As children, people would tell us we could either view the glass as half-full or half-empty. This point of view would then define how we look at life. Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Just think of that half-filled (or half-empty) beverage and you have your answer. We use these terms to then define ourselves and others in these simple terms. In 1990, however, Martin Seligman proved that optimism can be learned—by anybody at any age. Pessimists couldn’t believe it! Peter Schulman then demonstrated that optimists sold 35% more than pessimists. Optimism suddenly became a trait worth hiring for in sales.
Optimism is a mindset that leads a person to believe that every event will have a positive outcome. In sales, this means people have the ability to be more resilient, tenacious, and energetic—optimism is clearly critical to sales success. Optimistic people believe they have an answer that could change every client’s situation. At JMReid Group, we love optimism, we teach optimism and how to overcome self-defeating thoughts. Heck we are optimists, believing the Eagles could beat the Patriots. Just as your mother said, however, you can have too much of a good thing.
Unbridled optimism is having a subtle, but negative impact on another part of sales performance – sales forecasting. Those rose-colored glasses are blinding sales people from being able to critically assess an opportunity and forecast accurately. Optimistic salespeople, by their very nature, look at every opportunity as a potential win, no matter how cold and dead it may in reality be. They even tell themselves, “it is not a no, it is just a not yet.” This is an unhealthy level of the overconfidence bias.
Accurate sales forecasting is important for a number of reasons. Organizationally, it provides the information needed to make operational and investment decisions. Second, it creates confidence in the sales organization that they both know and understand their business. Finally, accurate sales forecasting enables the individual sales representative to use their limited time wisely – not on wishful fantasies of sales that will never happen, but on focusing on driving actual sales performance.
So how can we ground the optimists without clipping their wings? At JMReid Group, we believe in teaching them a level of critical/skeptical thinking (which can also be learned). The Skeptical Optimist looks at investing in opportunities by using well-understood criteria and asking themselves the three critical questions:
- Is this real? Is the client really going to do something?
- Is it winnable? Why are we going to win it versus alternatives?
- Is it worth it? Is this really the best use of my time and my company’s resources?
Skeptical Optimists know the answers to the above, allowing them to remove the dead opportunities from the pipeline. They make a more accurate forecast, enabling them to maximize their effectiveness.
What do you see as the value of skepticism in sales?