FourQuadrantsHave you ever been told to be more confident? Have you ever told one of your sales people to be more confident?

Exactly what were we hoping for when sharing this advice?

This is perhaps the easiest advice to give and at the same time, the worst.  It means absolutely nothing to those hearing it.  In fact, all it really does is put additional pressure on their shoulders during what must feel like intensely stressful and uncomfortable situations.  When they hear “be more confident”, aren’t they really hearing “You seemed weak in that situation, stop doing that.”

It’s kind of like telling a slumping baseball player that he just needs to get more hits…(thanks coach).

Think about the situations where a sales person may “seem” less than confident:

  • Making a first impression with a new prospect or client
  • During needs analysis discussions
  • Staring down the face of challenging objections or hearing “No”
  • When sharing analytics or discussing measurement, results, ROI
  • Difficult negotiations

These are just a few situations where something is indeed needed to advance the sale.  And many sales professionals have written on this subject believing that “confidence” is the magic ingredient.

But feeling more confident isn’t some “X” factor that some people are born with. Confidence is useless because at some point, the seller will actually have to open their mouth.

As a business leader, I’ve always been fascinated by that moment in time when someone who looks so strong on the outside, turns out to be nothing more than an empty suit.

When it comes to genuine consulting – where you are trying to impact the outcome in the best interest of your customer, then confidence is really more of an output of the combination of hard work and preparation. It comes from a place called “roll up your sleeves land” and it’s a product of gaining insight and strategic thinking.  It’s just not a personality trait that comes organically or can be created by just focusing on presentation skills.

In fact, when you take away preparation, confidence is really nothing more than arrogance – believing you can make a difference without genuinely understanding the client and what their business needs are. You just can’t do this – the short-cut doesn’t exist.

Over the last few years, we at vie have watched thousands of sales people in action.  All of this observation has led us to the following 3 conclusions about where confidence comes from:

1. Preparation

How did you get ready for the engagement with the client?  Did you do more than just peek at their website or did you try to uncover some real insight?  Can you have an intelligent conversation about their industry, their business performance and their customers?  Have you uncovered something that demonstrates your intelligence and desire to help?

What do you think happens to your confidence when you do these things in preparation for a meeting?

2. Curiosity

This is all about questions and listening.

So let’s talk questions…everyone knows that you must ask questions.  But are they good questions?  Are they provocative?  Do they make the decision maker think?  Do they demonstrate the due-diligence that you’ve done and do they lead the client to a different way of looking at things?

And as far as listening goes, if you were to be honest with yourself – do you listen with the intent to understand or do you listen with the intent to respond?

What do you think happens to your confidence when you approach discovering their needs in this way?

 3. Practice

This is where we see the greatest opportunity for improvement.  And we know that most people hate role-playing – we totally get it.  But when salespeople go through the process of the right practice, they get better – period.  It’s shocking to see how few salespeople and sales managers incorporate practice into their sales disciplines.

What do you think would happen to an athlete or a musician or a Navy SEAL who didn’t practice but just ran from game to game, performance to performance, and mission to mission?

To sum it up – without preparation, confidence is short lived and impossible to sustain.  One of our clients recently said it best – “Without preparation, confidence becomes arrogance.”


Paul Shapiro is a Managing Partner at vie™. Visit or email  To start a discussion about how vie can make a remarkable difference for your sales organization.