How to Get That Salesrep with ADHD to Be More Effective

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I wish I had kept track of the number of times sales trainers raised the subject of ADD/ADHD with me. The discussion generally takes the form of a complaint, as in, “Dave, do you have any idea how hard it is to get a room full of salesreps with ADHD to stay focused during our workshops?”

Yes I do, but designing, building, testing, and executing a sales training initiative must take into account various learning preferences (and limitations) of a diverse group of adults. We have to contend with participants of different ages, backgrounds, years of experience, cultures, languages, levels of intelligence and EQ, and certainly those with the inability to pay attention and focus on the task at hand—those with ADHD.

The last time I was in touch with Steve Callender was when he was with Wilson Learning. I loved working with Steve. He’s got a world of experience, understands how adults learn, and is very detail-oriented.

Steve reached out to me with a very compelling proposition regarding coaching those salespeople and sales managers with ADHD, and how having ADHD could be a good thing. A very good thing.

Steve was up for an interview about the subject. I told him I thought we should keep it short, considering the topic…

Here’s the interview:


Dave Stein: What exactly is ADD/ADHD and why are people in sales so interested in it?

Steve Callender: ADD/ADHD is a neurological condition in the part of the brain that handles judgment, impulse control, focus of attention. For some part of the population – I think north of 10% – this condition effects behavior. When it’s not managed, it can lead to disorganization, distractability, bad time management, procrastination, impulse control issues, inattentiveness.

But when it’s managed well, people with ADD can be the best salespeople. They’re high-energy (to get customers and sales teams excited), smart, creative, and really at their best under pressure. When they need to, they can be so focused, so “in the zone” with something that interests them, there’s just no stopping them.

I think ADD is really a positive survival trait from way back when we were hunter-gatherers. In that world, keeping a wide focus to notice changing details, any sound, any movement at the edge of vision—was handy. Being able to suddenly throw yourself into the chase and stick with it, calling on stubborn energy reserves—was survival. I think everybody has some of these traits, to some degree.

A lot of those traits are handy in sales, too, and it seems like many people with ADD go into sales. It’s the potential for high reward, the risk, the autonomy, the challenge. People with ADD do best under pressure because they NEED the pressure to engage their best talents. People in sales are interested in ADD because so many of them have it!

DS: Why aren’t more people writing about this, or even talking about it openly?

SC: Attention Deficit Disorder – that word,”disorder,” has some stigma, which I think is unhelpful. And “disorder” sounds pretty close to “disability”—and that’s a conversation you might not want to officially have, because it could complicate things.

But I think the time has come to name it, own it, deal with it, and discover what’s good about it. I do webinars from time to time about “Using the GIFTS of ADD to Improve Your Sales.” People find that when you know how to manage the ADD, and how you can turn the gifts of it on whenever you need them, it changes attitudes.

DS: If a salesperson might have ADD/ADHD, what can they do about it?

SC: A lot. But pretending it’ll go away on its own, or that it gets better with age, or denying it (to yourself)— these attitudes don’t help.

People with ADD need to have systems that work for them—and everybody’s different in what works for them. But a way to plan priorities and tasks, manage time, set reminder signals about tasks, calls, meetings, getting some sort of consistent, easy-to-use “to do” list—these are essential. Simplifying and cleaning helps—when things start to get disorganized, it snowballs into chaos pretty quickly. Exercise and diet influence how much ADD effects people, and there are certain physical and mental practices—like yoga—that can make a real difference.

For many, getting the right medications makes all of the above easier to get started and stay with—but medication isn’t the whole answer, by any means. It’s really much more about self-management habits, and awareness of when it starts to run amok, to pull yourself back.

DS: If a sales manager thinks some of their salespeople might have this, what can they do to help them sell more?

SC: A manager of a salesperson who might have ADD should probably NOT bring it up and address it directly. There’s often a lot of potential baggage there. People with ADD have been dealing with negative labels all their lives, so you might get anger or fear with a lot more energy than you’d expect. It’s not a conversation you need to have.

So if you’re their manager, you need to structure, without micro-managing. It’s a delicate balance, but people with ADD need some structure and routine—but they don’t like having structure and routine imposed on them. So ask them for their ideas about how they can bring useful structure in their sales life, and don’t be surprised if they have a lot of ideas. Inventing structure is great—that’s problem solving. Following structure? Not so much. But if you engage them in creating a structure that will support their time management, help them find a good technology for calendars, goals, tracking, and “to do” lists, that will help.

And if you can recognize the good that they’re doing—the creativity, the loyalty to the customer, the tenacity with things get tough, the solutions they come up with—that will make a difference!


Note: During our conversation, Steve took me into considerably more detail. I found it tough to limit the length of this post. If you’d like to better understand how Steve coaches those with ADHD, feel free to contact him.


Steve Callender, EdD, runs an organization committed to helping 1,000 salespeople reach their high potential (www.ADDSalesCoach.com). He has a separate consulting organization for process and strategic planning work, and teaches strategy and leadership at a graduate business school.

Steve’s next webinar “Using the GIFTS of ADD to Improve Your Sales” is on 6/5, at 12 Central. Registration is through his website (www.ADDSalesCoach.com)

This webinar provides insights and practical tips about how ADD works in sales, and specific ways to apply crisis response, creativity, and hyperfocus in sales situations. Whether ADD or “ADD-Curious” this webinar provides immediately useful ways for those with ADD to use it to their advantage in selling.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Stein
Dave specializes in helping his clients win critical B2B sales opportunities as well as helping them hire the best sales talent.Dave is co-author of Beyond the Sales Process. He wrote the best-selling How Winners Sell in 2004.

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