The peak of Mount Stupid, Sales Leadership and the Dunning-Kruger effect

Dunning-Kruger-Effect-300x238Is it possible for you as a sales leader to imagine a situation where there’s a sales rep who is less competent than he thinks he is? Or how about a customer decision-maker who is not up to the task, but has a self-perception of great expertise?

Unfortunately, neither scenario is all that unusual. It’s the Dunning-Kruger Effect in action. It’s the mass of relatively unskilled individuals who don’t recognize or even perceive the fact of their own incompetence. (Read more about The Peak of Mt. Stupid)

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Are you really as smart as you think you are?

The sales rep with this “illness” is a disaster waiting to happen.

Who could be more arrogant than one with Little League skills who thinks he’s ready for Major League Baseball? A sales leader with one of these has some coaching to do. My personal favorite (admittedly “tough love”) way for this type of coaching is to ask said rep to conduct a 15 minute training session at the next sales meeting. Teach Subject X to everyone else. The rep will either study enough to gain the actual competence required or will get publicly skewered by the rest of the team.

Another way is to give the rep a book on the subject with a request to provide detailed feedback on the author’s way of presenting the material. Or if you’re more direct, with the statement, “You need to read and understand this stuff!” Do you have more coaching on coaching to suggest?

What about the customer with “Unknown Incompetence?”

Obviously, it’s a little more touchy. I like to ask said customer for recommendations on books, articles, web sites… I can use to learn more about Subject X. Then I can bring a copy of the same book, article, whatever back to that customer and ask for an opinion about one or more specific topics. “This author says X, and I always thought Y. You have a lot of expertise, can you help me sort this out?” Feels a bit like coaching the customer doesn’t it?

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Don’t underestimate your own ability!

There’s also a flip-side to Dunning-Kruger. Truly competent individuals regularly assume that others can perform a task as easily as they can. Can you imagine a sales manager who hires a new rep, gives the poor newbie a product catalog, a cell phone, a PC and an expense account and then moves on with the day? Assuming the new kid knows what to do, when and how? I know, that never happens…

What happens when we wrongly assume our customer has the requisite knowledge and skills?

Yikes! Speaking of disasters. Projects fail. Project are late. Projects are over budget. Our customer champions get fired. We get unceremoniously thrown out.

My personal favorite way to address this version of the Dunning-Druger Effect is developing and deploying Sales Process Media. The truly competent at Subject X can write it all down. (…and/or make a video and/or audio recording.) They then are able to verbally explain as much as they can, concluded with “here’s documentation of everything you and your team need to know.”

Of course there are many ways to effectively compensate for the Dunning-Druger Effect. The key thing is recognize both of its aspects when they present themselves.


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