Grit: Why It’s Important and How to Build It on Your Sales Team

October 8, 2020  |  Posted by in Leadership Development, Recommended Reading, Sales Motivation

Resilience, perseverance, and grit are all essential attributes when pursuing success. These concepts and abilities are easy to practice when life is good, but much more difficult when you’re experiencing stress or setbacks. I was recently listening to an episode of the podcast HBR IdeaCast, titled “To Build Grit, Go Back to Basics,” and the messages shared resonated with me as a sales leader.  Shannon Huffman Polson, a former military pilot (one of the first women to pilot the Apache attack helicopter the United States Army), joins co-host Curt Nickisch to discuss grit and how to build it even during a pandemic.

How Do You Define Grit?

Polson defines grit as a dogged determination in the face of difficult circumstances. Let’s be honest – the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about more difficult circumstances than some of us have seen in quite some time.

When Polson was young she played soccer. During one of her games, a player on the opposing team would charge down the field, scoring on goal every single time. After the game, Polson’s dad asked her why she didn’t run back at this girl. Although initially thinking this was crazy, the next time they played against that team, Polson decided to run back at the girl, colliding with her and preventing her from ever charging her side of the field again. The message from this story was that grit involves a certain willingness to run head on into something that’s difficult. Maybe you know a particular task, project, or sales call will be challenging. Maybe you need to communicate with customers through a new medium than you’re comfortable with (text or Zoom).  Or perhaps, you need to start thinking of new strategies to cold call prospects.

The Grit Factor

In her book, The Grit Factor: Courage, Resilience, and Leadership in the Most Male-Dominated Organization in the World, Polson organizes The Grit Factor into three different phases. I’d like to dive into the first phase: commit. This is all about owning your narrative; you are in charge of your own story. Instead of thinking, “I was a victim of this circumstance,” or, “This just happened to me,” shift your mindset to, “I overcame this,” and, “I pushed through it.”

Customers are looking to partner with sales professionals that are problem-solvers. It’s easy to play the blame game and use the current pandemic and the challenges it brings as an excuse for a dip in sales. Grit is about looking at the problem in front of you and continuing to try new solutions to overcome and push through.

The second piece of the grit puzzle is about developing your circle. Take a look at who’s on your team. Your team can and should be sounding boards and shoulders to lean on. Those that don’t support the success of the team mission should clearly be outside your circle. Ultimately, the point that Polson stressed is this: none of us can do this alone; you have to build your team. This is especially important in times of turmoil and uncertainty.

Grit as a Muscle

Perhaps my favorite portion of the podcast came at the end, where Polson compared grit to a muscle. To strengthen our grit muscles, we must continue to challenge ourselves. We must take one step, and then challenge ourselves to take another step, and another, and another. “To get better at doing hard things, you need to do hard things,” Polson states clearly in the episode. But just like growing a physical muscle, you must take rest days. Dogged determination cannot be sustained every second of every day, that’s not realistic. It’s critical to take care of yourself, mentally, physically, and emotionally.

It’s important to understand that when you’re going through a hard time, your grit muscle is getting stronger. By leading your sales team through this pandemic, you are building grit. But how do you infuse your sales team with grit? In Polson’s mind, it comes down to this: take care of your people. If it’s not already, make it a priority to understand who your sales reps are as individuals. What are their “whys?” Challenge them to take one more step than they did the day before. Another opportunity to develop grit on your team is looking at short-term goals, rather than at the long-term, uncertain future. Set up weekly or bi-weekly goals for your reps, if possible, and celebrate each accomplished goal. Polson recognizes the importance of celebrating victories on your team. This gives your sales professionals confidence and helps them operate enthusiastically in the current environment of uncertainty.

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