Knowing the difference between a fixed and growth mindset will propel your sales teams to high achievements

There is a theory today that pervades the sales development industry, from training to consulting to management strategy. It answers a simple question: what is the single quality that separates the best salespeople from the rest? The answer, more and more, is their mindset.

One researcher has gained quite a bit of influence in this realm of psychological study. Carol Dweck, Stanford University researcher and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, breaks down people into two categories: fixed and growth mindset.

The latter is the one you want to have; the former, unfortunately, is the one most people develop. But that doesn’t mean you or your sales teams can’t make the switch. In fact, an aptitude for learning and hard work are the cornerstones of a growth mindset.

fixed and growth mindset

What’s the difference between a fixed and growth mindset?

There are entire books dedicated to explaining the development and behaviors of fixed and growth mindsets. To save time, let’s break them down into their essential traits (that you will undoubtedly recognize) and stay curtailed to a “sales role” framework.

Fixed mindsets: people who believe that intelligence, ability, and talent are fixed traits. You’re born with them, or you’re not. Success in sales, for these types, is determined by innate ability or possessing a “knack” for the work.

  • Desires to “look smart” for peers by performing tasks they’re already proficient at
  • Becomes frustrated with obstacles and tend to give up easily
  • Avoids challenges so not to seem like a failure or because effort is not worth the trouble
  • Denies criticism or takes any negative feedback as a personal attack
  • Embodies a “deterministic” view of themselves—external or inherent factors determine their success.

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Growth mindsets: people who believe that ability, intelligence, and mastery come from a love of learning and hard effort. They may be born with talent, but that will only get them so far in life. Success in sales, for them, is determined by taking risks, challenging themselves, learning new skills, and practicing every day.

  • Seeks to learn and works hard to improve their performance and skill sets
  • Isn’t afraid to fail—in fact, views failure as learning experience
  • Embraces challenges because it forces them to focus, work harder, and persevere
  • Sees obstacles only as means to change strategy or to find a way
  • Views effort and persistence as the defining characteristics for success
  • Finds inspiration by helping others succeed
  • Learns from criticism and doesn’t take it personally
  • Embodies a “free will” view of themselves—their willingness to try and try again, despite setbacks and failures, determines their success

A growth mindset is not an overly positive attitude or setting unrealistic expectations, like you can do anything so long as you put your mind to it! No. Growth means being willing to learn, improve, and take on challenges. It’s an approach that encourages discipline, not the belief that you can do anything just because your parents told you so.

fixed and growth mindset

How to surround your sales team with a growth mindset environment

You might have read the fixed mindset characteristics and thought, “Oh, I’m in trouble.” It’s okay. Most people fall into that category. It’s a mindset we pick up as children, like dirty water soaking into a sponge. What matters is that you’re aware of the fixed and growth mindset theory, and can make steps towards fostering a new outlook.

Give praise for effort and hard work.

A growth mindset starts with encouragement in the right areas. Praise for hard work is more powerful—gets people to try harder—than praise directed at someone’s abilities or intelligence. Focusing on effort encourages them to keep trying while focusing on how “smart” or “talented” make them scared of putting those traits to challenge and possibly failing.

Interview with an eye for growth characteristics.

The interview process is the best place to look for “growth-minded” salespeople. Ask questions that reveal her beliefs about success, setting goals, or what skills she needs to improve. Figure out where she falls between a fixed and growth mindset. For instance, you can ask: “Do you believe great salespeople are naturals or hard workers?”

Challenge your team’s capabilities in small ways.

Incorporating frequent “tests” for your salespeople will nurture their desires for learning and expanding. The point is not to intimidate but to lightly set them up for a challenging task.

Treat your salespeople as blossoming entrepreneurs.

Want your salespeople to work harder for you? Tell each one of them to start their own business in five years. Invest in developing their self-management skills, as well as their professional selling abilities. Reinforce the claim that if they work hard for you, you’ll work hard to develop them as businesspeople.

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What type of mindset have you developed over the years? Share your story with a community of business owners!