How to Make Better Decisions As a Salesperson


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How to Make Better Decisions As a Salesperson

I recently picked up the book Decisive: How to Make Better Decisions in Life And Work by Chip and Dan Heath. Decision-making fascinates me. It’s interesting to think about how and why we decide to do what we do.

For example, why do some people make the leap into training for a marathon? How do they go about making that decision and what do they think will be the end result? What will they learn or gain from making this decision? Or what will they lose if they decide to sit on the couch and eat a bag of potato chips instead?

As a salesperson, it’s important to consider how and why you make decisions. On any given day at work, you have to decide:

  • to call this potential customer, not that one.
  • to pick up the phone or email a current client.
  • to spend time generating leads or serving existing customers.
  • to read an article related to your work or scroll through your social feeds.

As Chip and Dan Heath prove in Decisive, these decisions are rarely so black and white. There are a lot of different factors that influence how and why you make decisions. In the book, the Heath brothers identify 4 villains of decision-making. These so-called “villains” aren’t obvious, but by knowing how to identify and overcome them, we can all learn how to make better decisions as a salesperson, manager, or leader.

Narrow Framing

The examples above are binary decisions. We either do this or we do that. (The example that Chip and Dan use is a teenage girl deciding whether or not to break up with her boyfriend.)

To overcome a narrow frame, you have to widen your options. Let’s say, I’m stuck trying to decide whether or not to take on a new client. Judging by the conversations I’ve had with them and the numerous emails I’ve received in the past 12 hours, this client could be really demanding. I jump to ask the question: “Should I accept this new client or not?”.

But what if there’s another solution? I could accept the new client but outline the work that I am going to do along with the work I am not going to do. I could refer them to another provider that may have more bandwidth. I could have another discussion with them to outline an engagement that works for us both or I could tell them the engagement could begin two months from now. Instead of answering a very narrow question, I’ve widened my options by asking questions that shine a spotlight on different ways of looking at the situation.

  • Consider opportunity cost: what do I give up by making this decision?
  • Vanishing options test: what would I do if current options disappeared?

Confirmation Bias

We all look for information that bolsters our own beliefs. We want someone to tell us that what we’re doing is worthwhile and that we’ve made the right decision (seems appropriate, doesn’t it?). Let’s say I’m a sales manager looking to hire a new salesperson for my team. I receive 20 resumes and 10 of those look like they could be good candidates. I interview them and narrow it down to 2 candidates with decent experience. Candidate 1 seems very professional and confident, while Candidate 2 seems a little too reserved for outbound sales. The next step is to call their references.

By calling references that are provided by each candidate, I’m looking for reassurance rather than truth (Would anyone really list a reference that says you were a horrible employee?). Instead, you need to reality test your assumptions. What if you hired both Candidate 1 and Candidate 2 for a trial period? (Chip and Dan call this “ooching”). After the trial period, the management team needs to sit down to discuss what’s working and what’s not. But here’s the catch, disagreement should be encouraged. People should argue. There should be a devil’s advocate and you should really value what this DA has to say.

  • Seek out an expert.
  • Zoom out and zoom in to the decision. View it inside and outside your organization.

Short-term Emotion

Whether or not we want to believe it, emotions factor into our decision-making. I may make a different decision when I’m angry as opposed to when I am positive and inspired. Being a salesperson can be emotionally taxing. You hear “no” more than you hear “yes” no matter how good of a salesperson you are. What if one of my largest clients decided to not renew a contract and move on to my competitor? I would be angry.

Instead of picking up the phone and asking the client a million questions about why and how they made this decision, I need to overcome short-term emotion by attaining distance. I can ask myself, “How will I feel about this in 10 minutes, 10 months, or 10 years?” Furthermore, what can I gain by dedicating time to new clients, time that would have been taken up by this large client?

  • 10/10/10 framework. How will I feel about this decision in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years?
  • Look at the situation from an observer’s perspective.
  • “What would I tell my best friend to do in this situation?”


In sales, we’ve all been there. We work hard to win a big contract and we think there’s no way that it’s NOT going to happen after all of the hard work we put into the deal. As Chip and Dan Heath say, we “always think that we know more than we do about how the future will unfold”.

We need to prepare to be wrong. In sales, the solution is somewhat simple. We can “bookend the future”. Along a certain timeline, what is the best and the worst that can happen? For example, in the next 3 months, what’s the lowest and highest amount of revenue I can bring in if I consistently make 80 dials a day? (Granted, this depends on other factors like whom you’re calling, when you’re calling, and how you engage with prospects during those calls).

  • Consider: “what will happen when I fail?” (And how can I prevent that from happening?)
  • Anticipate the problem so that I can cope.

Making daily decisions that overcome these 4 villians can be tough. But if you are disciplined in recognizing them and putting these suggestions into practice, you will make smarter decisions for you, your customers, and your team.

I’ll leave you with two final thoughts from Chip and Dan Heath:

“At its core, the WRAP model urges you to switch from “auto spotlight” to manual spotlight. Rather than make choices based on what naturally comes to your attention–visceral emotions, self-serving information, overconfident predictions, and so on–you deliberately illuminate more strategic spots. You sweep your light over a broader landscape and point it into hidden corners” – Chip & Dan Heath

“Being decisive is itself a choice. Decisiveness is a way of behaving, not an inherited trait. It allows us to make brave and confident choices, not because we’ll be right but because it’s better to try and fail than to delay and regret.”

Recommended Reading:

Summer Reading List for Salespeople: 2013 Edition

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Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jenny Poore
Jenny is the Director of Sales and Marketing for Sales Engine, a sales consulting firm based in Chicago that helps companies build and tune their sales engine. Feel free to connect on Twitter: @salesengine and @salesengineJP.


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