93% of Americans rated their own driving skills as ‘above average’.
94 percent of professors rated themselves above average relative to their peers.
85% of college students rated themselves above the median for the leadership quality of getting on with others - with a staggering 25% rating themselves in the top 1%.
In fact, studies around IQ, desirability to the opposite sex (at least amongst men!) and rating our own popularity have all shown the same findings of over-confidence in our own abilities.
We all think we are cleverer, more attractive and more popular than the reality.
The phenomena in social psychology is called ‘Illusory Superiority’ - whereby a person overestimates their own qualities and abilities, in relation to the same qualities and abilities of others.
And it affects many professions...
Stock market traders overconfidence and its market effect was captured in the study - ‘When all traders are overconfident’, referencing their belief in their judgement versus the market and other traders.
And many lawsuits that go to trial because lawyers have an inflated belief that they will win a case versus reality.
Do Sales people overestimate their abilities?
It’s a rhetorical question. Not only do I believe illusory superiority is rife in the sales profession - where some would argue a level of confidence is a prerequisite, I think it's an epidemic.
And it’s all our fault as sales leaders.
How many of your sales team would rate themselves as ‘elite’?
(spoiler: only 6% of sales people globally actually are according to over 1 million assessments by www.objectivemanagement.com)
Whilst there isn’t a study or data to prove how many believe they are above average, my personal experience leads me to believe that, like driving, we all think we are - even when there may be pretty irrefutable evidence in results to the contrary.
What about their consultative sales skills?
I bet every CV you look at uses the C word, right? Everyone is a consultative sales person. Yet just 12% create compelling reasons and urgency for a prospect to buy, over being just ‘nice to have’. Our consultative skills (as a profession) largely suck.
And don’t even get me started on pipeline forecasts
Frankly more children's fairytales are grounded in reality than many sales reps pipeline forecasts.
So why do so many sales professionals have an over-inflated opinion of their own abilities?
Blissful ignorance - Perhaps the biggest problem is we don’t know any better - no one really tells us. How self-aware are we of our weaknesses? And as much of a salesperson's craft happens often behind metaphorical closed doors (note: it shouldn’t), we just live in blissful ignorance of our weaknesses.
We are just unconsciously incompetent.
Thick skin - Sales involves rejection, perhaps throwing yourself beyond your comfort zone. Thick skin is often quoted as a trait of sales professionals. Is our skin too thick to realise when we are below average, or for us all to overestimate our comparative abilities?
Being conditioned to move on from failure and celebrate the successes, maybe only the latter remain in our consciousness and we get stuck living in our own greatness.
Need for approval - Once again, the good folks at Objective Management Group have demonstrated this is one of the most distinguishing features between top and weak performers. Need for approval affects more than half of all salespeople but only 6% of elite salespeople have the weakness while 78% of weak salespeople have it.
This could correlate with over-confidence. In a need for approval from our peers, bosses and employers, we need to be good at what we do. Therefore in pursuit of acceptance and approval, we believe we are better than we are.
This is further supported in OMG’s findings that 94% of the very best performers take responsibility for their results and don’t make excuses, whilst the same applies to only 20% of the worst performers.
How many times have you heard those hard luck stories for missing quota? There is a proven tendency to make internal attributions for success and external attributions for failure.
Confident is a prerequisite - Where confidence is a requirement, is it any surprise that over-confidence is rife? Whilst innate levels of confidence may be a norm, it becomes even more crucial to ground these in reality - be aware of our own shortcomings and constantly developing our skills. Once again, our friends at OMG have proved that of the top 1% of all salespeople, 99.5% are ‘trainable’, but this drops to an alarming 0% of the bottom performers.
Is it all the fault of us, as Sales Leaders?
The above issues are all caused or at least largely contributed by one single failure. Lack of coaching.
Coaching is cited as the single most important role of a front line sales manager. Yet just 5% of a manager's time is typically spent coaching!
Is there any other profession with such a dichotomy between what is deemed most important and what actually happens?
Although not a study on sales people, a paper, titled "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments", won a Nobel Prize in 2000. Most worrying is that Dunning and Kruger found, over-confidence was found to be most profound amongst those with the very least knowledge.
The more incompetent you are at something, the less likely you'll realize you're bad at it unless someone points it out.
Without crucial coaching and feedback, isn’t unconscious incompetence in sales just inevitable?
Coaching isn’t a pipeline catch up over a coffee. It's changing and influencing performance, best achieved with frequent observation, reflection and feedback, as part of a structured process.
The single activity sales leaders and managers can do that has the most impact on performance and revenue. And the path to ensure our teams are consciously competent.
footnote: fortunately solutions like Refract.ai do the heavy lifting to amplify and scale sales coaching, capturing and analyzing conversations that typically happen behind closed doors, to identify coachable moments and share best practices