Here's how gratitude and love of learning correlate with sales success.

If I could show you a way to be much happier and drive more sales, would you be interested?

I feel like a sleazy salesperson when I ask that question! It’s not a trick question, though. As many of you know, I spend a lot of time researching outside the sales profession. It’s where I find important but often overlooked data that can have a significant impact on sales results.

I recently read a fascinating article in Scientific American by Scott Barry Kaufman in which he writes that character strengths are most predictive of well-being. The piece begins by laying out the 24 strengths and virtues derived from research by Martin Seligman & Christopher Peterson.

Then Kaufman shares his recent research regarding which factors matter most for personal well-being.

The surprising result? Gratitude and love of learning.

How does this correlate with sales success? Let me share the ways:

1. Gratitude

Research shows that gratitude takes up space in the brain that might otherwise be occupied by fear, which just happens to be the root cause of many sales mistakes. Instead of asking questions, you pitch. Instead of discussing customer challenges, you push. You think that lower prices and better products or services are needed to close deals.

Gratitude also leads to feelings of optimism. Research by MetLife and Seligman shows that optimists outperform pessimists by 31 percent. They don’t give up as easy.

Gratitude leads to better thinking. I know that’s hard to believe, but here’s the deal: Gratitude reduces stress. When you’re under stress, your body releases cortisol, a hormone that actually decreases your creativity and problem-solving capacity.

Hence, staying grateful is a surefire way to come up with more and better options for achieving objectives and overcoming challenges.

Quick question: What can you be grateful for right now?

As I write this, I’m grateful that I have a chance to share my expertise with others. I’m grateful that my family is healthy. I’m grateful for the cup of coffee that I’m hoping will wake me up faster. Mmmm. It tastes good!

2. Love of learning

I was astounded that this factor was such a key contributor to personal well-being. There’s nothing I like better than throwing myself into a particularly tough sales challenge, doing tons of research on it and experimenting with new approaches until I find out what works. Then, I take equal joy in sharing what I’ve learned with others (which is why you’re reading this!).

Several years ago, I realized how crucial this singular trait was in sales success today. We’re dealing with constant change … It’s endless.

We’re in a constant state of “overwhelm” just trying to keep up. And it keeps coming at us. Unless we can learn at an increased pace, we fall behind. Winning new deals gets tougher and tougher.

Recent research by Korn Ferry shows that learning agility is the No. 1 predictor of leadership success. CEB, a sales consulting firm to the world’s top organizations, now lists learning agility as one of the top traits to look for in salespeople.

What is learning agility?

It’s about rapidly assimilating new information. It’s about picking up new skills quickly. It’s about coming up with multiple strategies to the challenges you face. It’s about pivoting on a dime when you notice things have changed.

Stated that way, I think it’s pretty obvious that learning agility is essential today. (That’s why I wrote a book on it. To learn more, check out Agile Selling.) But let’s get back to the real issue here — love of learning. 

It’s the love part that makes a difference, which brings us to a few complicating issues …

First off, recent research has shown us that when we try to learn something new, our brain goes on red alert. We’re in foreign territory. Things could get bad. So our brain tries to divert us back to our “same old way” — the pattern that worked before.

In short, our own mind is working against us here. To be successful in today’s constantly evolving business environment we need to learn new things, yet our natural systems are voting “NO.”

Things get even more complicated when you consider that most of us had our love of learning extinguished as kids.

Learning was work: It was about writing papers, taking tests and getting graded on subjects that we cared little about. Digging in and learning more was simply not cool.

When we get into our jobs, we want to quickly be trained on what to do. We want people to tell us the right way: “Here’s the secret sauce for [fill in the blank].”

Whether it’s setting up a meeting, dealing with objectives, or making a perfect pitch, we don’t want to have to think about it, much less experience failure.

In fact, I bet that right now you want me to net it out: “Jill. I get it. I need to love something that’s not on my ‘favorite thing to do’ list. Give me the three things I should be doing to change that.”

I can’t. Then you wouldn’t learn anything. And experience the fun of discovery. Or the job of finding a better way.

To change things, we need to tap into our natural explorer.

Remember the younger person who got up every day with a sense of wonder about the world, and then went on missions to explore it.

For me, the best way to tap into my natural curiosity is to pose a question that starts with “How …”

  • How can I get more prospects to respond to my emails?

  • How can I shorten the sales cycle?

  • How can find more prospects who are interested in buying now?

See where I’m going with this? By posing the question, I tap into my brain’s natural curiosity. It has a puzzle to solve and it needs to find answers. It starts noticing and remembering things that it didn’t before. It gets me thinking.

The next step is to turn a question into a personal challenge, telling yourself, “Let’s figure this out.”

Once you do this, you soon realize that your current level of knowledge is insufficient for finding a solution. And that’s where you start throwing yourself into learning. It can be hard work.

Ultimately, you’ll find new ideas and approaches that can change everything. Of course, that means you have to do things differently, which — as we know — sets off your brain’s alarm system.

But here’s the coolest part about your brain: The neocortex part of your brain (which is the center for higher reasoning) can override the fear center, if you actively take control of it.

That means you have to start talking to yourself … like this:  

“Of course you’re uncomfortable, Jill. You don’t know how to do this yet. If you figure this out, it’ll take less work to find more high quality prospects. That’s what you want. So let’s work our way through this.”

When you start experiencing success with this — even learning just one little new, more effective way of selling — it inspires you to repeat the process.

Before you know it, you’re a sales experimenter and loving the challenge of figuring things out.

And, as the research shows, feeling a much deeper sense of personal well-being. Grateful too!

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