Working Smarter

Focus on What You Can Control


Times are tough right now. That's the reality of our sales environment. People are being laid off. Decisions take longer—and will be more difficult to make. Risk is now a big issue. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Making the situation even worse, the likelihood that we'll be back to a booming economy in short order is slim. 

During times like this, it's tempting to slip into "poor me" thinking. We find solace in talking with our colleagues who are struggling just like we are. Gone are the “good old days”—which were only a few weeks ago. 

As far as I'm concerned, there's only one viable option right now. We need to focus on what we can control.  

This doesn't mean being blind to this unprecedented situation we’re dealing with. Nor is it about false optimism. 

Instead, it's a quiet acceptance of the conditions you (we all) face, followed by a decision to figure out how to best deal with it. If you take a look at what's within your control, you'll find you have many more options than you might think. 

Here are three strategies you can implement immediately

1. Turn Problems Into Challenges

The more time we spend focusing on the deteriorating economic situation (the problem), the worse things get for us. Putting our attention on these negative conditions saps our energy, causing us to lose creativity and momentum – which only puts us further behind. 

What works? Believe it or not, our brain loves challenges. It rises to the occasion, scanning its memory banks for information that might be useful. It calls our attention to potentially relevant resources or ideas that we would have skipped over before. It pulls together seemingly unlinked thoughts to come up with new strategies. 

So ditch the word “problem.” Instead, say to yourself and your colleagues: “I/we have a real challenge here.”

Then start posing questions to get you thinking:

  • How can we get more clients in a challenging economy?
  • How can we ensure that we keep our current clients?
  • How can we create greater value for our customers?
  • How can we make it easier for our customers to make a decision?
  • How can we increase our “share of customer?”
  • How would [other people] handle this?  (Insert names like famous people, athletes, scientists, etc.)

When you do this, new ideas emerge—ones that are often far better than you ever could have imagined.

2. Find New Ways to Fill Your Pipeline

During tough economic times, you need more prospects in your pipeline. This may mean more cold calling, phone calls or emails to prospective customers. But, if you get creative about it, you might:

  • Put on events such as seminars or webinars with your colleagues.
  • Co-market with other companies in related businesses.
  • Set up strategic alliances with sellers who call on the same decision maker as you.

These high leverage activities can attract even more people to your company than you might normally get from typical prospecting activities. Plus, you're not having to do it all yourself.

3. Enhance the Quality of Customer Interactions

Let me be blunt. Nearly 90% of the sellers I know can significantly increase their sales effectiveness by improving their sales skills. If you're in the top 10% of sellers who have honed their skills to near perfection, you can stop reading now.

For the rest of you, let me suggest the following:

  • Spend more preparing for your meetings.
    Do your homework on the company. Learn about their issues and concerns. Figure out how to align your offering with what they're trying to accomplish.

  • Sharpen your value proposition.
    If you can't clearly articulate how your product/service can help your prospect reach their objectives, it's no wonder you're having trouble selling.

  • Develop provocative questions.
    Use your questioning skills to engage your prospects in a business-oriented discussion that's highly relevant to their needs.

How do you get better at this? Invest in your own personal development. Learn from experts. Ask your colleagues. Analyze your own sales calls. Read books, subscribe to newsletters, listen to podcasts, or attend webinars. 

This should get you started! But should you hit a roadblock or find yourself slipping back into the doldrums, stop and ask yourself, "What's in my control?"

Keeping your focus there enables creative solutions to emerge – and ultimately, keeps the sales coming in the door.


After a successful career in the sales world, writing five books, and speaking internationally, Jill is now tackling an even bigger challenge. She's focused on bringing the "millions in the middle" together to solve some of the biggest issues facing our country and the world. Jill truly believes so much more is possible if we can work together.