Part of my focus during my college years was applied math, and I sometimes could handle it and sometimes it just kicked my butt. Now, watching my kids have a similar experience with math, it dawned on me that math (or maths, if you are reading this in the UK) is just like selling any complex deal.

In an interview in the online math magazine Plus (, Dr. Andrew Wiles talked about being the first person to solve the famous Fermats last theorem, a problem that had been thought unsolvable for centuries.

“Now what you have to handle when you start doing mathematics as an older child or as an adult is accepting this state of being stuck. People don’t get used to that. Some people find this very stressful. Even people who are very good at mathematics sometimes find this hard to get used to and they feel that’s where they’re failing. But it isn’t: it’s part of the process and you have to accept [and] learn to enjoy that process.”

My team and I spend a lot of time talking with sales teams about “getting deals unstuck,” and in fact I’ve written about this in the past. But what if we use Dr. Wiles’s approach? That is, getting stuck is what is supposed to happen with tough problems. And we should look at it as a tricky math problem to be solved!

Wiles says that the film Good Will Hunting is deceptive…it causes us to believe that there’s something innately inside a few rare individuals who make them good at math. He says that’s not true. He said famous mathematicians struggle just like everyone else, but that “we’ve built up resistance to those setbacks.”

This is exactly what characterizes great salespeople, and how they work through sales-related problems. High performers keep at it, and they pursue different ways of attacking the problem. If it’s truly a win-win for the client (or what math would call a solution), then we should stick with it.

Going back to a problem again and again, Wiles says, is the key. As we go back and try variations to our previous approaches, we often find that a slight tweak was just what we needed to get unstuck. He likens this to art. Wiles believes that mathematicians are “working artists,” because they are doing the do and working the problems. Sounds just like the beautiful art known as sales to me.