• April 26, 2023
  • By Eduardo Umanzor, vice president of learning design and innovation, BTS, Alan Gentry, senior director, BTS Sales and Marketing Practice

Better Sales Outcomes Could Boil Down to Your Ability to Harness ‘Flow’

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The best salespeople in the world can’t necessarily sink exceedingly long putts or execute seriously impressive slam dunks. However, they tend to share an ability with the most gifted athletes: They can get into a flow state.


One 2022 study investigated the elements of flow in sports and the arts. The authors concluded that there were three stages of flow. The first—and most important to you as a leader or manager of salespeople—was preparation. About 7 out of 10 athletes said they could enter a state of flow if they prepared mentally and physically. The second was entry into the flow state, and the last was the exit from the flow.


Each stage of flow has stages within itself. Preparation involves warmup, focus, body feelings, and emotional states. In these stages, the athlete accesses certain aspects preemptively. During the flow state entry, there are four stages: goal setting, high level of involvement in the activity, control over performance, and positive emotions and sensations. At this point, the athlete is evolving into the flow state. The third and final stage is the flow state exit, which includes the end of the performance, physical experience, and mental experience stages. These events happen gradually as the person makes their way back to reality.


Entering a state of mental flow in sales discussions will serve up significant benefits. First, customers appreciate being the center of attention. They also feel more trust as you share your extensive knowledge and guide them through deep and valuable discussions. You might even find that your customers make decisions faster as they lock onto your creative problem solving.


So, how can you guide yourself and your team into a productive zone during each customer interaction?


1. Trigger flow with adequate challenges.

One of the triggers of flow is being presented with a challenge. What could be more of a challenge than facing the risk, unpredictability, and potential complications involved in sales conversations? As long as you feel enough tension, you’ll be pushed to elevate your skill level naturally to meet the experience.


Realizing that this encounter represents a challenge triggers the struggle that propels you to elevate your game through deep preparation, research, and even role-playing potential scenarios. During the struggle, you prepare so intensely without reaching a level of exhaustion. You must recognize when to stop to allow for release. This release, which is a total disconnection, triggers deep insights when you return to the task.


If you’re not feeling a heightened sense of “high stakes” when approaching a sales interaction, ask yourself why. Nevertheless, your planning should reveal possible objections and stumbling blocks requiring innovative responses. As a result, you should desire to get into an intense flow so you can effectively overcome any obstacles.


2. Get ready to sit in “the now.”

Sitting in the now is about relying on your preparation to be in the moment during customer interactions. Realize that you have the knowledge and expertise to listen, validate, explore options, and gain agreement. You must remove the noise and trust that you can engage in a fluid yet structured dialogue.


During your ramp-up to entering the flow, consider how you can leverage personalization to bring additional value to your client. Personalization is critical in all selling environments and starts with deeply tailored customer insights. A McKinsey & Company survey found that 76 percent of consumers said personalized communication was a key factor in their buying decisions, and 78 percent said that kind of communication would make them repurchase. You can only meet customers where they are and deliver exceptional value by understanding, acknowledging, and aligning your insights and suggestions with how customers can accelerate their desired business results.


3. Set an agenda for all your exchanges.

Don’t assume that your flow state will be enough to create a collaborative dialogue with customers. You need a road map to follow. Set out the conditions for your discussion in a bulleted list or agenda. The agenda should include any items that must be validated based on previous conversations, areas that need to be explored collaboratively, and desired agreements or outcomes at the end of the conversation. You can share this with your prospect so you’re on the same page regarding goals. Allow your prospect to contribute to your agenda, too.


After creating a guide, start moving toward your agreed-upon set of outcomes. Working together, meet each other’s micro expectations. When an expectation has been completed, go to the next one. Ideally, you’ll leave the exchange with greater trust, not to mention a sale—or the next step on the way to a sale. A well-structured agenda must also have enough flexibility to explore other topics that might arise. The key is gaining agreement that the issues outlined are critical to achieving the desired outcomes from the conversation. Once you gain agreement on an agenda, exploring the topics is where the flow state might arise because you can fully emerge with a sense of enjoyment.


4. Reflect on each flow event.

You might be able to get yourself in a flow, but you can’t stay there forever. Eventually, everyone falls out of flow. Still, you shouldn’t let flow pass you by without learning from it. Write down the insights you learned during your client communication. Talk about processes that occurred and lessons gained.


For example, you might have tried new ways to customize your sales call that worked well. You hyper-individualized how you described value to the client, and the client responded more positively than you anticipated. You could use your findings to inform all future sales interactions. At the same time, you could share good experiences with other sellers in your organization.


Great salespeople are mental athletes. The salespeople who have this realization can gain the advantages of following some of the same routines as their elite sports counterparts. This includes sliding into a state of flow during customer interactions to grow trust, win deals, and keep the scoreboard looking healthy.


Eduardo Umanzor, Ph.D., a performance improvement expert, is vice president of learning design and innovation at BTS, an organization that works with leaders at all levels to help them make better decisions, convert those decisions to actions, and deliver results. Alan Gentry is a senior director in the BTS Sales and Marketing Practice and works out of the Chicago office. He partners with client sales organizations, sales leaders, and sales excellence departments to help them achieve their desired results faster.

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