EPISODE 465: Marc Pitman Says Embracing Doubt is a Catalyst for Change and Building Sales Confidence

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Creativity in Sales virtual learning session sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on November 19. 2021. It featured an interview with Marc Pitman, the author of The Surprising Gift of Doubt: Using Uncertainty to Become the Exceptional Leader You Are Meant to Be.]

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MARC’S TIP: “Figure out your values. When everything changes and all the strategies go away because of a pandemic or something, knowing what your core values are, those become the compass that you can use to orient yourself. For example, “I don’t know what’s coming up next, but I know how I want to treat my people, how I want to treat my clients.” If you Google values inventory, there’s millions of them out there. One’s at concordleadershipgroup.com/values. You could just figure out what are your top five, and that will help you make smart decisions quickly.”


Fred Diamond: Marc Pitman, it’s great to see you here. Thank you so much. You’re the author of The Surprising Gift of Doubt: Using Uncertainty to Become the Exceptional Leader You Are Meant to Be. That’s a very intriguing concept. When I heard of the book, it was sent to me by one of our members, it was published back in March. First off, congratulations. I know it’s not your first book, so good for you and good for you for being published. We’ll get deep into this, but let’s just get started. You like to say in the book that doubt is a gift. Give us a little bit of context here. First of all, why did you write this book? Second of all, the audience for the Sales Game Changers Podcast, our sales leaders and their teams, typically B2B, enterprise sales, tech, media, services, all around the globe, so let’s talk a little bit about that in context.

Marc Pitman: Well, I wrote this because as an executive coach, I see a lot of leaders and emerging leaders go through a similar process, but a lot of that involves trying to fake it and not show that they have a lack of confidence, and it’s not always safe to have doubt. But in my 18 years of being a FranklinCovey-trained executive coach, I’m able to see doubt as a gift for people, and about five years ago, I was able to start articulating it. It took me 13 years to be able to figure out how to say it in ways that people could get it. But when I had a client repeat back to me what I had just said to him in his own words, I realized I’d finally locked onto something that was helpful.

A lot of the doubt that I’ve also personally experienced is sales. It’s going to the bat, trying to reach goals, trying to reach quotas. As we’ve talked before, I translated sales into nonprofit fundraising. I learned from nonprofit fundraising how to do sales in nonprofits. Then I ended up finding I could teach salespeople from my experience with nonprofits, because as one of my clients said, “You sold people something and didn’t give them anything. They just gave you money and you didn’t give them a product. You need to train me.” It turned out to be a stronger correlation than some people might think.

Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about the concept of confidence. It’s interesting because people ask me, what do I think is the most important thing in sales? I’m interviewing people every day. I run the Institute for Excellence in Sales, which has been around since 2011. We’ve had over 25,000 people log into one of our webinars since the pandemic kicked in. I always say the number one commonality with great sales professionals, successful sales professionals, is courage. The courage to make a phone call, the courage to ask for a deal, the courage to get up every morning and do the right things. The courage to support someone on your team to ask for help.

Confidence as a crisis, it’s interesting. Again, we’re doing today’s show, believe it or not, in October, we’re 18 months into how the world has shifted. It’s been a challenge, because it’s different. Prior to the pandemic starting, we would do events, we would have hundreds of people there, salespeople, and there was some things that we knew. “Okay, here’s how your prospect. Here’s how you build an account plan. Here’s how you build a target list. Here’s how you speak on the phone. Here’s how you refer business.” It’s all been turned upside down. A lot of people still say, “Well, it’s still sales,” but it’s kind of not because most people are still home. Most of your customers are probably not back to the office yet, throw in a Delta variant, and who knows what’s going to come next? Things get pushed, and maybe you get COVID, all those kinds of things. Talk a little bit about the confidence crisis. I’m curious on your thoughts on that. Do you agree with what I just said about bravery and courage being a critical component?

Marc Pitman: Absolutely. I think courage is one of the defining characteristics, because courage isn’t the absence of fear. My first book was Ask Without Fear, and I always would end with, “Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It’s pushing through fear.” I have a weekly email that is called Follow Up Friday that’s just a reminder that follow up is where the sales are made. It’s the initial contact, but the prospect hasn’t said no until the prospect tells you no. Having that pleasant, persistent follow up, it takes courage, because as human beings, we tend to tune into negativity faster than positivity. When there’s been silence from a prospect, we just tend to think the worst. “They’re not going to buy from us. Nobody wants our stuff. We’re never going to meet our quotas,” and that’s a lie. But it’s equally a lie to say, “I could be calling them at exactly the right moment. This could be the sale that’s going to help me make my quota, reach my target,” whatever. I choose to lie positively. If I’m going to lie to myself anyway, why not lie positively? But that takes courage too. I totally agree with that.

