Keller Center for Research

Necessary Condition #8 - The Right Outcome

March 1, 2012

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By Charles Fifield, MBA

"Win-win is based on the paradigm that there is plenty for everybody, that one person's success is not achieved at the expense or exclusion of the success of others... It's not your way or the highway; it's a better way, a higher way."

- Stephen R. Covey

Both buyers and sellers desire win-win outcomes; however, most salespeople have a natural bent toward win-lose thinking. Our culture has too often indoctrinated salespeople to think with a winner-loser mindset. You only need to attend one sales meeting or read a company's sales newsletter to understand that companies often emphasize win-lose sales metrics. Public notifications of sales results are believed to especially motivate the "losers," or everyone on the list who is not at the top.

Furthermore, if you listen to television news, especially the seemingly incessant political rhetoric, listeners will be bombarded by zero-sum comparisons of the rich versus the middle class or Wall Street versus Main Street. Unfortunately, this is a widespread mindset that exists all around us, but is clearly non-productive in terms of relationship building. Therefore, the win/lose mentality is a state of mind that salespeople must learn how to manage and overcome.

The Salesperson's Dilemma

When hiring salespeople, recruiters often look to recruit candidates who possess strong ego-drive or desire to succeed. This is especially true in personal or direct sales wherein the demands of prospecting and self-motivation are generally regarded as critical job performance indicators. However, one's desire to succeed is often tied to one's desire to win, which is naturally followed by a perspective that others must be perceived to lose.

Who will likely play the role of "loser" in this scenario? The answer is any person the salesperson believes will stand in his/her pathway to achieving success. Frequently, this includes prospective buyers and fellow salespeople. From an employer's perspective, this particular mindset often seems to work. In the long run, however, if a salesperson's path to success is linked to customer and vendor loyalty, a win-lose mentality is self-defeating and will produce sub-optimal productivity results for every involved stakeholder.

The road to maximum personal sales productivity is best paved with healthy cooperation and a collaborative mindset. This does not mean that the salesperson's desire to succeed needs to be thwarted. On the contrary, it simply says that the strong, ego-driven salesperson must learn how to win as a result of others' success. The satisfaction tied to win-win outcomes will also be rewarded with others wanting to participate in the salesperson's own successes. If the salesperson persists in neglecting customer relationships, though, this can result in the destruction of others' willingness to help the salesperson. Treating buyers as adversaries is a shortsighted approach that can reap short-term economic benefits, but limits long-term success.

A salesperson's selfishness may cause her to miss many rich opportunities generated by a win-win attitude and a generous heart. Selfish salespeople are also far less likely to lead, guide, or influence buyers, and are more likely to engender resistance and opposition. This recommended "by-helping-others-I-can-best-help-myself" spirit is a critical ingredient to what is termed Heart Selling.

For many salespeople, a win-win mindset is counterintuitive. Regardless, scientific data supports the maxim that generosity and kindness in business dealings creates greater success. This is borne out by significant bodies of data and discussed by Arthur C. Brooks, President of The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, in his speech, "Why Giving Matters" (Brooks 2009). Brooks notes the surprising results confirmed by his extensive research showing that the act of giving, whether it be through charitable donations, volunteering time, or even giving blood, leads to increased economic prosperity on behalf of the giver. Part of the reason is that a more selfless approach makes a happier or friendlier person, which in turn promotes better work habits, stronger relationship management and increased productivity. People who give also gain respect and credibility from others, which enhances their ability to lead, to influence, and to inspire - all critically important characteristics of highly productive salespeople. Brooks adds that people who are willing to help others and are kind and considerate are more likely to not ignore or abuse the needs of others. They are less likely to alienate others by being oppressive, controlling, and greedy, and more likely to stimulate cooperation and the sharing of ideas among others.

Cultivating the Interdependent Mindset

Jeff Lindsay, in his article, "Self-Defeating Selfishness: How Win/Lose Thinking Creates Innovation Fatigue and Failure," concludes that, "If you care about innovation and business success, look to yourself first. Do you (sincerely) care about others? Do you understand and respect their needs? Do you give to charity? Do you inspire trust and respect through your integrity and character?" (Lindsay 2009).

If you want to have long-term success in the demanding business of personal sales, then you must know that you will not get there without learning how to think interdependently. In other words, you shape your "outside-in" reality by building your competitive advantage habits from the "inside-out."

