Being Realistic About Sales Success: A Lesson From Gamblers

One step up to the roulette table and we can imagine our winnings. Who doesn’t want extra cash when on vacation?  Still, do we expect to win?  Do we decide that nothing less than a fistful of cash?  Of course not.  That’s not realistic.  Nobody likes losing but, instead of raging at its unfairness, we accept it. Otherwise, casinos couldn’t stay in business. We knew walking in the casino door that we could, and probably would, lose money.

We’re Not Factory Workers

As salespeople, our mind is often on where we deserve to be, not on where we are.  We see the hard labor we put into selling, and therefore, think we deserve success. We imagine we work an assembly line where one’s work translates into tangible pieces.  We forget that, in sales, there’s no guarantee that anything comes out the other end of our effort.  Therefore, if it’s not us at the top of the year-end rankings, we think a crime has been committed.  Someone has cheated.  These results can’t be true!

We’re All Playing the Odds

Consider a random salesperson, (we’ll call her Mary), and put her in a company that compensates its top 10% of performers highly, and the rest modestly. Not knowing anything about her, what realistic chance should we give Mary to make it into the uppermost group? A statistician would tell us 10%. Still, would knowing her skills, experience, and work ethic change her chances? Based on this information alone, no.  After all, we know nothing about her co-workers!

If that’s the case, why do we expect our own chances to be any different? There are many moving parts to a sales organization: each rep and their motivations, each manager, and hundreds or thousands of customers. Even so, having observed our own work and no one else’s, we expect to top the rankings. Why else are we angry when someone, other than us, achieves success?  That success should be ours!

It’s Time to Get Realistic

Humility is important, but so are realistic expectations.  Unfortunately, the term realism is often looked upon as an excuse for negative people. Ironically, in the place of stress, realism gives us practical ways to move forward and avoid further losses. No, it’s not giving up or admitting defeat. Instead, when we’re realistic about success, we finally open ourselves up to finding it.

All that we can do is hope for the best possible return in exchange for our finest work. Lamenting the luck of others only closes us off to how lucky we are. Many of us leave casinos feeling unhappy about losing. Few of us leave feeling cheated or wronged in some way.

Why?  We walked in the door with a realistic outlook;  we wanted to win, but were willing to lose.