I’m intrigued as we live through this pandemic that we’ve had a global sense of a lack of confidence. The people that kept the confidence the best in my estimation, that I’ve seen, the leaders I’ve worked with, were the ones that knew their values. They didn’t know their strategy, they didn’t know the plans. It looked like some things had changed, but they knew their core values. Serving customers, keeping the team together, other things, and we’re honest with, “Hey, look, we don’t know what’s next. We know we might need to lose some people. We’re going to do that in a humane way and we’re going to try to make the off-ramp as easy as possible. We’re not going to try to hide and then just drop people.” Caring for their team in a way that didn’t lie to them, but also hearkened back to the core values that other people were there for.

Fred Diamond: On Wednesday we did a show where we talked about The Great Resignation where all these statistics are coming out saying that 40% of people who are going to be leaving their jobs are actively looking for something new. You’re down in South Carolina, I’m in Northern Virginia, near DC, I know that there’s a whole bunch of people who moved to North Carolina and South Carolina because they could choose to be where they wanted to be. There’s so many factors that are coming in here. When I think about sales, I think about it being this way, “I’ll make 30 phone calls and then I’ll talk to somebody,” and it’s like, “Great. Yeah. I had a great conversation,” or no response, no response, no response. Response, yay. So the ability to engage.

You have those huge periods of doubt. What are some of the things that people can shift as they continue to have this doubt to be the elite? One of the other words that we’ve used a lot over the last 18 months is elite. You need to become elite because we believe, in some cases, only the elite level will survive. Let’s get down and dirty into what they can do.

Marc Pitman: I think, first of all, is understanding that you’re not alone in your lack of confidence. You may not be on a sales team that you can express that doubt with. You may not be a leader. It’s not necessarily safe. I talked to a leader who had 100 people under her, and she said, “I know vulnerability is the thing that we’re supposed to be with Brené Brown and all, but I can’t be vulnerable with my team. They need to know they have a job tomorrow. I can’t be sharing my doubts with them. I have to have somebody outside of my system.” I think the first thing really getting down and dirty about that is realizing it’s a human thing. Doubt is normal to the human experience.

So many people get stuck in this space of thinking, “I must be the wrong person for this position. I’m the wrong fit,” because they’ve tried a system, they’ve tried tactics, they see other people doing the hustle or whatever, and it doesn’t resonate with them, so they feel they’re broken. That could be the truth, but where I think the gift of doubt is that it could push you to looking internally as well. It could be like, instead of, “I must not fit because I don’t like the hustle culture,” it could be an invitation to reflect and think, “Well, how can I still meet my quotas and goals? Okay, so I’m not this rah-rah, extroverted, testosterone-laden person. How can I be meeting the same metrics in a way that doesn’t kill me?” I call that Quadrant 3 Leadership, and there’s over a dozen tools in that area that you can use. I think it’s safer to do it personally first, because you can learn to crawl before you walk, walk before you run, sort of thing. You can learn it on your own, you can learn your own words for it, but it raises your confidence because you start realizing.

Let’s take an introverted sales leader. They may be a really good leader, they may have a team that’s really cohesive, but they may have been trained by an extroverted sales leader that was out and around, high-fiving people, virtually high-fiving, or loving the chaos of pandemonium, and they want order because it’s really draining for them. As they learn, “That’s because I’m an introvert and I like order, and I like some static,” or, “I am an introvert and my team doesn’t necessarily like all the bureaucracy I want to create around them. Maybe I need to remove some of that.” That raises their confidence because they start having frames of reference and reasons to articulate why they act the way they do. Again, we’re all in jobs that have requirements. I’m not saying that you develop your personality so that you can have an excuse to not meet your goals [laughs]. That’s not the end result. The end result is meeting your goals without killing yourself.

Fred Diamond: No, that’s a great point. You’re in sales, so you do need to sell. We had a great statement, it was about a year ago, when one of our guests said, “It’s going to be the sales side of the business that leads us out of whatever the pandemic had been causing.” You just mentioned personality. In the book, again, the book is The Surprising Gift of Doubt, you talked about personality assessments, but you warn that sometimes they can cause more harm for sellers and their prospects. Let’s talk about that for a second or two.

