Within a few years of becoming a salesperson, I’d established myself as a top sales producer. So when I sat down with my sales coach for a monthly one-on-one meeting, I had the smugness of a top dog, sure that I was about to be praised.
The meeting went quite different from expectations! My boss said he’d reviewed my activity reports and commented that I just wasn’t getting the same number of high-quality appointments that I’d gotten in the past. His plan was to sit in on some calls and provide me with specific feedback.
Turned out my boss was right. After observing me on a few calls, he noticed that I’d started skipping a critical step in my initial contacts with prospects. I wasn’t aware of it, and though my numbers had taken a dip the past month, I didn’t think it was because I was doing something wrong.
Welcome to Self-Serving Bias
Today, as I look back on the mistakes I was making I realize that I was likely suffering from what psychologists call a “self-serving bias.” A well-known principle, self-serving bias is the tendency for someone to see themselves as being more effective than they actually are.
Though this tendency is human nature, it’s something that plays an important role in the sales profession. A salesperson who has a great month attributes their success to their strong work ethic and top-notch skills. But when that same team member has a bad month, they blame external factors, such as lousy leads from marketing. Sound familiar?
My manager was able to protect me from my self-serving bias in part because of what he didn’t do. He didn’t wait until my sales numbers started to fall off. He didn’t just urge me to make more calls. He didn’t tell me to try harder. He didn’t step in and take over on my calls. He didn’t wait until I thought a deal was nearing the close so he could ride in like a white knight and rescue the deal.
Above all, my sales manager didn’t wait for me to ask for coaching. He was a proactive sales coach.
How Proactive Sales Coaching Helps Fix Self-Serving Bias
People with a self-serving bias (meaning all of us!) rarely ask for coaching. We all think we’re doing pretty good—and certain better than others around us. We are unaware of the mistakes we are making or the opportunities we have to get even better than we are.
The best way to counter self-serving bias is to have an impartial observer who can point out our flaws and help us improve. We all need a proactive sales coaching.
In my case, if my boss had not approached me, I would have kept losing deals I could have won, and kept blaming everything but my own approach for those losses.
You are the most talented sales professional on your team. However, your sales management success will ultimately be determined by how effective you are at instilling your greatness as a sales rep into the hearts and minds of your team members.
That’s why sales coaching must be proactive. That’s how you can help your salespeople learn what they don’t already know—the skills and attitudes they need to maximize their success—and remind them of skills they’ve already acquired when necessary.
You are the only person who can accomplish this for your sales team. You need to be the impartial observe who helps people overcome their self-serving bias. (If you want some help getting started, use this observation checklist I developed.)
Be a proactive sales coach. Take your coaching to your people.
Kevin F. Davis is the author of “The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness: 10 Essential Strategies for Leading Your Team to the Top.” The book is now available on Amazon.com here.