Do You Have a Sales Alter Ego?

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By Steve Bookbinder

Many sales reps unconsciously craft a sales persona or alter ego around familiar tendencies instead of learning to reinvent themselves and think differently about each new sales opportunity.

This results in bad sales habits and misconceptions about the reality of your sales cycle and pipeline.

Most sales professionals know what they should be doing and can justify how they spend their time and why they make the choices they do. This is a skill that is extremely valuable in a seller, but ironically, it can have a negative effect if it becomes a habit outside of the sales arena.

Take a step back by asking yourself: Am I making exceptions to my own sales rules?

Am I really making time management and sales strategy choices based on an accurate assessment of my pipeline and what's going on with my customers and prospects?

If we take a closer look, many sellers don't even realize they are disregarding their own guidelines and letting bad sales habits and assumptions (i.e., their alter egos) take over.

Your sales alter ego can push you like a sailboat blown by the wind, affecting your professional judgment.

Here are the most common negative alter egos in sales and advice on how to tame them for the good of your overall business.

50-50 Frank 

As 50-50 Frank, you're an optimistic person. When you move a sale to the proposal stage, you always forecast it at a 50 percent chance of closing, and you take the stance that everything is either going to happen or not happen.

While it's important to stay positive about your sales opportunities, making decisions based on this error of thinking will get you into prospecting trouble.

If you start counting on one sale closing for every two sales you get, you're not actively prospecting to replace the sale right away.

Psychologically, the idea of 50-50 makes us feel great. We are comforted by the thought that if one sale doesn't go in our favor, the other will, but this thought can also make us lazy or complacent.

Don't give into the temptation of your alter ego; avoid creating an overly optimistic pipeline by measuring past experience instead of basing your forecast purely on confidence.

What are the real odds of your sale closing? And when? How many sales can you expect to close soon?

Consider how many sales you've worked on that are similar to the one at hand and give yourself a reality check.

Assess the opportunity based on patterns you've noticed from past sales won. Then, try to choose a number that is either marginally more or less positive — 55 or 45 percent — rather than describing your chances as simply a coin toss. If you genuinely think it's a 50 percent chance, you may need to rethink how you are qualifying and adding opportunities to your pipeline.

Sample Size Sally

If you've ever found yourself telling your manager, coach, or trainer that you know their idea won't work because you've already tried it, it may be your alter ego, Sample Size Sally, talking and not your actual scientific analysis.

When we look at what works, we must consider statistical significance, which is the idea of having enough representative data before we can derive a statistically important decision about a pattern.

If a baseball player gets a hit his first at bat this season, for instance, at that moment he is batting a perfect 1,000, but unfortunately, over time and many at bats, he will likely settle into his real batting average, probably in the 200 to 300 range.

You need a larger sample size.

If you want to test a new sales technique to see whether Approach A or Approach B resonates best with your target audience, you want to know the statistical significance to understand whether the findings should affect your overall sales approach.

Sample Size Sally might try Approach A and Approach B a few times, but will this really tell us whether either approach has any significance?

Probably not. Rather, you need to test both approaches over a longer span of time.

If you increase the sample size, you're less likely to get erratic or random results. In other words, instead of only reaching out to 20 people, increase that number to 120 to avoid biases and get a diverse number of trials. The more commonalities in the audience you're targeting, the better your chances will be for more reliable results.

The statistical significance of trying new sales strategies and optimizing your sales activities is often greater than most salespeople have patience for, but remember, testing new approaches takes time, so don't rush to judgment like Sample Size Sally.

Jinxing Joe 

Whether you're a superstitious person or not, you've probably had an experience when you were hoping something good would happen but were disappointed when something bad or unlucky happened instead.

In sales, this can be a common occurrence.

Let's say you've had three great meetings with a new prospect, and you're feeling optimistic about the positive buying signals you've received. You go back to the office and tell your manager, “We're definitely going to get this deal.”

Now, fast-forward to a few weeks later. The opportunity you were so confident about won't return your calls or emails, and you haven't heard a word since your last meeting weeks ago. What happened? Could you have jinxed it?

If you've been in sales long enough, this shouldn't come as a complete surprise. You know many external factors are out of your control when dealing with the sales cycle, but if you were counting on this sale to make your goal for the month, then you're likely running in circles and becoming desperate.

Fortunately, there is one thing you can do to prevent a sales catastrophe when this type of jinx happens: Fill your pipeline with qualified leads.

Consistent prospecting and pipeline management will help you stay one step ahead of your alter ego, Jinxing Joe. Thanks to a solid pipeline that isn't dependent on one or two sales to reach your goals, you'll increase your chances of getting lucky and avoid being left high and dry at the end of the month.

Key Takeaway 

Carefully tracking your sales patterns and activities over time will help you optimize your results. Next time you're tempted to let any of these alter egos do the talking for you, remember to be realistic about the opportunities in your pipeline, take the time to test new sales strategies, and finally, avoid being unlucky by consistently prospecting and filling your pipeline.