A Sales Lesson from the Election Results: Trust the Numbers

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Occasionally he stumbled over the truth, but hastily picked himself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened.

Winston Churchill

I was wrong, but at least I know why.

My guy didn’t win last night, but this article is not about politics. It’s about critical thinking, objectivity, and trusting the numbers. And trust me, I’ll relate it to sales in the end.

Like so many others, I’ve been closely following the polls over the past few weeks for a clue to the outcome. Almost all of the polls predicted Obama’s victory, but there was plenty of other “evidence” that suggested the polls were wrong, and that’s what I chose to focus on:

  • Some experts said the polls were fundamentally flawed because they were based on 2008 turnout proportions, and of course everyone knew that the Democrats would not turn out in those same numbers this time around.
  • Others told us how large and passionate Romney’s crowds were in the past two or three weeks, and said that would make the difference.
  • Still others assured us that undecideds tend to break for the challenger.
  • My own theory was that the polls are fundamentally flawed because people either don’t have home landlines anymore, and those that do use caller ID to avoid answering calls from pollsters, thereby making random samples impossible.

Of course, when I was explaining that theory to my son, who works in politics, he pointed out that if my theory were correct, it would probably mean that the polls would overstate Romney’s support, because younger people are less likely to have landlines. (He was much more objective and accurate than I was during this whole process.)

Naturally, experts on the other side had ready answers for my theories, but of course those weren’t the ones I focused on. My own confirmation bias told me that they were victims of confirmation bias. Here’s another example: just last weekend the Miami Herald, my local paper, published a poll showing Romney ahead in Florida by 6 points, and yet the same day the Wall Street Journal poll showed Obama ahead in Florida. I noted the disparity, but of course put more faith in the Herald numbers, because after all, they would know more about Florida, wouldn’t they? I suppose if it had been the other way around, I would have justified the WSJ numbers by saying they’re a much more prestigious paper.

At least when I was doing this, I was completely aware of what I was doing. When I would click on a favorable article and ignore another, I knew I was indulging my confirmation bias. I knew that that I was not being completely objective, but I hoped that this time I was wrong. I was a “prisoner of hope”, but at least I knew it. In some ways, I was using the entire process as an experiment, and the results are pretty conclusive: trust the numbers, not your gut.

Here’s where all this relates to sales. Mike Weinberg, in his book New Sales.Simplified., cautions salespeople against becoming prisoners of hope. Hope is a great motivator but a poor crutch. Salespeople become prisoners of hope when they fail to prospect, because they hope something will fall into their laps. The funnel numbers may be bleak, but instead of doing the work to fill the funnel with qualified prospects, they instead fall back on hope as their principal strategy. Something will come up, they say; it always does. Except when it doesn’t.

Trust the numbers, especially when you don’t like what they’re telling you.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jack Malcolm
Jack founded Falcon Performance Group in 1996 specifically to combine his complex-sale expertise and his extensive financial background to design and implement complete sales process improvement initiatives at top national and international corporations.

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