Self Mastery in Sales


I’m lucky to have bright friends. My buddy Charlie (that’s “Charles” to you) is one of them. I’d even go as far as to qualify Charlie as shrewd. But don’t take my word for it. He led recruiting at Gusto – taking them from 50 to 650 employees. Then, Elon hired Charlie as Head of Recruiting at Neuralink.

Years ago, while Charlie and I were having a conversation about hiring salespeople, he told me, “You know Paul, you might think the best reps are the guys working 14-hour days. But the best ones we have work 8 to 10 hours. When they get to the office, they’re composed and ready to work. And they deliver.” 

His observation stuck with me.

As I thought more about it, I began to understand why his comment had remained in my noggin. The image most of us have of a successful salesperson is one who grinds endlessly, either hammering the phones or responding to emails. Charlie was saying that in presence work, like sales, it’s far more valuable to be fully present than it is to grind for hours on end. While one could spend 14 hours working away behind a keyboard, interpersonal work is much more about being effective when you’re “on” than logging in hours. It requires being able to tune into people and respond in the best possible way. There’s something to be said for hustle. But one’s ability to make the most of your limited sales at-bats is perhaps even more important. Particularly when the stakes are high (read higher ACVs).

More than anything sales is about self-mastery. You need to be centered, self-aware, responsive, and mentally fresh to tackle the daily challenges sales presents. Being groggy or hungover harms your performance. You can’t focus on your prospects if your cognitive abilities are hindered. Part of the challenge of being a salesperson is the mental gymnastics you need to do. All at once, you need to be able to take in every bit of sensory input from your prospect and perform your pitch that has been scripted and then internalized. And also respond appropriately to what’s unfolding in front of you. We call that ability to take on things mentally: cognitive load. One of the reasons salespeople make a lot of money is they can juggle many things in their minds at once. This agility upstairs moves deals along and ends up greatly contributing to making sales. If you’ve sold, you know the feeling. But if you haven’t, let me give you a sense of what it’s like. 

After a months-long series of sales meetings, you have just presented pricing to a prized prospect, in what you believe will be your closing call. It’s met by a furrowed brow. You log that information in memory – realizing you’ll have to address this salient point – only to move on to how implementation works. The next slide in your deck is about making the prospect feel taken care of throughout the software rollout. After you’ve gone through the details of onboarding, you move in for the kill, fully expecting resistance. “How does that all sound to you?” Your wheels are already turning on how to handle a pricing objection. Your prospect responds, “Ummmm…this all looks okay…I’m not sure I understood your pricing, though.” A part of you mutters inside your brain, “How could this guy not understand what I just presented? It was crystal clear. Is he slow?” Thankfully, your inner soother comes in to calm your internal dialogue, “Give him a break. He’s probably stressed and not thinking clearly. If you’re patient here, and don’t lose your cool, you’ll have a chance to close him.” You decide to take a deep breath, smile, and double-click on your pricing by asking, “What part of it was unclear? Our pricing can be confusing at times. I’m happy to go over anything that wasn’t clear to you.”

That’s what the inner game of sales feels like. Constant control of your emotions and a high level of self-mastery.

Now, how does one go about optimizing for that?

Charlie’s point was that his best salespeople did everything in their power to prepare to be fully present and effective with prospects and customers. And that, my friends, is self-care. My brilliant therapist and spiritual teacher Riyaz once suggested I should focus on doing the things that would enable me to perform at my best. “If you want to be at your most effective, you need to sharpen your axe. You can’t be an impactful lumberjack with a dull axe.” At the time, Riyaz was trying to get me to understand that I needed to take more breaks and be gentler with myself. (I used to get stuck in 6th gear). This applies to us all, and salespeople in particular. Do the things that will make and keep you sharp.

The key is finding your mix. It could include meditation. Exercise. Yoga. Getting a full 9 hours of sleep. Or taking brisk walks between meetings. Some people love cold showers to start their day. Others a cold plunge. Some will do jumping jacks to get their energy level up before jumping on a big call. Others swear by pushups to get them pumped. We all know that drinking plenty of water keeps you alert. Even the old “coffee is for closers” sales adage can apply. Some reps need their two ristrettos before switching into hustle mode. Whatever it is: find your mix. Play with it. Each person has a unique blend of self-care that will get them optimal results. Over the years, I’ve learned that a mixture of meditation, yoga, and a large dose of exercise led to my peak performance. I tend to run hot; I’m on the high-energy/anxious side of the spectrum. Anything that grounds me, I find helpful. But what works for me might not work for you. The self-care that enables you to perform your best is the one you want to adopt. 

If you’re a salesperson (and most of us are in some capacity, whether we like it or not), I’d invite you to rethink the way you structure your days. What can you do in your morning routine to set yourself up for optimal performance throughout your work day? What activities get you in the right head space to be fully present, even-keeled, and emotionally available?

Think more about impact and less about grind.

If you start doing that, your sales conversations will be more valuable, and you’ll end up closing more deals.