Expert Interview: Gavin Ingham, Sales & Mental Toughness

Gavin Ingham is Europe’s leading speaker on sales and mental toughness. He helps people to “be more, do more, and have more” in their business and their lives. Gavin recently sat down with us to explain his concept of mental toughness and how he communicates that message to salespeople and business executives.

Briefly tell us about your background. Why did you decide to become a motivational speaker and coach?

My first big challenge in life came when my father died in a car accident when I was just 13. Having been a top student destined for a career in law, I stopped paying attention at school and focused on how I could use my communication and negotiation skills to ensure that I could get away with doing as little work as possible.

After leaving school at 18 I joined the Metropolitan Police. Unfortunately, it was nothing like The Professionals or Starsky & Hutch and I met no-one like Harriet Makepeace. I did however learn the importance of body language and the power of communication and talked myself out of several sticky situations. Once I realised the Police wasn’t for me, I tried everything from studying for a law degree to reflexology and even greeting card writing in search of my passion.

Realising that I was skilled to do very little apart from work with people, and knowing that I was not patient enough to become a counsellor, I decided to try out sales. I was an immediate hit, but then it all went wrong. For the next four or five months, I failed to make a sale. Then a friend introduced me to a book that changed everything. Realising that you are responsible for your own success or failure and can take control of your own emotions, I put what I had learnt into practice to become a European sales award winner in my first full year selling. Utilising mental toughness strategies that I had learnt over the years, I was quickly promoted to team leader and then to sales manager before being headhunted to set up the sales division of a start-up organisation.

Building a successful business from zero, on a shoestring, I recruited and trained my own sales team, spotting the potential of one young man as he stacked shelves in Tesco. In my next role, I was Head of Sales & Marketing, looking after three divisions and managing many blue-chip clients for a FTSE 250. During my sales career I have personally opened accounts with hundreds of companies including many blue-chip household names including Siemens, AT&T, Lloyds Bank, Citibank and Jaguar.

During this time I studied extensively in sales, motivation, communication and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). It was through this study and working in these roles that I began to realise the power of the individual over external events and circumstances and where I started to develop the mental toughness techniques, strategies and approaches that I share in my motivational keynote talks and books today. In 2001, inspired by a lifelong passion for self-improvement and success thinking, I decided to set up my own business as a speaker, author and coach, which brings me to where I am today.

What are some of the common roadblocks and challenges that are faced by the people and organizations to whom you speak?

What a BIG question. I hate to generalise, as every person and every organisation is different however there are some common challenges:-

Everybody is busy.

The world is busy. Life got complicated. Everybody is frazzled. We work at a faster and more frenetic pace than we ever did. The world had been moving inexorably in that direction anyway, and then the internet and social media happened. We are all constantly connected and being dragged in a million directions! What was supposed to help us often ends up being the very thing that harms our productivity.

Companies expect more, clients expect more, managers expect more. Helping people to deal with this business, helping them turn mindless activity into productive activity, and helping them reclaim their lives and their businesses is one of the core things I help people do.

Increased competition.

As I said before, the world got more competitive. Everyone always talks about global competition and the global village but most companies are also facing increased competition locally.

Because of increased competition many companies are constantly discounting and struggling to make the sales and the profits that they once made. Having the mental toughness to compete in a competitive environment is critical.

Scarcity Mentality.

One of the issues that many people have is scarcity mentality. They do not think that there is enough to go around. If you think this through it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and is a problem for entrepreneurs, business people, and sales people alike. The mindset and the approach of someone with a scarcity mentality is not as resourceful or as positive as someone with an abundance mentality.

Not taking responsibility.

Over the last few years and decades people have stopped taking responsibility. Not everybody, of course, but society in general. We blame others for our failures, we blame the economy for our results, we blame increased competition for why our business is not growing, we blame our teachers because we did not get the grades that we wanted…

If you want to be successful, you need to take responsibility, 100% responsibility for everything and everybody in your life. Only that way are you in charge of your actions, your decisions, and your results. It might be a tough message but it is a critical one.

Not setting big enough goals.

Have you heard of smart goals? Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Realistic. Timed. They are everywhere and they have been taught for many years. Couple this with a few years of challenging economy and people have just stopped setting big goals. In any case, most people never did set big goals. Top performers, people who make a difference in the world, people who live amazing lives – they all set massive goals.

Many people struggle when setting goals because they worry what will happen if they do not achieve them, they worry what people will say when they miss out; they are scared. The reality is that huge goals are important to motivate, inspire, ignite, and keep us on track…

Setting big goals is not really about whether you achieve them or not, it is about who you become on the journey. One of my most important roles is encouraging people to have the ambition and the drive to get back in touch with what they really, really want in their lives.

Underestimating what needs doing.

If not sitting big enough goals is a problem, underestimating what needs doing is also a problem. In today’s instant fix society we all want results straight away. We all want the good stuff the first time out. We do not expect to toil away for years and years and years before we get a result.

This is a problem.

Research suggests that, for the most part, talent is trained not born. The same research suggests that to become a true world-class expert is something you need to invest 10,000 hours into working on – and that’s 10,000 of the correct practise, not just any practise. 10,000 hours. How many people do you know who put 10,000 hours in to something before they get there versus how many people do you know who try for a few hours and then give up? I bet you know more of the latter

If you want great results, you need to put the effort in. Lots of effort. For a long time. Lots of action. As I said, most people underestimate what needs doing and therefore they never achieve what they want.

