know we’re neither mentally or emotionally in the right frame of mind.

And what usually happens when we simply go through the motions in order to fulfill an obligation or check off a task to be done?

Most of the time the cold call is crap, we don’t get a second interview, or the sales call was a total bust.

Many a cold caller confronts the phone every day with the same lack of focus, the same mental and emotional dread of what is about to happen.  And they fail time after time.

Many a job seeker goes into job interview after job interview unfocused, stomach churning, brow sweating—and comes out feeling that they couldn’t have made a worse impression if they had tried.

Thousands of sellers hit the streets to make presentations and go into them with nerves on end, thoughts blurred, tongue tied and they know they’ve lost the sale before they’re half way through.

These are not incompetent or lazy folks.  These are not cold callers who have no idea of what they going to say, or job applicants that are in over their head, or sellers who don’t know their products and markets.

Most of the time these are simply men and women who haven’t learned how to slow the process down, to de-stress themselves before the event, to create some action that signals their mind and body to focus for a very specific purpose.

Simply, these are men and women who haven’t learned the power of ritual.

What is a ritual?  Put simply a ritual is a specific action that when performed prior to an event has a calming effect on the individual and helps them focus for the task at hand.

Let me give a couple of examples:

Mike Adams is a pitcher for the Texas Rangers.  Pitching is a high stress occupation that demands a great deal of mental and emotional focus and control.  During a game a pitcher will have to find a way to be able to control his emotions and focus his undivided attention on throwing a baseball accurately anywhere from a few to over 100 times a game.  To make things a bit more difficult, after every pitch there is a break in the pitcher’s action as the ball is fielded, thrown back to the pitcher, and the team gets set for the next pitch.  You focus 100% of your mental and emotional energy on making a great pitch, then you have nothing of consequence going on for a minute or two, and then once again you have to find a way to focus 100% of your mental and emotional energy on making a great pitch.  Try to do that time after time without losing your focus every now and then.

Any way you look at it, that’s a tough, tough job.

How does Adams maintain his high level of focus over an extended period of time?  He does it by using a simple ritual to get his mind and body ready to focus only on making the next pitch.  Mike’s ritual is that after each pitch, after the catcher or an infielder has thrown him the ball, he lifts his cap off and then perches it lightly on top of his head.  He leaves the cap that way while he is waiting for the batter and the fielders to get ready.  Once things are settled and it is time for him to make his next pitch he will lift the cap up and adjust it on his head in its final position.  That adjustment is his ritual signal to his mind and body to focus, to concentrate on the job at hand, to block out everything else and focus only on making the pitch.

Such a simple action, but one that he has practiced to the point that the action alone automatically puts him in the frame of mind and prepares his body to give attention to only making the best pitch possible.

Now Mike is not alone.  If you pay attention during the baseball season you’ll find that many pitchers use their cap in one way or another as a ritual action to settle their mind and body into the work at hand.  Likewise, many batters will use the bat or their batting gloves to do the same.

But it isn’t only athletes that use rituals.  Back many years ago, when smoking wasn’t yet a social criminal offense, I had a salesperson, Wes, who was a heavy smoker.  On occasion I’d do ride alongs with him and I eventually came to recognize the ritual he went through before going in to meet with a prospect or client.

As we were pulling up to the office building where Wes’ sales prospect was located, he’d inevitably light a cigarette.  He would take two or three puffs of the cigarette, open his door and get out, close the door, take one final puff and then forcefully throw the cigarette down, take the toe of his shoe and smash the cigarette butt into the ground putting it out.  That forceful grinding of the cigarette butt was his ritual action telling his mind and body what was about to happen and to get ready.  Like Mike’s adjusting of the cap, Wes’ action was very simple, so simple that it could be easily ignored by an observer.  But it was there—and was important for Wes to go through that motion to prepare himself for the minutes ahead.

I’ve known a great many sellers who had some form of ritual action they performed, whether in preparation for hitting the phones, making presentations, giving large group presentations and speeches, or putting sales proposals together.  For that matter, I’ve known a couple of salespeople who seemed to have to go through some kind of ritual before doing anything,

I’ve also noticed that humans aren’t the only ones who rely on ritual behavior.  Our Golden Retriever, Lola, goes through a ritual every time she is greeted by someone.  When she approaches someone or when someone approaches her, before she allows herself to be touched she must reach her front legs out as far as she can and she then bends down and out in a huge stretch.  Once she has stretched, she’s ready to greet the person and get petted.  If anyone else walks up, before they touch her, she has to go through her stretch once more.  I’m not really sure what her stretch does for her, but it is certainly a ritual she has to go through before she’s ready to be greeted.

Although simple, rituals really work.  If you’re having a difficult time with a particular task such as cold calling, conducting face to face meetings, public speaking, or any other task that you do often and need to find a way to help you really relax and focus, try creating a ritual that once ingrained will automatically put you in the right mental and emotional frame to perform at your peak.

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6 Comments »

  1. Paul – Having a ritual or what I prefer to call a process and a commitment to stick to that ritual is critical. Inconsistency is a sales killer. There is much to be said to keeping your nose to the grindstone (think ritual).

    Comment by thecoachlee — January 6, 2012 @ 8:37 am | Reply

  2. […] starting up than others. Paul McCord offers a suggestion for those who need a little extra help; a ritual.Finally, as a guest post on Robert Terson’s Selling Fearlessly, Alan Majer offers words sales […]

    Pingback by Sales Roundup for January 6 — January 6, 2012 @ 10:42 am | Reply

  3. Paul – Great Article, I found it informative and will use it. BTW, I have a German Shep/Yellow Lab mix (Sam) who has the “Legs out front and lower the chest to the floor stretch” also. Didn’t realize it was a ritual but cool to learn.

    Comment by Eager to Sell — January 6, 2012 @ 3:31 pm | Reply

    • Don’t know if your dog uses it as a ritual as Lola does. The reason it is a ritual for Lola is the only time she does it is when she is greeting or being greeted by someone and she does it virtually every single time so it is a specific action done at a specific time. In Lola’s case I don’t know what the ritual does for her, but I do believe it more than just a simple habit–I really do believe it has some meaning for her which may simply be calming her. Keep an eye on Sam and see if he associates his stretch with some specific situuation or evnet.

      Comment by Paul McCord — January 6, 2012 @ 3:39 pm | Reply

  4. […] Paul McCord: “Having a Tough Time Getting Started? You Need a Ritual” […]

    Pingback by #1: How to make sales & selling fun when you Go for No! with Andrea Waltz | Selling With Spirit — February 1, 2012 @ 12:10 am | Reply

  5. Sometimes an anchor can replace a ritual. For example when you get in a great state for selling clench your fist and say “yes”. You only need to do this a few times and the action will trigger the feeling

    Comment by Greg Woodley — February 1, 2012 @ 8:55 am | Reply


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