If you look for reasons you can’t do something, your mind will look for evidence to confirm what you want to believe. The question you need to ask yourself is, “Why do you want to believe external forces are preventing you from achieving some outcome or goal?” The answer can be challenging to accept, even though it is true. You look for external factors to explain why you are not responsible for failing to achieve something (or worse, as a reason not to try). Your mind works very hard to protect your ego, keeping it intact, regardless of how detrimental its strategies can be to your overall success. It will absolve you of your responsibility if you let it.
External factors are beyond your control. Since there is nothing you can do about those factors, you can’t possibly be responsible, can you? So you look at politics, foreign affairs, the economy, the President, the Congress, events from your childhood, your lack of education, your age, your parents, your company, your leadership, your lack of training, your manager, your competitors, your clients, your lack of time, and an inexhaustible list of things that are beyond your control—and mostly beyond your influence.
Denying the Evidence
Salespeople often believe and suggest that they lose deals because their price is too high when compared to their competitors. The external factors include their company’s pricing and their competitor’s willingness to sell something similar at a lower price. When presented with empirical and unassailable evidence to the contrary, namely a list of salespeople who are succeeding with the same pricing and the same competitors, they suggest those reps are lucky (a factor outside their control) or their territory is different (another factor outside of their control).
I have heard sales leaders suggest that it is impossible to hire good salespeople, that they don’t exist. The most popular external factor that they point to as the cause is generational differences (i.e., Millennials, Generation Z, etc.). Even though they are sometimes correct about activity levels that are too low, and some salespeople employ ineffective approaches, neither are universally true across their sales force. It’s easier to blame the sales force than to lead and manage them, building a culture of accountability. There is little chance of producing better results while believing you can’t impact the performance of the people in your charge. The evidence is when a salesperson that fails for you goes on to succeed working for someone else.
The Case for Believing Everything is Your Fault
There is a case for believing everything is your fault. That case does not include refusing to acknowledge the external factors, but instead to recognize them and respond to them appropriately. Even though you lack the power or influence to change the external factors, you have the power to determine how you react to them.
The approach of believing that external factors beyond your control dictate your results eliminates your agency, disempowers you, and positions you as a victim. You might recognize this as blaming someone or something else as the root cause of your challenges. That posture can create a downward spiral (or vicious circle). Instead of working to improve your results by controlling your response, you give up and get carried away in the “The Drift.“
By believing everything is your fault, you exercise your agency, empower yourself to act, and position yourself as the protagonist. You are not the victim. Instead, you are working on the things you can control or influence, and in doing so, creating a different outcome. If you must err on one side or the other, you are better off holding beliefs that allow you to act to improve things rather than those that would have to sit idly by, come what may.
What It’s Not
It is not your price that causes you to lose deals to lower-priced competitors; it is your ability to convey the greater value and the better outcomes in which you are asking them to invest. The most substantial variable is how you sell and the experience you create for your prospective client.
It isn’t true that there are not good salespeople available for work, nor is it true that the generational differences are so vast as to prevent any young person from being a successful salesperson. Instead, it’s what you do with the people you hire that has the most significant impact on your results.
If you want control, start by making two lists. On the first list, write down all the external factors that might have some impact on your results. Label that list, “Things Outside of My Control.” Make a second list of what you can do to improve your results—in spite of the external factors. Label this list, “My Action Plan for Turning Things Around.”
Any time you want to look at the external factors, also look at the list of things you can do and take action on what appears on that list. The more work you do on the second list, the less the first list will matter, as the first list isn’t actionable and the second is.
You never have to wait for someone to empower you. You can empower yourself to act as soon as you decide to do so.