Not having a plan.

Most people do not have a plan. They do not have a plan for their lives, they do not have a plan for their relationships, they do not have a plan for their careers, they do not have a plan for their fitness, they do not have a plan for their finances… They just do not have plans.

Without plans, how do you know what to do? How do you know where to put your effort? How do you know what actions to take? How do you know whether those actions are working or not? How do you hold yourself accountable?

Answer: You don’t.

As someone once said, “Fail to plan, plan to fail.” I hate quoting old personal development quotes but that one really cannot be bettered!

Not knowing what is important to them.

Most people get up in the in the morning and go through the motions. They put their socks on the same way, they clean their teeth the same way, they eat the same breakfast, then drive to work the same way, and then they repeat the same day… Over, and over, and over, and over, and over…

The problem is that most people either do not know, never knew, do not care, or do not remind themselves of what is truly important to them. I work with senior executives – CEOs and MDs – who tell me that the most important thing to them in their lives is their children. Yet, when you drill down they spend no time with them; none. For sure, they say that they are working to make money for their children but when I ask them whether their children would prefer fancy holidays once a year or time with their parents, we both know the answer.

Only when you know what your values are can you live by them and only people living by their values are truly happy. To make decisions like these and stick to them requires mental toughness.

Not doing the right stuff.

Most people just don’t do the right stuff. They get tied up about what someone else thinks they should be doing, what they have got into the habit of doing, what the world demands of them … The right stuff is the stuff that gets the results that you want. Period.

In my experience, few people spend enough time on what really matters; the right stuff.

“Mental toughness” has been a buzzword or catchphrase for a long time. What does that concept mean to you?

If you Google mental toughness it is described as “a measure of individual resilience and confidence that may predict success in sport, education and the workplace”. Certainly, in the US , mental toughness is a very common phrase … But mostly in sport and sales.

When I speak to people, a lot of people think that mental toughness is about doing really hard stuff, under massive adversity, and achieving extraordinary results in one singular area. I guess this is why people think of sport, or massively top performing sales people, or CEOs of huge multinational conglomerates.

I don’t see mental toughness that way…

Mental toughness is having the strength to make the right decision and take the right action (at the right time), for you. That might be to be a singularly minded professional sports person, that might be to be a worldwide international top salesperson, that might be to be a ruthless barrister… But it could just as easily be having the mental toughness to organise your life so that you get to spend more time with your children and your wife because they’re important to you, it could just as easily be having the mental toughness to balance your life so that you can keep your eye on your health, it could just as easily be having the mental toughness to ask a difficult question in a coaching scenario with one of your team…

You get the idea, mental toughness is about having the strength to do what is right for you. But it does not have to be extreme or extraordinary, it is about doing what is right. And that could be very “ordinary” indeed.

In your “mental toughness programme,” how do you go about teaching and building mental toughness in executives and business leaders?

The basic concepts of my mental toughness program are fairly straightforward… but different people engage at different levels.

On the most basic level I speak at a lot of conferences and away days introducing people to the core concepts of mental toughness, giving examples that would be relevant to them, and getting them to ask themselves questions that challenge them to be more, do more and have more. I help them feel more motivated and confident and give them simple actions they can take to achieve more.

At the next level, I work more closely with smaller groups helping them to get to the next level. I help them to really look inside themselves at what is important to them, set huge goals, and break those down into actions. I then help them to develop the beliefs, the attitudes, and the accountability that they need get the results that they want.

I also have online support and coaching through The Gavin Ingham Academy so that people can get access to me and the community from wherever they are in the world.

At the most life changing level, I help people make quantum leaps in their businesses and in their lives through one-to-one executive coaching – I work with CEOs and MDs helping them to achieve extraordinary results.

How can a person leverage mental toughness to help improve or turn around a struggling or failing business, club or organisation?

Most organisations and people fail because they do the wrong things. It really is as simple as that. Sometimes this is because they don’t know what to do. Sometimes this is because they don’t care. And sometimes this is because they know what to do but they just don’t do it, either because they can’t be bothered or they can’t hold themselves to the task.

Whether an individual or an organisation, the first step of any change program is to work out what is important to you, to create goals around your objectives, and then to work out exactly what you need to do. Oftentimes the answer to the question is only one or two things. One or two things that if done consistently would utterly change your life or your business.

It really is quite simple, although most people require help with getting themselves into the right state (being a 10, I call it) and developing the beliefs and the accountability necessary to stay on track.

What advice would you give to young professionals about developing mental toughness so that they can be successful in their careers?

Work out what is important to you. Hold on to your dreams. Work out what you need to do to move towards those dreams. Take action. Take massive action. Take even more massive action. Never stop until you get where you want to be. Find people who are already doing what you’re doing and model what they do. Adopt the beliefs of those people. Adopt their attitudes and their behaviours.

Don’t listen to people giving advice who haven’t achieved what you want to achieve. Remember that even though most advice is well-meaning, it does not matter what the intent was if it knocks you off track. Off track is off track, no matter the intention.

If you want to achieve something, you probably can if you want it enough. Set your goals bigger than anybody else ever would for you and then go for it. Life is a journey. Enjoy it.

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About the author: Gavin Ingham
Gavin Ingham is a speaker and author on mental toughness and will help you to Be More, Do More & Have More in your business and in your life. For all of the latest news, podcasts, videos, tips and strategies join his newsletter. Sign up to the newsletter