Why Overconfidence Doesn't Lead to Great Sales

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Should you be worried about the sales rep in your department who has complete confidence that they can conquer every challenge they encounter? Yes, especially if they keep telling you their problem prospects will eventually lead to great sales and that never seems to happen. If you’re supervising a sales professional who consistently believes the glass is always full, you’ll need to draw on your expert coaching skills.

The Link Between Overconfidence and a Lack of Great Sales

More than half of sales reps (52%) and managers (57%) believe confidence is the top characteristic needed to succeed in the profession. But at what point does confidence morph into overconfidence and kill a rep’s chances of achieving great sales?

Researcher David Dunning looked into the problem of overconfidence and found that most people who suffer from the condition are completely unaware that they lack the skills they believe they have. Your sales rep may be telling you that they’re doing a great job during discovery with new prospects. They walk away from their meetings with, they believe, a complete understanding of the prospects’ business problem and have developed a solution that will dazzle the prospects and lead to a contract. Unfortunately, an actual sale will fail to materialize in many cases.

Coaching Your Overconfident Employee to Change

Before you can coach an overconfident team member to change, it helps to understand what motivates their behavior. University research links overconfidence with the need to “attain higher social status.” In many cases, research shows that “overconfident individuals were more convincing in their displays of ability than individuals who were actually highly competent.” These team members are often well-​liked, which suggests that their behavior helps them meet an important personal need. But when it comes to reaching specific work goals, such as meeting sales quota, your overconfident rep will fall short because they lack the skills or mindset needed for success. They’ll have an excuse, or they’ll try to deflect your attention away from them.

As a manager, you’ll need to roll out a coaching plan to help your overconfident employee change their behavior. Start by reviewing the results of the psychometric assessment your employee took. If the results indicate the individual is not open to coaching, you may need to think about steering them into a different role. Even if your employee seems receptive to coaching, they may resist your suggested changes in their work process and claim you’re singling them out. Explain that you’re trying to help them develop professionally for the long term and for maximum success.

Better Skills Lead to Better Results

To address the skills deficit, your employee may need an in-​depth lesson on what expertise means, suggests Art Markman. Every rep has their own way of conducting discovery, for example, but some individuals definitely excel at this skill. Additional training may help. But you may have better success if you have your overconfident rep to sit in on a colleague’s discovery session. If possible, record the session. During your next coaching meeting, you can point out the differences in approaches. Ask your overconfident employee how they plan to approach their next discovery session based on what they’ve seen and heard.

Reducing overconfident tendencies won’t be easy. Develop a plan to check in regularly with your rep. Provide them with positive feedback when you see them changing in the right direction. And plan to work on this issue over a period of several months to reinforce new behavior that must replace engrained behavior. Over time, the changes in behavior should result in great sales.

Photo by Mikhail Nilov

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Kathy Crosett
Kathy is the Vice President of Research for SalesFuel. She holds a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Vermont and oversees a staff of researchers, writers and content providers for SalesFuel. Previously, she was co-​owner of several small businesses in the health care services sector.