Why confidence is even more important than most salespeople realize
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Why confidence is even more important than most salespeople realize

If I proposed to tell you in this blog post that as a salesperson, you need confidence, you’d be absolutely justified in navigating away to something more interesting. Salespeople know they need confidence, and most salespeople are quite confident that they’re… confident.

What I can tell you today, though, is more interesting than that. What I’d like to present is a research study showing just how incredibly important confidence is in sales, and further, what positive traits customers ascribe to salespeople who come across as confident.

Let’s get to that research.

‘100% sure’

A team at Carnegie-Mellon University set up an experiment in which volunteers tried to guess the weight of people shown in photographs. They were allowed to choose one of four “expert” advisers in making their guesses. The experts presented their advice by saying how likely it was that the people in the photos fell into a given weight range.

The researchers found that the guessers were more likely to take advice from experts who expressed closer to 100% certainty about a weight range. Experts who said, for example, “I’m 95% sure that man weighs between 170 and 175 pounds,” were favored over those who claimed, “I’m 85% sure that man weighs between 170 and 175 pounds.”

So, said the study, the more confident you appear, the more likely people are to see you as a credible expert.

But here’s the more interesting part. The research also showed that in successive rounds of the weight-guessing game, even after some of the experts had been shown to be wrong, participants were still more inclined to trust them as long as they continued to express high confidence in their advice.

Wow. This means that confidence can not only convey an impression of expertise, it can even take its place. Of course, nobody is saying salespeople should try to fake buyers out with cheap displays of phony confidence. You want to be a real expert, not a pretend one.

You’re the expert

Here’s the point: You really are an expert in your product and should derive great confidence from that expertise. Many salespeople forget that although buyers know their own business, they don’t know your product and don’t have insider knowledge of how other businesses have deployed it successfully.

You have that knowledge in spades because you sell your product all the time. Your buyers know that. They need the guidance of an expert salesperson to help them make high-stakes decisions. And, as the research suggests, they’re likely to go with the seller who expresses that expertise with a high level of confidence.

So, how can you convey the kind of genuine confidence that will establish you as an honest, expert authority in your buyers’ minds?

5 steps

Consider these action steps to both feel confident and let buyers know you are:

Do your homework.

Think of how much more confident you’ll feel if you can open a conversation by saying, “I saw that your company recently announced three big goals. Talk to me about how this purchase fits into your plan.”

Ask smart questions.

Stay away from “fact-based” questions that your homework could have answered. Ask “priority” questions such as, “Of the challenges you face in achieving your goals, which are you most eager to solve?” Or ask “challenger” questions such as, “What will happen if you don’t achieve your goal?” When you ask a well-thought-out series of questions that go to the buyer’s emotions, you’re saying. “I know what excites you about this purchase, and also what scares you.”

Tell stories.

Talk about similar companies that had successes, or failures, when pursuing the customer’s goals. When you speak from direct, relevant experience, you sound like an expert and inspire confidence.

Talk less, listen more.

Talking too much is a sure sign of a lack of confidence. When people speak loosely and repeat themselves, they sound desperate and unconvincing, not confident.

Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”

You win confidence when you speak from authority. If you can’t answer a question, boldly admit it and promise to look into it and find the correct answer.

This blog entry is adapted from the Rapid Learning module “Confidence: The X-Factor That Drives Credibility and Sales Success.” If you’re a Rapid Learning customer, you can watch the video here. If you’re not, but would like to see this video (or any of our other programs), request a demo and we’ll get you access.

The blog post and Rapid Learning video module are based on the following research studies:

Aldhous, P. (2009) Why Confidence Matters More Than Expertise. New Scientist, Vol. 202, Issue 2711, 15.

Ou, W.M., et al. (2012) Effects of ethical sales behavior, expertise, corporate reputation, and performance on relationship quality and loyalty. The Service Industries Journal 32:5, 773-787.

Weiner, J.L. and Mowen, J.C. (1986) Source Credibility: On the Independent Effects of Trust and Expertise. Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 13, 306-310.



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