Are you Gambling with your Sales Force? What Professional Poker Players can Teach us about Sales.

Annie Duke, one of the great professional Texas Hold ‘Em players – attributes playing great poker to great decision making. The poker players that make the best decisions at the poker table make the most money over time. Other famous poker books espouse rules to always follow and offer decision charts. Annie scoffs at those approaches because they are too rigid. We agree with her.

A rules-driven approach to poker – or a rules-driven approach to selling  – is doomed to fail because each situation you encounter will be different than the last. There are subtle nuances that make THIS situation different from the last one. So, a rule like “always raise to three times the big blind” is a nice guideline when playing Texas Hold ‘Em, but only a guideline. In a game like Texas Hold ‘Em that is always evolving and changing, blind obedience to rules is a road to ruin.

 

Poker and Selling are About Better Decision Making

Annie teaches a conceptual framework for approaching the game of Texas Hold ’Em in a way that teaches better decision making in conditions of uncertainty. Effective selling is the same. Salespeople are always dealing with conditions of uncertainty because they are dealing with other humans – their buyers – and humans are not completely predictable. In Annie’s opinion, you should always know why you’re doing what you’re doing when playing poker. If someone were standing behind you and tapped you on the shoulder after a given play, would you be able to tell them very specifically why you did what you did? If not, your chip stack is likely to wither and die very quickly. This is true in poker and it is true in sales.

In selling, if someone tells you “this is the way you should always behave in this situation,” they are taking the decision making out of the equation. They are taking the power of choice out of the situation. When decision making is removed from the equation, conditions better remain very stable. As we all know, conditions in sales are never completely stable. How is your sales environment different than it was 10 years ago? Five years ago? One year ago? Six months ago? Buyer behavior is NOT stable and therefore the best sellers are the best decision makers. Sellers must get better at making good decisions in conditions of uncertainty. Period. Can you reduce the level of uncertainty? Yes. Can you eliminate it? No.

Over Engineering as a Proxy for Better Decision Making

Sales training companies try very hard to reduce uncertainty by making their sales methodologies highly complex and rule driven. They want to take all ambiguity out of the sales process. The problem is that they can’t. It is impossible. So, what is a seller to do if ambiguity cannot be completely removed from the sales process? Sellers must be trained to make better decisions in conditions of uncertainty. It is possible to reduce uncertainty in ways that increase seller confidence in the choices they make. How do you do that?

Selling is Situational

First it is important for sellers to have a way to adequately read the buying situation they face. What are the conditions they encounter and what do those conditions mean? Sellers not only have to learn about the buying situation, they must make sense of what they’ve learned. Only then are sellers in a position to make good decisions about the actions they take. Sellers don’t need a rigid set of rules to always follow. They need a framework for making better decisions about how to best navigate the situations they face.

Read our next blog to learn how the best sellers navigate changing buying situations.