Why Critical Thinking is Critical for Sales Success

Posted by in Books, How the Top 10% Do It!, Self-Management Strategies for Optimal Performance

Despite what the word suggests and what many people believe, critical thinking is not negative thinking. Critical thinking is about being able to look at situations from both sides; to be able to assess what’s valuable and what can be suspended and to be able to delve two or three stages deeper, perhaps even to question your own thinking. Few people are able, let alone willing to do this. It means you are a critical thinker.

I read in a book once that after ABS brakes were installed in cars the number of accidents increased. The author declared that this was because people were more confident. I thought it couldn’t possibly be true. How many people are there who think, I have ABS brakes on my car now, so I’m not going to be as careful as I was without them? Plus, whoever had caused the accidents would have to confess to having this mind-set to validate the author’s opinion. Still, my curiosity was triggered and I was determined to find the cause of this increase in accidents. In other words, I engaged my critical thinking capabilities.

I conducted some research and, sure enough, there were more accidents. But what my research showed was that there were more accidents because people were used to pumping the brakes several times to slow down. With ABS brakes, you push and keep the pressure on. People were leaving the showroom with a new car, complete with this new style of brakes, without receiving the education they needed. Consequently, they treated their new ABS brakes like the regular brakes that they had before, resulting in more rear end accidents until ABS brakes became the new normal.

The research I did on ABS brakes is an example of critical thinking: when you hear something, don’t just automatically believe it. Instead, stop and wonder if it is true. Ask yourself, I wonder if that is right? Look for evidence to confirm whether the statement is correct. One of the problems that salespeople have is that they consider critical thinking asking to outright paranoia. It is not; to think critically is to look at issues from both sides.

For every decision that you or your client makes there are risks and there are rewards. You need to consider the probability of each outcome. If the probability of reward (an increase in profits) is likely and the risks are minimal then you should proceed; if the probability of an issue occurring is 1%, or even .01%, but the consequences are catastrophic, you would probably not take that risk. If there are devastating consequences for minimal risk, then you probably shouldn’t go ahead and jeopardize that situation.

Let me give you a real-life example of risk assessment and critical thinking. I grew up in a Northern region of Canada where hitchhiking was a common mode of transportation. I continued to pick up hitch hikers regularly, and I have no memory of anything untoward happening. Therefore, after moving to the city, I carried this behavior with me. My partner was concerned (to say the least) by this and the debate was on. One day he agreed…chances were nothing bad would happen. But if something did happen, the consequences could be devastating, not just to me but to my entire family. When positioned this way, I never picked up a hitchhiker again.

Most risks come with the promise of a reward. It is important when working through a balanced critical thinking process to look not just at the risks, but also at the potential rewards. I like to determine three risks and three rewards for any given decision. I then ask myself:

“What’s the probability of any of these happening, and what is the severity of the consequences if they do?”

If the probability of risk is relatively low with minimal negative consequences, then I go ahead and make the decision to move forward. Guess what? Your clients do this too. Your clients practice discernment when they look at the risks and rewards of each decision, and make the best choices they can under the given circumstances. Therefore, a smart sales person will help the client understand the risks and rewards for choosing them over someone else, and make sure they understand the consequences of that decision. If you don’t help them do this, they are going to do it anyway. Being involved in the discussion gives you the opportunity to mitigate every risk they think they have uncovered.

Does it take courage to do this? Sure! You need to be fluent in both creating this kind of a model and explaining the process to your client. But you know what? Instead of appearing negative, you’re going to appear steady and smart—but not a know-it-all. You’re going to create a whole lot more credibility than you would have, had you simply kept trying to push the positives on your client, without looking at any possible downside. Start by asking yourself what the risks and rewards are for any given decision you are about to make. Once you’ve mastered the process for yourself, you’ll be able to use it with your clients.

This article is an excerpt from my upcoming publication:

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Sara Haynes, P. Eng.
Sigma Solutions

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