The Psychology of Selling

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

Why are some salespeople more successful than others?

When I started in selling many years ago, I struggled for months, barely earning enough to survive while all around me other salespeople were selling and earning much more than me, and they didn’t seem to be any smarter or working any harder.

My first breakthrough was the discovery of the 80/20 rule. It says that 20% of the salespeople make 80% of the sales and earn 80% of the money. That means the average income of the people in the top 20% is sixteen times the average income of the people in the bottom 80%.

When I first heard that statistic, I was both inspired and discouraged. I was discouraged because I had never been good at anything in my life, let alone been in the top 20%. I failed school, worked at laboring jobs, and often slept on the ground with everything I owned in a backpack that I carried with me. The idea of being in the top 20% was exciting but overwhelming. I just did not think it could be possible for me.

Then I learned another fact: Every person in the top 20% started in the bottom 20%. Everyone who is doing well today was once doing poorly. Everyone at the front of the line of life started at the back of the line. As T. Harv Eker says, “Every master was once a disaster.”

I immediately made a decision to be in the top 20%. I learned later that making a decision, of any kind, and then taking action on that decision, is often the turning point in your life. Without a decision to be in the top 20%, it simply will not happen. You will not get to the top of your field as a matter of luck or chance. People who get to the top of any field get there after they make a decision, and then they back up that decision with hard, hard work, month after month and year after year, until they make their decision a reality.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell reports on research that says it takes about seven years and/or 10,000 hours of dedication and hard work to get to the top of your field. This doesn’t just mean that you go to work and come home each day for seven years. It means that you throw your whole heart into becoming better and better, like a person running a sprint in a big race, and you work your heart out to develop your skills.

When I share these statistics with my audiences, there is often a big moan from the salespeople present. They say, “But I am thirty years old today. You are saying that it will take me seven to ten years to get to the top of my field. I have to wait to be seven to ten years older.”

This is true. But then I ask, “How much older will you be in seven to ten years, in any case?”

The fact is that time is going to pass anyway. Seven years from now, you will be seven years older. The only question is whether you will be at the top of your field and one of the highest-paid people in the industry. And this is almost totally a matter of personal choice.

Remember, you can learn any skill you need to learn in order to achieve any goal you can set for yourself. All sales skills are learnable. Everyone who is good at a particular skill today at one time could not do it at all. Many of the best salespeople I know were terrible at selling when they began, and terrified of prospecting, to boot. Today, however, they are some of the most positive and confident and highest-paid people in our society. And what they have done, you can do as well.

Self-Confidence and Self-Esteem
Just as 20% of salespeople make 80% of the sales and earn 80% of the money, the 80/20 rule also applies to individuals in a different way. It says that 80% of success is mental and emotional, not technical and physical.

The most important determinant of sales success in any field, in any economy, in any market, with any product or service, is self-confidence. When you have an unshakable belief in yourself and your ability to succeed, you become unstoppable, like a force of nature. The higher your level of self-confidence, the bigger the goals you will set for yourself, the faster you will bounce back from rejection and disappointment, and the more you will achieve in a shorter period of time.

What I also discovered was that self-confidence is determined by your self-esteem. Your self-esteem can be defined as “how much you like yourself.”

The flip side of self-esteem is called “self-efficacy.” Self-efficacy is defined as how good you are at what you do. The more you like yourself, the better you do your work. The better you do your work, the more you like yourself. One hand washes the other. Self-esteem and self-efficacy reinforce each other.

Psychologists will say that everything you do in life affects your self-esteem in some way. Almost everything you do is to either build your self-esteem or protect it from being diminished by other people or circumstances. Your self-esteem is the “reactor core” of your personality that determines your levels of optimism, self-respect, and personal pride.

Everything you do to build your self-esteem also builds your self-confidence. When you truly like yourself or love yourself, and see yourself as a valuable and important person, you become more positive and cheerful and completely unafraid to call on customers and ask them to buy from you.

7 Steps to Mental fitness
Your level of self-esteem is your level of “mental fitness.” Mental fitness can be compared to physical fitness. Just as you become physically fit by doing a series of workouts, you become mentally fit by exercising mentally in a series of ways. For you to develop high levels of self-confidence and self-esteem in selling, you must learn to think and act like the most positive and successful salespeople until your self-confidence becomes so high that you become unstoppable.

People with high self-esteem can sell well in any market. People with low self-esteem cannot sell even in the very best of markets. Self-esteem is the key.

There are seven steps to mental fitness in selling and for improving how you think and feel about yourself and your potential. To become a top salesperson you must be:
1. Ambitious
2. Courageous
3. Committed to your work
4. Professional
5. Responsible
6. Thoroughly prepared for each call
7. A continuous learner
By practicing each of these principles over and over, you will eventually get into the “mental Olympics” of selling.

Here, let me share with you one of the seven elements: commitment.

The most successful people in every field, including and especially sales, are totally committed to what they are doing. They put their whole hearts into their work and continually strive to do it well and to get better.

There is a direct relationship between how much you believe in the goodness and importance of what you are doing and how persuasive you are in presenting and selling your products to others. To start with, top salespeople believe in their companies. They believe that their companies are excellent organizations and they are proud to work for them.

Top salespeople believe in their products and services as well. They believe that the products and services they offer are the best in the market. They believe that their products and services can actually help people to improve their lives and work. They believe so much in their products that they use them themselves whenever possible, enthusiastically sell them to their family and friends, and speak highly about them whenever their products and services are discussed.

They believe in their customers and want to help them. Top salespeople see themselves as “helpers” and are always looking for ways to improve the lives of their customers with their products and services. Another vital part of commitment is that top salespeople care about their customers. The highest-paid sales professionals are emotionally involved with their products and services, on the one hand, and their customers, on the other. They deeply want to make a difference in the lives of their customers with what they sell.

Finally, top salespeople believe in themselves and their ability to succeed. They have an almost unshakable confidence in their ability to achieve their goals and to overcome obstacles. They are confident, positive, and irresistible.

Excerpted, by permission of the publisher, from Unlimited Sales Success by Brian Tracy and Michael Tracy. Copyright 2014, Michael Tracy, Brian Tracy. Published by AMACOM. For more information, visit