Marc Pitman: I love personality assessments. I’ve rarely met one I don’t like. I’m just kind of a nerd that way. I figured that if I can figure out how I’m wired the best, I can be the most that I can be. I love the different perspectives. I’m married to someone who’s not as excited about them as I am. What I’ve noticed with sales teams in particular is that the managers seem to be struggling to find metrics that quantify the work. There are some good metrics and there’s good systems of attempting it, but the danger in these, particularly in personality assessments, is putting people into a box that, “You can’t possibly do this. You can’t be the lead of this team because you’re an introvert,” or, “You’ve got these colors, or these shapes,” or whatever the metric is. That kind of labeling can be bad.

Also, as an individual salesperson, when you’re in a call, because we’re doing a lot of calls, I think now more than face-to-face, you might just think all your prospects tend to be one personality type, and so you’re speaking to them ignoring all their cues. It can make you more empathetic and more adaptable if you’re able to see it as there are different ways of looking at the world. But if you use it as a blunt force tool to try to shove square pegs into round holes, that will not be good for your sales or your team retention either.

Fred Diamond: That’s an interesting point too. One of the things we’ve got to remember too is that our customers are all going through what we’re going through right now. We had a great guest on May of 2020 – I can’t believe it was so far away, it seems like yesterday. His name is David Morelli and he’s an energy coach. Now he’s pursuing his PhD. He might’ve gotten it, it was a year and a half ago. But he said that everybody on the planet is dealing with one of three things. Everyone’s dealing with the whole situation related to the pandemic, the financial impacts of the pandemic, on you or your company, and third, whatever the third thing is, whatever’s unique to you and your situation. One thing we talk a lot about on the Sales Game Changers webcasts and podcasts is empathy and trying to remember. As you’re talking here, it’s not about you. We tell this to the salespeople all the time who listen to the show, it’s not about you. It is always, always about the customer.

Marc Pitman: Well, actually, Fred, on that, one of the things I’ve said before the pandemic, but I’ve heightened it during the pandemic is, there’s nothing compassionate about not asking. A lot of salespeople stopped asking because it just seemed like this isn’t the right time, this isn’t compassionate, right at the time where many of our prospects needed our services more than ever, including the arts. The arts flourished in the beginning of the lockdowns when people didn’t know what to do. Even these counterintuitive things happened. I would just encourage everybody to maybe put on their monitor near their phone, or however they do their calls, there’s nothing compassionate about not asking. We’re thinking we can mess up the empathy part, and we want to have empathy for our client, but sometimes we need to have the courage and the resolve to help them see themselves through to a solution that they may not understand yet.

Fred Diamond: Actually, I mentioned the show that we did on Wednesday with a great sales leader named Bob Greene and every show we ask for a final action step. Bob said, “It all comes down to caring. You need to be showing that you’re caring.” Caring is not just about you trying to get the business. It’s about you showing your customer that you’re concerned with them. We have a question here from Ronald. Ronald says, “Great answer. Can Marc talk a little bit about goal setting now that things are constantly influx?” In your book, you talk about bringing your “whole person” to goal setting. Talk a little bit about that.

Marc Pitman: That is a great question, Ronald. Goal setting, often what I’ve experienced in coaching people for a couple of decades is that we tend to think of setting goals in silos. We have our sales goals and the process to reach those, and we may not even think about our personal life, or our family, or our community service, or whatever. I grew up in a really weird family, Fred, where I actually listened to sales trainers as a teenager. My parents would take me to sales rep seminars and rallies and all, and so direct selling and Frank Bettger’s How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling.

Fred Diamond: One of my favorite books of all time, by the way.

Marc Pitman: Me too. So, I grew up and I had homework because I went to school, and I had homework because I was a Pitman. I really loved that I had been studying goal setting and I was part of a special project in college to actually have a goal setting part over my four years. What I did was synthesized all that in 2003 into something I called Magnet Goals. What it starts out with is a list of 100 things you want to accomplish in the year, which is crazy. It’s like most people that set goals, you can’t focus on 100. But what I love about the 100 is after about 10, you start wondering what’s the next thing. It forces you to engage both your, I don’t know if it’s left and right brain or your creative and your analytical, or your personal and your professional. But what I have seen, we do intensives pre-pandemic when we got people in the room, they’d ask permission, “Hey, I know I’m here because my job sent me here, but is it okay to say that I want to plant a garden? Is that okay to put on this list?”

