Dealing With Ambiguity


Share on LinkedIn

Things are so much easier when they are black or white, when there is a “right answer” to every question or issue we face.  Unfortunately, in the real world of buying and selling, there are no right answers, there is no clear direction–either for us in selling or for our customers.

One of the most important skills of high performing sales people is the ability to deal with ambiguity–both in how they work and in engaging customers, facilitating their buying process.

I get calls and emails every day; I sit in meetings where people are looking for help and direction, “Dave, what’s the right way……” or “What’s the best way to ……?”

My response is always, “It depends.”  It frustrates a many people.  They want answers,  too many sales people want to be told what to do and how to do it.  They devour “how-to” books and articles.  They do what is recommended, struggling when the advice inevitably doesn’t work out the way they expected.  Usually, they go looking for another answer–it spares them the time and complexity of figuring it out themselves.

Perhaps, some feel asking for the answers or the right way of doing something absolves them of responsibility when what they do doesn’t work.  “I did exactly what you told me to do!  It’s not my fault!”

Perhaps, being busy or being pressed for time is an excuse.  We don’t have the time to figure out what will be most effective, so we want to be told exactly what to do.

Perhaps it’s a management issue.  Management prescribes the approach–”Do it this way, don’t vary from the process.”

Perhaps management does this because they don’t trust people to think for themselves, doing the right thing–or because they haven’t taken the time to coach, developing critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Our customers struggle with ambiguity, as well.  With ambiguity there’s uncertainty and risk.  It’s difficult for our customers to make a decision, they don’t want to make the wrong decision.  Their jobs may be at risk, the performance of their organizations or companies may be threatened.

High performing sales people, while ambiguity may be discomforting, deal with ambiguity–both for themselves and with their customers.  They know there isn’t a “standard answer.”  They know they have to figure it out themselves.  They have sharply developed critical thinking and problem solving skills.  They aren’t constantly in react or respond mode, but they take the time to analyze, reflect, get advice from others, collaborate.  They develop the answers for themselves, executing their plan, adjusting it as necessary.  They know things won’t be perfect, but they are confident in their ability to figure it out.

High performing sales people understand how customers struggle with ambiguity.   They struggle with the risks of change, they struggle with understanding what the best course of action is, they struggle with the questions they should be asking to find the answers they need.  High performing sales people know the greatest value they can create is helping customers deal with these issues, becoming comfortable with the absence of “right answers.”

Are you looking to be told the answers?  Are you comfortable with figuring it out for yourself?

Do you recognize the challenges your customers face?

Are you comfortable with ambiguity, critical thinking, and problem solving?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here