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How I Use Stoic Philosophy to Help My Business Get Results

How I Use Stoic Philosophy to Help My Business Get Results
September 10, 2018

Last week, I was invited to speak to a group of unemployed people. My brief was to explain how personal selling skills can help them in their search for work.

I have to admit. This one had me stumped. 

But then, I considered the problem and decided to use part of my time to talk about selling - through the eyes of a stoic philosopher.

What is Stoic philosophy?

In contrast with its modern-day connotations, Stoicism is not about becoming a heartless husk, devoid of emotion. In fact, Stoicism and Buddhism are remarkably similar. This traditional branch of philosophy focuses on using logic and critical thinking to mentally prepare yourself for life’s many ups and downs. It teaches us to take a step back and consider our problems from an unbiased point of view, without being overcome by emotion. 

When I first read Ryan Holiday’s excellent book, 'The Obstacle is The Way'. I liked it so much that I bought several copies and handed them out to friends.

In the book, Holiday talks about three personality traits that help people in their personal and business lives. I believe that they resonate particularly well with anybody trying to sell themselves - whether you’re currently unemployed or heading up a sales team - and the inevitable challenges they face, every day.

The three traits are Perception, Action and Persistence.

1. Challenging your perception

In my talk, I spoke about this in my own words.  

“Shit happens all the time. The important thing is not the shit, but how we perceive the shit.” 

Marcus Aurelius put it a little differently,

“Choose not to be harmed – and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed – and you haven’t been.” 

As another philosopher (my Mum) always told her sons,

“‘What if’ almost never happens.”

I appreciate that this isn’t easy to do. But if we can ‘take a metaphorical helicopter to the ceiling’ we can look at the situation more objectively. And stop the panic rising in our bodies, as look at challenges from a more manageable perspective.

Lost in Livingston

During my first few weeks as a salesman, I got lost. 

I was in a town called Livingston, near Edinburgh. I could see the town centre (where I wanted to be) but couldn’t find my way through the small streets. Eventually, I stopped and asked this old guy for directions. 

He surprised me and said,

“Oh, you cannae get there from here, son.” 

When I asked him how he would get to the centre he looked at me as if I was daft and said, “By bus!”

This has always stayed with me and has since led me to apply the maxim ‘there is always a solution’. Sometimes, we’re too busy thinking about where we want to be, to stop and ask ourselves,

“Am I taking the right actions to get there?”

2. Taking directed action

“Nothing happens in sales until you take action.”

I’m always harping on about this at my sales training sessions. But that’s because I really believe it. I’m sometimes flippant and say that marketers think too much and don’t take action. Whilst good salespeople constantly take action but don’t think. 

I know I’m being a bit unfair on marketers here – and ok – salespeople have to do some thinking!

But the point, according to Holiday, is that action is not enough. It is directed action that achieves results. It is the little directed actions in sales, moment by moment – day after day – customer by customer, that produces results at the end. 

I’m a great advocate of in-person networking for business people. But it occurred to me recently, that I’ve done very little in terms of turning up to events that I’m not actively involved in. So, this month, I’ve signed up to two, upcoming, local networking events. It might seem like a small step but sometimes you don’t need to be the one doing cartwheels in your industry, you just need to be the one who shows up.

(If I see you there, please note that I’m using the term ‘doing cartwheels’ strictly as a figure of speech.)

It’s amazing what you can achieve just by stepping up to the plate. 

And so, to persistence.

3. The power of persistence

I'm always going on about persistence. One of my favourite stories is this tale of persistence, from Lil Jimmy Reed. In his book, Holiday talks about ‘persist and resist’. We need to persist in our efforts and resist giving in to distraction, discouragement or disorder. Just about any successful person’s story is filled with the obstacles they have encountered, the failures they’ve accepted and the personal problems they’ve endured. 

No one will blame you for giving up. But what wonderful possibilities might happen if you keep going and going and going?

During one period in my career, I went through a pretty tough time with a person at work. In my self-talk, I said every day, sometimes several times,

“Don’t let the bastard grind you down.” 

Very negative, I know. But it got me through those dark days. 

I wish I’d had Ryan Holiday’s ‘The Obstacle is The Way’, back then. I’m sure I would have been able to challenge my own perception, take action and persist until I achieved my goal.

A philosophy for being alive

Applying stoic principles in my own thinking has helped me to prepare myself for the ups and downs that come with running a business. And, indeed, with being alive in general! This style of thinking has encouraged me to keep challenging my own perceptions, driven me to take action and given me the confidence to persist when times have been tough. 

That’s why I decided to go ahead and share my thoughts on stoic philosophy with the group of unemployed people I spoke to, last week. I’m pleased to say, that it seemed to make an impression. Here’s a little snippet of feedback from the session,

“Today, we had the pleasure of Sandy McCurdy visiting the Wise Group Dundee office to offer his wisdom to our Retail Academy attendees. Sandy McCurdy of Sales Coach Scot, is on a mission to make excellent selling skills a "must have" for every business in Scotland. He's also a master storyteller. He has a rich history in sales and carries a genuine humility to him. It was a real pleasure to see our customers hear his stories. He speaks very eloquently about the idea of the self and our own USP. The “thing” that makes us a little different. And the importance of realising how your USP should focus on how it can benefit someone else. We’ve all wondered what is unique about us. We all have skills and knowledge. At times we lack the confidence to acknowledge them or even recognise them. Sandy’s take on this is that “in sales, nothing happens unless you take action.”

Sam Coleman

Employer and Community Relationship Officer at The Wise Group

Want your sales team to have more confidence and achieve consistent results? At Sales Coach Scot, our sales training workshops can be tailored to cover everything from ‘Selling Skills for the Non-Salesperson’ to ‘Levelling-Up Your Negotiation Skills’. Call Sandy today on 07725 472243 or get in touch to book your session. 

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