Good instincts are valuable in day to day life. It’ll give you a decent idea of who can and cannot be trusted, and plays an important part in ensuring you can deal with all manner of different situations.
But gut feeling isn’t trustworthy all the time, and the fact that it remains so highly prized in the world of sales is a little troubling. Fictional characters like Don Draper from Mad Men represent the ideal for those inclined to just 'go for it'; and individuals like Warren Buffett, a man renowned for his ‘killer instinct’, seem to provide a viable blueprint for real-life business success. Of course, anyone who watched Mad Men is well aware that Don Draper was a walking disaster, and anyone who has followed Warren Buffett’s career knows that he isn’t immune to failure.
According to research conducted by sales-i, 6% of salespeople use their 'gut' as their key decision-making tool. A further 40% of those surveyed claimed they trusted the relationships they built with customers to help them make the right call. And, while this isn’t the same thing as relying on instinct, considering how grounded in feelings and specious, unsubstantiated predictions of a client’s future movements it is, it might as well be.
In a technologically-advanced time, a salesperson who relies exclusively on their intuition is at a significant disadvantage to a salesperson who makes full use of the tools at their disposal. This is something I’ve come to call the 'basic instinct': use it too much, and you’re more likely to go home with only your basic salary to show for your efforts.
Why going with your gut won’t always work
Gut feeling isn’t useless when it comes to sales; to have an innate idea of what might make a deal go swimmingly or awry is a good thing. However, emotion becomes an issue when it is prized above all other factors in the decision-making process.
Sales writers Peng Sheng and Aziz Guergachi claim that 'the current body of sales knowledge provides no effective means for monitoring the sales process effectively, leaving [salespeople] with no reliable barometer but their own feelings and intuition based on vague and often bias-prone social cues.' Holger Dannenberg and Dirk Zupancic add that intuition is of little use when it comes to interacting with clients, asserting that it is 'not a reliable yardstick regarding the quality of a customer relationship.'
It’s worth understanding that for much of the history of sales, they had little alternative: on a level playing field, a 'killer instinct' would make significant difference.
The problem is that technology has fundamentally changed the rules. When your competitors have access to superior, verifiable insights, they’ll use them and when they have access to actionable information, they’ll take action. This is not only an advantage, but a reliable one. An individual’s emotional state can be distorted by everything from turmoil in their personal life to something as seemingly trifling as a change in temperature; on its own, it can’t compete in an industry empowered by software.
Taking the technological initiative
It’s important to note that sales professionals who rely on their gut or the strength of their relationships do not comprise the whole of the trade: our report indicates that some 39.9% of sales professionals use technology for analytical purposes, and an additional 13.8% sort their data manually. The latter figure is a little worrying: the data may be solid, but individual interpretations of it are also subject to factors such as bias and instinct.
Nevertheless, on the whole, the profession is trending towards a better, more informed approach – one that will result in significant short and long term gains. With sales performance software, it’s possible to use quantitative data to identify current trends and build a solid lead on less savvy competition. It can be used in the context of individual relationships and wider market trends alike. If a client’s interest is flagging, it will alert the individual handling the account – and suggest potential corrective measures. If a trend indicates a seasonal uptick in sales of a particular item, the software will highlight potential means of capitalising on it, either through upselling, cross selling, or discounts.
Again, instincts aren’t useless. When you hear a loud noise at night, it’s always worth looking into it. On rare occasion it will be an intruder; most of the time it will be nothing – but it’s hard to sleep properly unless you confirm the source. Equally, when you feel strongly about a sales-related decision and can’t quite explain it, it’s worth looking into: you don’t want to miss out on an opportunity or fail to spot a looming disaster. In the absence of compelling evidence, though, your instincts and biases can lead you to red herrings. Leveraging the power of technology is a far more dependable way for a salesperson to boost their commissions: the insights it provides and the actions it suggests are grounded in verifiable, quantifiable data – and it’s far less likely to be influenced by indigestion.