In the widely read self-help book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey presents an "inside-out" character-building model for achieving personal effectiveness in an interwoven world (Covey 1989). Most personal sales success literature focuses on change in issues such as skills, techniques or tools of the selling trade. Covey refers to these changes as personality or cosmetic in nature, and although they are important, they are secondary to the deeper primary traits that concern the nature of character. To illustrate how primary and secondary traits differ, Covey offers the following illustration. Suppose you are in Chicago and are using a current map to find a particular destination in the city. You may have excellent secondary skills in map reading and navigation, but you will never find your destination if you are using a map of Detroit. In other words, having the right map is a necessary condition before secondary selling skills can be put to productive use.

Covey's approach centers on changing oneself from within; he believes our mindset is a bundle of beliefs and habits that define our resulting behavior. Covey recommends working through his seven key character-defining habits, thereby progressing from our current state to the desired mindset of thinking interdependently (cooperating/collaborating to achieve something that cannot be achieved independently). He further emphasizes that one cannot achieve an interdependent mindset if the person has not gained a state of independence (making our own decisions and taking care of ourselves). Most personal success literature promotes this independent mind condition, encouraging people to become liberated and do their own thing, as the desired end character. Covey concludes, however, that the independent model is a necessary but an insufficient mode of thinking for a person who wants high productivity results in our interdependent, relationship-driven world.

Closely paralleling Covey's seven habits, the following is a habit-building model for the personal selling interdependent mindset:

Build a Strong Client Relationship

Habit #1 - Be Proactive and Positive with Customers

Make decisions, anticipate and initiate change-thinking to improve the salesperson's business development role and overall relationship with customers - be solution-minded.

Habit #2 - Begin with the Desired Customer Relationship End in Mind

Have a clear principle-centered customer relationship mission statement and develop consistent short- and long-term goals.

Habit #3 - Put Customer Relationships First

Prioritize your time based upon your mission statement and maintain a good balance between your relationship productivity and the building of productive capacity for future relationship growth.

Habit #4 - Think Win-Win with Customers

Seek to achieve integrative agreements and relationships that are mutually beneficial, and the customer should realize the first win.

Habit #5 - Seek to Understand Customers First

Covey highlights this habit as the most important interpersonal relations habit for it requires putting oneself in the perspective of another.

Habit #6 - Create Synergies to Leverage Customer Differences

Through mutual trust, honest communication, transparency and understanding, find ways to leverage relationship differences and create options for mutual gain whereby the net whole value produced is greater than the sum of the parts.

Habit #7 - Focus on Continuous Improvement

Take time out from production to build additional production capacity by overcoming high impact production-draining constraints and avoiding inertia.


One of the critical conditions to becoming highly productive in today's business world is viewing sales interactions from an interdependent and win-win mindset. To be winning-oriented is not negative. On the other hand, seeking victories for the seller at the expense of the buyer is self-defeating and unproductive in the long-term. Spending money or time to improve one's sales skills can have positive effects on sales results; however, if the motivated salesperson wants to make a quantum leap in sales productivity, changes will first need to be made "inside-out." These high-value improvements speak to the fundamental characteristics or mindset of successful salespeople, as opposed to secondary or cosmetic alterations.

To build an interdependent mindset from the "inside-out", Stephen Covey and others believe a person needs to practice several habits consistently, including win-win interpersonal thinking. In other words, seeking first to serve the best interests of your customers is a habit necessary to achieve personal interdependence and highly effective sales productivity results.

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Brooks, Arthur C. (February 2009), Why Giving Matters, Speech presented at Brigham Young University, Provo, UT.

Covey, Stephen R. (1989), The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, New York: Simon & Schuster.

Lindsay, Jeff (July 27, 2009), "Self-Defeating Selfishness: How Win/Lose Thinking Creates Innovation Fatigue and Failure," Weblog entry, Conquering Innovation Fatigue: Overcoming Barriers to Personal and Corporate Success, accessed December 2011 https://www.innovationfatigue.com/2009/07/self-defeating-selfishness-how-winlose-thinking-creates-innovation-fatigue-and-failure/.

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About The Author

Charles Fifield, MBA
Senior Lecturer and Sales Coach, Baylor University's Center for Professional Selling

Chuck Fifield is a Senior Lecturer for Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business, Marketing Department and serves as the faculty coach to Baylor's Sales Team and Uproar Music and Entertainment Group, a student-managed business. He joined the faculty at Baylor University in 2001, teaching in the Graduate Business School (Operations Management), the Management Department (Negotiations and Conflict Resolution) and the Economics Department (Principles of Macroeconomics). Chuck has taught or guest lectured at other Texas-based Universities in the fields of sales, international business, money and banking and finance/investments. Professor Fifield has conducted sales research and training for several organizations, including most recently State Farm Insurance. Prior to joining Baylor, Chuck was a financial consultant for nearly thirty years to businesses located throughout the U.S. He owned and operated several financial service businesses in the fields of securities, real estate, oil and gas and insurance.

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