These days, there’s an ever-growing list of addictions that can derail your sales career. There are the old standbys like alcohol and cocaine. There are the new ones like online pornography or opiates. Even the addiction to work that seemed like a boon in the past is now a clear path to wrecked health and relationships.
But there’s one addiction that has crept up on almost every single one of us, and it’s especially destructive to sales careers. What makes it even worse: we don’t even know we have the addiction, almost everyone around us has it too, and we don’t even know when we’re getting a bump to satisfy it.
The Brain Chemicals that Drive Us
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is a key part of the brain’s reward system. It’s one of the chemicals that helps us encode positive feedback when we engage in proper stimulus. Basically it helps make us feel good when we do things that we register as pleasurable. Since it’s wrapped up in how the brain processes good feelings, many addiction paths are intricately tied to manipulating dopamine.
It’s always been there for salespeople. It’s what triggered a good feeling when we accomplished something. So all of those little reward cues that are baked into sales activities are part of this process. When you make a sale, that rush is driven by dopamine (and its friend serotonin). And it doesn’t even have to be a big win. Even the good feeling of making a phone call that you’ve been resisting stems from this reward process.
Digital Communication Has Hijacked Our Reward Process
But that takes a lot of work. If only there were easier ways to get a hit of dopamine without having to put in the effort…
Enter digital technology and social media platforms.
Every time a notification pops up, our brain interprets it as a little win. We get a little excited. To see how this works, think about the popularity of slot machines. There’s not really a lot of skill (or any) to playing slot machines. But people love pushing the button or pulling the lever because when three cherries come up they get a little rush. The winnings are a nice side benefit.
That same rush gets created when you see a like or comment on your social media post. And it’s the same rush that you get when you see a new post from a friend or even an enemy. Even the new email messages in your inbox trigger the effect.
It’s also why we can spend way too much time scrolling through the feeds on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Twitter, or (insert your preferred platform here). These platforms want us to stay on them, and they know that as we scroll we might get a little shoot of dopamine that will keep us there. And the tech companies have set them up that way, because the longer were there and the more attention we spend, the more our eyeballs can be monetized.
Our Sales Focus is Being Waylaid
This needs to be addressed because social selling has gone from a competitive advantage to table stakes in the sales field. So we need to use these tools on a regular basis. But when the dopamine response hijacks our attention by giving us that little bit of “feel good”, we stop using digital communication strategically. Instead you end up spending 20 minutes surfing newsfeeds instead of actually engaging with your prospects and clients.
This happens over and over, and eventually your brain wants that little fix of dopamine over and over. In other words, you’re addicted to it and you don’t even know it. And then it starts killing your professional success, because you engage in activity that gets you an immediate payoff (scrolling through a newsfeed) instead of investing in your long-term success (researching, prospecting, and building relationships).
And we don’t even see this happening. You don’t have to call up a dealer to get a hit, all you have to do is pull out your smartphone and waste 20 minutes on Twitter or researching your fantasy football team.
The First Step: Admit You Have a Problem
But all that brainpower and time and attention gets wasted, and you can’t get it back. Just like any addiction, it becomes a problem when it prevents us from doing activities that are important and useful.
Now you might think that you don’t have a issue. It’s easy to justify our time online and say it’s client engagement or industry research.
But here’s my question, have you done all of the client research that you want? Did you do all of the client outreach you wanted to today? Have you read all of the sales books that will help propel your career? Have you created your strategic plan for the next six months? If you have, fantastic. Go scroll through your newsfeed of choice.
But if you don’t have the career, sales numbers, or pipeline that you want, it might be time to take a good look at yourself. We’re surrounded by technology, and it’s given us some amazing capabilities, but there’s a cost. We have to be diligent when technology pushes us down the wrong path. And when you get off the path, we have to admit and acknowledge that there’s something you’re doing that is in helping you.
Once you realize that you’re caught in a reward cycle for an activity that really isn’t that rewarding in the long-term, you can choose to do something different.
And that’s the choice that champions make.