All of a sudden, it’s like the rest of them entered the room, and they were more fully present for the rest of the training. I have had one sales person that I know of actually had a dream coach outside it. They contracted with another coach to be a dream coach that anybody in his staff was able to use, and it was to have something outside of work, and they’d celebrate in the summer. They’d celebrate, they’d all have a competition to see who had the biggest dream accomplishments or whatever. It’s counterintuitive, but there was something about acknowledging that we have human beings working here, that are working in a system and working to common goals and have certain procedures, but giving them space to know that. My theory is when you do that, when you allow your whole person to be in your goal setting, or if it’s acknowledged on your team, even better, it allows you to be more fully present at work.

When you’re at work doing the work, you’re not thinking about, “I should be with the kids,” or, “I should be doing this thing,” or, “I’ve got these other chores to do or mow the lawn.” And when you’re not at work, even if it’s in the same space, even if you’re working from home, you’re able to not feel like you’re slacking on the job because you’re actually moving forward on things that you know that you want to accomplish.

Fred Diamond: Marc, I have a question for you, and this is a little bit off topic here, but as a response to what you just said. As I mentioned, there’s all these articles about The Great Resignation. One of the answers to solving The Great Resignation is by being more flexible. Some progressive companies had begun to acknowledge this prior to the pandemic with things like the four-day work week, work from home, all of those kinds of things. Now almost every company on the planet better be thinking about this because people want it, they’ve spent time with their kids.

We’ve interviewed so many sales leaders and, “What’s the greatest thing to come from this?” “I got to go to my kids’ games and spend dinner with my kids.” As we talk about solving the great resignation for sales organizations, we talk about, even right now, 18 months into this, you got to even be more flexible. Do you think that’s going to stick around or do you think that’s going to start shifting away at some point? I know you don’t have a crystal ball, and I don’t even know if this is a valuable question.

Marc Pitman: No, no. What comes to mind is Peter Drucker’s quote of culture eats strategy for lunch. I hope it will. I’m a Gen X-er, so I grew up not understanding the butts-and-seat mentality. That just because I’m physically at a desk, doesn’t mean I’m being productive, but it makes managers feel comfortable because they can see their employee. I always wanted to know what the metrics are. What is it that I’m being graded on? I guess it goes to the Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Workweek in a way of what’s on my report card, how am I going to get scored? Then I will try to figure out a way to get there the most efficiently I can. I love that flexibility. Right now at the time of this recording, I’m seeing in some of my clients an increased struggle as this drives on with connecting with their team. They don’t know how to read their team because they haven’t put systems in place. Well, there’s not the impromptu response, just kind of, “Hey, how’s it going?”

It has to be a phone call now, or an appointment, or an email, or they’re doing really crazy things like having an open Zoom channel during office hours that everybody’s required to be on, which it feels really invasive and weird. I think the companies that are going to thrive in the future, maybe the elite ones, are going to be the ones that are able to respond to the top salespeople that want that flexibility and know that they’re not trying to be slackers, they’re not trying to get out of work, they’re not trying to not be responsible or accountable. But they also know there’s a different quality of life for me to meet these goals and I can have more than I knew I could have.

Fred Diamond: That’s something people are getting much, much more aware of, is the whole life, like you answered before. We have a question here that comes in from Mario. Mario says, “I run a small sales team of eight people,” which is actually a decent number, to be honest with you, “What are some things I can do to impact my team as it relates to this?” Again, is this something only individuals can go through, Marc Pitman?

Here’s the thing, one of the hardest jobs in sales is first-time sales manager. Usually it’s somebody who is a high performer and they were promoted. Everybody who’s new to the company, especially if you’re on the junior side, you go through onboarding, either a week, or a month, or two months, depending on how you come in if you’re a new grad or a new employee. Very rarely do new sales managers get trained. It’s usually a one-to-one mentorship type of a thing. “Hey, go buy this book from Mike Weinberg,” or whatever it might be.

We also believe that this particular position has struggled during the pandemic because they’re not in the office. They’re only seeing people on a rectangle. You could talk to them all day, but one thing we like to say is if someone’s struggling, you take them into the conference room, you go in front of the whiteboard, “Hey, let’s keep talking over lunch,” and, “Hey, how’s your sister doing?” Those kinds of things. But in this world, it’s regimented to 50-minute chunks of time once you shift. Talk about Mario’s question here.

Marc Pitman: First of all, Mario, congratulations, and small is an elastic term. You may feel that’s small, but just know your small is somebody else’s large. They might love to have eight. For new leaders, one of the challenges is the stuff that got us to leadership, isn’t the stuff that’s going to keep us in leadership. The technical prowess gets us in leadership. One of the most stressful positions I’ve seen in my years of doing this is sales managers that were high-performing salespeople, because they love the chase, they love getting the sale, closing the deal. Now they’re having to do that through people that are all different. They’re not them.

