Mental Flexibility–A Key Ingredient in Successful Sales – by Jill Johnson

Most people have no problem preparing for a sales meeting. But when you have been working for months on a complex sale or are pitching a piece of business that will elevate your client base, you must review your sales strategy before you go—and get your head fully into the game.

How do you really do this? Take some quiet time to review all of your notes from your meetings and conversations with your prospect. Re-read your own sales proposal and think about your key points.  What things must you be sure to emphasize in the conversation?

Once you are in the room, let your client lead this dance.  You must be deeply, deeply immersed in their words, their thinking, their jargon and their nuances. And be prepared for the deal to stall once again. Perhaps they are not quite ready for the close yet. Remember to finesse this—don’t push—and above all, keep breathing in the meeting!

In complex sales situations, we are most typically technically and socially prepped for the meeting. Also, be mentally prepped in one more critical way. Keep in mind that complex sales are a multi-dimensional chess game, with many, many plays available. Don’t assume (but hope) that this meeting is going to give you the whole deal as outlined in your original proposal.

You must be mentally flexible enough to not be disappointed if the prospect takes your meeting with them in another direction.  That way you will not get thrown if they do, or say, the unexpected.  Sometimes prospects want something smaller than we think they need, or they decide a different approach is better for their organization. Or perhaps they really desire a little more time with you to be sure that they can afford the risk of recommending you to their boss or their board of directors.  It is important to be able to ride the whitewater no matter where the river of sales takes you—and stay in the damn boat!

I have blown sales because something weird happened in a meeting where I was totally expecting it to go one way, and then it morphed into the unexpected by someone new to the process who had their own agenda.  By being in a mental space to anticipate that an unexpected moment might occur, you will not get thrown out of the sales boat. And you will be mentally agile enough to handle it. I had to learn the hard way to start expecting the unexpected so that I am listening even more deeply in these meetings, especially if there is another new person in the room who will influence the decision. This keeps me on my toes so that the meeting moves well, and I am able to rally no matter where they take the discussion.

What you want does not matter to your client. By staying focused on their issues and concerns, you will be responsive and flexible. This is especially true because bringing in more flexibility in your perspective means you may ask better probing questions.  These questions might uncover the real issues they are trying to address that they were not comfortable sharing in an RFP or initial meeting.

Even if you only close a part of your deal or get invited to the next level of meetings, you have still gotten a “win.” Then you can use the new insight you gained to adjust and modify your next approach. I have discovered that sometimes it was the perceived “loss” on the first sale that completely established the base for the bigger and better sale in the future. That mental flexibility, and ability to manage disappointment, is the real secret sauce to successful complex selling.


Jill Johnson is the President and Founder of Johnson Consulting Services, a leading management consulting firm based in Minneapolis, Minnesota specializing in strategy development. An award-winning consultant since 1982, Jill assists her clients in making critical business decisions and in developing market-based strategic plans for turnarounds or growth. Jill has worked with a wide array of corporations, government agencies and non-profit organizations throughout the United States, as well as in Europe and Asia. Her consulting work has impacted nearly $3 billion worth of decisions. Jill is one of the first women ever inducted into the Minnesota Women Business Owners Hall of Fame. Contact Jill now to see how she can assist your organization or team in meeting its goals, making a key decision or as a speaker. You can reach her by email at or by phone at 763-571-3101. Website is: You can follow Jill at Twitter and LinkedIn.


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