Sales: Have You Lost Control?

There is one thing we fear more than losing a sale, money, or even our job: It’s control.

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On a recent webinar, I asked a group of salespeople, “How are you managing the current situation?”

The general consensus was, “I’ve lost my sense of control.”

At some level, we can all relate to this sentiment. We’re all losing some of our control, and it’s driving us crazy! There is one thing we fear more than losing a sale, money, or even our job. It’s control. A sense of control keeps us healthy and happy. Consider this experiment mentioned in Tali Sharot’s wonderful book, The Influential Mind.

Experimenters, Judith Rodin and Ellen Langer, wanted to understand how control impacted health and happiness, so they conducted an experiment at a nursing home — a fitting venue to understand the effects of perceived control on health and happiness. Residents are constantly told what they can do and when they can do it. Many residents rely on the staff’s help to complete everyday activities.

This nursing home had four floors. The staff addressed the residents floor by floor. The staff called a meeting with all the residents on one floor and explained the situation. These residents were told to take care of themselves, make plans to get everything they needed, select activities, and plan their own schedule. They were also given a potted plant, and the staff explained that the resident was responsible for watering and taking care of the plant. The residents on this floor had more perceived control over their environment.

The other floors received different instructions. The staff assured the residents that they would take amazing care of them. Residents wouldn’t have to lift a finger; the staff would take care of everything. These residents were also given a plant, but residents were informed that the staff would take care of the watering. The residents on these other floors had less perceived control over their environment.

After three weeks, there was a noticeable difference. The group with more perceived control was happier and their mental alertness improved. After eighteen months, this group also showed signs of greater health. Control — whether perceived or actual — is good for us!

Losing control is tough. We want it. We need it. But did we ever really have it? Remember, you are never in complete control of this life. Unexpected things — good and bad—are part of everyday life. Uncertainty is only more salient because of our current situation. But amid all the uncertainty, you have more control than you think. Here are three tips to help you manage these uncontrollable times.


Thomas Jefferson said, “Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.” 

Do you have the right mental attitude or the wrong mental attitude? Attitude drives behavior. We move in the direction of our thoughts; we become what we think about.

One indicator of our attitude is how we talk to ourselves. Have you ever told yourself, “There is no way the customer will buy this.” Or, “The only way I can sell this product is if I’m the cheapest.” This negative self-talk will influence your behavior and hamper your ability to sell value.

During tough times, you’ll experience more failures than successes. Salespeople pine over failures. It’s human nature to focus more on what we lose versus what we gain; however, dwelling on failure is not mentally healthy. Learn from your loss, and forget it. If you’re having trouble getting your head right before a big meeting, think of a previous success. Rather than projecting your previous failure, project your success.

In a recent seminar, a salesperson said to me, “Value-Added Selling doesn’t work in my industry.” The salesperson explained his logic. I asked him to think of an example where he was able to sell his solution even though the competitor was cheaper. The salesperson was able to share a couple of examples, and then acknowledged that Value-Added Selling can work. Remembering previous successes reshape your attitude more positively.


Time is the great equalizer. No one has more or less time. We are all given the same amount each day. How we choose to use that time is where we regain control. You control how you spend your time. Nothing or no one has greater control over your time than you. You control your schedule. Create a routine. Stabilize these uncertain times with a predictable schedule.

Try to maintain a sense of normalcy as we embrace this new normal. If you begin your day with a workout, continue working out. If you make customer calls in the morning, continue making those calls. You have more control over your time than you think.


There is nothing funny about COVID-19 and the impact it will have on this world. There is nothing funny about people dying and suffering. So, in no way am I taking the current situation lightly. But right now, we could all use a little laughter. Lord Byron, the British poet, wrote “Always laugh when you can, it is cheap medicine.” Humor will not cure this virus, but it might be enough to medicate all of us through these uncertain times.

Laughter has always been a positive way to cope with tough times. For example, my friend’s home recently burned down. Obviously, this is not funny. Losing your home is terrible. Fortunately, they were able to salvage 10 percent of their belongings. These items were slightly damaged, so they sent them to a restoration company. Tragically, the restoration company that was storing their goods also burned down. I asked my friend, “What did you do?” He said, “I laughed.”

Find humor during the struggle, not at the struggle. Humor relieves stress. Laugh with friends, laugh with family, laugh at yourself. Just find a way to laugh.

Every day, you’re facing uncontrollable events. Such is life. Life isn’t fair and we can thank God for that. If life were fair, we’d only get what we deserve and nothing Paul ReillyPaul Reillymore. Take comfort in knowing that these uncertain times will pass. In the meantime, control what you can control. Control how you spend your time. Control your attitude. And remember that it’s okay to laugh along the way.

Paul Reilly is a speaker, sales trainer, co-author of Value-Added Selling, fourth edition (McGraw-Hill, 2018), and host of The Q and A Sales Podcast. For additional information on our keynote presentations and seminars, call 636-778-0175 or email [email protected].

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