April 8

Is Your Sales Team Showing Signs of Learned Helplessness?


The vaccines are on their way. The economy and businesses are opening up. The light at the end of the sales tunnel is getting brighter. This is good news IF your sales team is ready to sell.

So why wouldn’t a salesperson be ready to prospect, run sales calls and close business? The answer is:

They might be suffering from a condition called “learned helplessness.”

This condition or mindset makes a person feels powerless. It often arises from two places: A traumatic event or persistent failure to succeed.

That pretty much sums up the last year in the sales profession.

  • The pandemic has been a traumatic event. It upended and rearranged personal and professional lives. Parents suddenly had to juggle home schooling their children with their sales jobs. Many felt powerless because they had no control over when schools were going to reopen.
  • Many salespeople were persistent and continued to prospect for business. They reached out and kept hearing “no,” “not now” or “not sure when we are going to invest dollars.” They felt powerless, despite their best efforts to succeed.

Both scenarios can create a mindset of learned helplessness. The result is that many salespeople quit trying. They give up, even after circumstances have changed.

The business environment is changing.  


Emotionally intelligent sales leaders tune into the emotional state of their sales team. They recognize one more role play isn’t going to change sales outcomes, especially when a salesperson doesn’t believe what they say or do matters.  

The high-EQ sales manager focuses on getting their sales team out of a learned helplessness, nothing-I-can-do-about-it thinking by changing their sales team’s self-limiting belief systems.

Beliefs drive people’s actions. A salesperson that feels powerless doesn’t take the right action -or any action. It’s only when a self-limiting belief is shifted that a sales manager can teach their sales team new skills and habits.

Shift your salespeople out of learned helplessness to action and results by asking these coaching questions.

Salesperson – “Nothing is working. I tried that last year.”

Sales manager – “Is nothing working or are you working on the wrong stuff? What makes you believe that won’t work this year?”

Salesperson – “I just need to wait until my prospects are ready.”

Sales manager – “Do you need to wait for prospects to call or do you need to do a better job of identifying prospects that are ready to take advantage of the world opening up?”

Salesperson – “Budgets are frozen. No one is buying.”

Sales Manager – “Is that based on old sales conversations or new sales conversations?”

I don’t want to sound like Pollyanna in denial. It’s been a long year for everyone. However, the role of a sales leader is to lead. Don’t let past failures and setbacks dictate future sales results.  

Eliminate a learned helplessness mindset.  Shift your sales team’s self-limiting beliefs. Now is the time to be helpful to prospects and clients!

Good Selling!


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