In a 2006 Harvard Business Review article about the psychology of sales people, the author compared the mind of the sales profession to that of the professional gambler. There are some key similarities between the two. Both operate in a bilateral environment of winning (closing the sale/winning the jackpot) and losing (customer rejection/financial losses). But, the gambler’s environment is predicated on a series of random events. By contrast, the sales professional’s environment can be measured, predicted, and –most importantly– improved.

Key question

In the sales profession, an 80% rejection rate is normal; 60% is exceptional. Because of this high rate of rejection, sales professionals rely on a coping mechanism similar to their chance-addicted counterparts: External Attribution. Sales professionals and gamblers alike protect themselves by attributing their loss and rejection to outside forces. Gamblers can attribute their loss to incompetent jockeys and poor free-throw shooting. Sales professionals can blame a customer’s poor decision making, bad timing, or any number of uncontrollable factors.

The instinct to shield one’s self from rejection and loss, while natural, can become extremely dangerous. Unlike the gambler, sales professionals can improve. Moreover, sales professionals must improve in order to keep their jobs. Elite Sales Institute (ESI) recognizes this natural externalization and, counterintuitively, trains our clients to make a more productive internalized response.

External attribution prevents the sales professional from asking the key question: “What could I have done differently?”

Asking ourselves this key question pushes past the uncontrollable variables that come with the job. It moves toward defining the sales process and examining tactical decisions each salesperson can make, no matter what.

A troublesome question many sales leaders ask is “What did you do wrong?” Unfortunately, it’s usually asked after the sale is lost and the salesperson is emotionally and financially vulnerable. This question assumes a lost sale can’t have any redeeming or teaching value. In order to get out of yet another negative situation, salespeople give their leaders thoughtless, superficial answers. This is the seed of missed growth opportunities and ingrained bad sales practices.

Elite Sales Institute teaches the sales process in five distinct phases: Open, Qualify, Presentation, Objection, and the Close. Following completion of our training program, we follow-up with the young professionals to evaluate their performance with their most recent client interactions.

Asking, “What could I have done differently?” forces the each salesperson to evaluate each step of the sales process and decide if our actions and decisions were best suited for a particular client and situation. If so, how should those actions be replicated for other clients and situations? If not, how can these actions or decisions be improved or eliminated in the future?

Key question

During these follow-up evaluations, we ask young sales professionals to rank their comfort with the five phases from most to least. Starting with the salesperson’s weakest phase, we ask the all-important question, “What could you have done differently?” This key question gets beyond “I couldn’t close the sale” and gives actionable steps to always working at their best in every sales interaction. The ESI Coach helps sales professional compare their performance to an ideal customer interaction. This lifts the performance to meet and exceed those ideals each and every sale.

While the gambler can recognize the opportunity during March Madness, after his bracket is set it is out of his control; each game full of random ups and downs, wins and losses. The sales professional, on the other hand, when armed with lessons learned from previous losses, can refine and control her responses in order to groom the outcome future sales.


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