Mario, first of all, one of the things I would say is, as you explore the gift of doubt, it could be also finding out what are your cues that you’re successful. Because your definition of success is now going to change because you’re working through other people instead of meeting face-to-face with the client. Maybe it’s having a few prospects that you’re also working on. That may be the way if that is allowed.

The other part is attention, because it’s not like nursery school where everybody gets a participation trophy, and there’s definite metrics that have to be met. But understanding that there may be different things that motivate people. Whether it’s the DISC personality assessment or Enneagram with the nine types and three subtypes for each type, having some sort of framework where you can feel like, “This doesn’t seem to be responding, and maybe they’re not dumb. Maybe I’m just not speaking their dialect yet.” I like the Enneagram, because the nine different stories of what motivates people gives me an ability to say, “Okay, I’ve been continuing to work on this person this way, and it’s not working. What if their story is different?”

Maybe they’re trying to just amass all the knowledge before they make a sale, and I can acknowledge that, “Yeah, it’s good to have all the knowledge, but you have to pick up the phone. It will be okay. You actually know more than you think you do.” Some people just see what they don’t know, so it reduces your stress a bit to realize, “Okay, there are different lenses in seeing the world, and maybe I can try this dialect in the constraints of them having to still reach their metrics.”

Fred Diamond: Marc, I got one last question for you before we ask for your final action step. Every Thursday I do a poll on LinkedIn, and yesterday’s poll was about the statement, “I don’t want to depend on anyone for anything.” It was something that had been triggered by a comment that had come through from a junior sales professional on one of our previous episodes. The professional said, “I don’t want to seem that I’m needing support.” I got close to 30,000 views on the poll, a couple of hundred votes. We posted it yesterday. I’m probably going to get up to like 50,000 views. As a sales leader, based on what we’re talking about today, from your experience, should I presume that my people have doubt? That my people are struggling? Or should I wait for them to say something to me?

Marc Pitman: Because are you creating the doubt? If you think that there’s doubt, are you putting it in their mind? You don’t want to raise the red flag, but you could look for some towels. If they’re having call reluctance, or if they’re not doing some things, or not documenting their calls because they’re afraid there wasn’t enough meat in there to put a touchdown, then that might be doubt. I think it is a common experience, in my experience, that everyone has it. It’s interesting that you said, “I don’t want to depend on anyone for anything.” Part of that, there are three subtypes. Some people have positive self-preservation, people that just want all the stuff, social people that want the team and have it, just look at the team, and one-on-one people that want to go deep dive with one person. They’d be like, “Work that one prospect instead of keeping the net wide.”

Stephen Covey called it live to love and to leave a legacy. You can maybe think in just a simple three-path set framework, the love people, the social may be looking for you to say, “Hey, how’s it going? What’s happening?” But I think it’s also, you need to be true to yourself. Knowing yourself can be really helpful because if you’re faking it, people will feel that. There are some people that are just never going to be touchy-feely. You could be personal without having to try to tie yourself into knots or a lie. Honesty and integrity are the best sales tactics.

Fred Diamond: The great sales leaders, they care about their people, and they’re also conscious about how to speak to everybody. Not everybody likes, “Hey, let’s talk today and let’s go through your accounts.” But at the same time, at the end of the day, we’re all responsible for helping our companies achieve their goals. Marc Pitman, thank you so much.

By the way, you’ve impacted tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people, you do a lot of work with not-for-profits and helping them. You do a lot of organizational type things, and you’ve really established yourself as one of the top leaders in this space. Congratulations to you on all the success and congratulations again on the book, The Surprising Gift of Doubt. You can find the link in the show notes to that.

We have a comment here which comes in from Jerry, saying, “Wow, Fred, this was excellent.” Thank you, Jerry. Glad to see you again. Give us a final action step. We like to end all of our Sales Game Changers webcasts with one specific thing, you’ve given us 30 great ideas, but give us one specific thing that people should do right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Marc Pitman: I would say, figure out your values. When everything changes and all the strategies go away because of a pandemic or something, knowing what your core values are, those become the compass that you can use to orient yourself. “I don’t know what’s coming up next, but I know how I want to treat my people, how I want to treat my clients.” If you Google values inventory, there’s millions of them out there. One’s at concordleadershipgroup.com/values. You could just figure out what are my top five, and that will help you make smart decisions quickly and in the moment as you’re knowing that, and then maybe you’ll start noticing those in your team too.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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