Don’t let damaging fallacies stand in the way of your success.

business man sitting in office chair, people group passing by

The world is full of myths. Most of them are harmlessly inaccurate—like the image of Vikings wearing horned helmets (we have 19th-century operas to thank for that). Some are simply discredited facts that have hung on through repetition (go ahead and put your car battery on the garage floor; it won’t lose its charge, we promise).

But persistent myths about selling and the sales profession are anything but harmless. In our work with sales forces from every industry across the globe, we have found that misconceptions can take down a promising career faster than a penny dropped off the Empire State Building. We’re not talking about ancient stereotypes held by people outside the profession. The most damaging myths about sales are held by a surprising number of intelligent, well-trained people who sell for a living.

Have you fallen for any of these sales-related urban legends?

Myth 1—Goal-Setting Is Critical to Success.

If you’re like most salespeople, you’re awash in goals: revenue goals, team goals, time-management goals and stretch goals. You set them, or have them set for you. Maybe everyone on your team has exactly the same goal. Why do some meet it, while others don’t even come close? Are the others just lousy at their job?

Possibly. Or maybe they’ve bought into a common myth: There’s only one way to set goals.

Goals are multifaceted. Within every productive goal you’ll find a defined result (variously called a target or intention); an active pursuit, involving specific behaviors toward the result; and some kind of conscious strategy for effectively matching actions to targets. Most goal-setting programs prescribe that you pay equal attention to defining intention and tracking pursuit. Many people find this helpful. But not everyone works best that way.

Some salespeople are strategists: They want to focus on the big picture, the result and be left alone to achieve it. Filling out daily call logs drives strategists crazy.

Other salespeople are tacticians. Selling is a numbers game, and they know that if they meet daily or weekly targets for contacting prospective buyers, sales will follow. Having to formulate broad or long-term goals may seem counterproductive and intimidating to a tactician.

Problems arise not only when strategists and tacticians are forced into a rigid approach to goal-setting— which can leave people struggling to follow the formula rather than achieving the goal—but also when sellers who prefer the more balanced approach are given training and management support in only part of the goal-setting equation.

Goal-setting should always work for you, not against you. No salesperson ever got rich by setting the prettiest goals.

Myth 2—Everyone Likes Incentive Programs!

Free trips! Gift certificates! Recognition ceremonies! Sales organizations love to motivate people through contests and awards. That’s why every salesperson that hits a quota wins a prize. Right? Of course not.

The real story behind this sales hoax isn’t that prizes and short-term incentives don’t work. That’s overly simplistic and not necessarily true, as some high-producing salespeople report feeling highly motivated by the promise of a reward. The truth is more complex and potentially more tragic.

In a study of more than 3,000 salespeople in the real estate industry, 70% indicated they preferred some kind of reward-based strategy to encourage increased sales. With that level of support, it’s no wonder contests are prevalent.

Unfortunately, preferences aren’t results. The study also revealed that those same sellers were significantly less comfortable with actually prospecting for new business. In other words, they were less likely to support their desire for rewards with behaviors that would earn them. Meanwhile, the 30% who indicated they didn’t want or need a contest to distract them from the task of selling were more likely to engage in sales-supporting activities (and thus, ironically, more likely to produce results that would be rewarded).

Being unable to consistently initiate sales contacts takes a direct hit on your earning potential.”

Incentives can be an effective means to translate productivity into tangible rewards. Or they can become a convenient source of daydreams that substitute for productive action. If you find sales contests appealing, great. Just be honest about why. Do they really provide a clean target, or just a pleasant diversion?

Myth 3—Experience Is the Best Teacher.

Probably every salesperson has heard some variation of this promise when getting started: “The more calls you get under your belt, the more comfortable you’ll be.” Or “Once you know the product inside and out, you won’t have any problems.” And it’s true that repetition and training go a long way toward calming jitters related to inexperience.

But there’s an unspoken assumption to those promises: Veteran, knowledgeable salespeople don’t (or shouldn’t) feel uncomfortable with the selling process. Sadly, we know that isn’t true. Emotional discomfort with selling—from prospecting to group presentations to closing deals—can strike at any point in your career. In the incentive study above, for example, we found that the relationship between rewards and hesitation to prospect remained stable whether the salespeople in question were new to the job or had five-plus years of tenure. Experience doesn’t immunize.

Being unable to consistently initiate sales contacts can negatively impact your earning potential. But what can be even more costly is struggling with the belief that your discomfort is a reflection of your skill, knowledge, potential or value. Some salespeople abandon the struggle without ever achieving success. Others try to disguise it, waiting for years (even decades) for the magic moment when “experience” will wipe out their pain. When it doesn’t, they may walk away from a financially successful career rather than continue to fight it. We call it the “Quits While Succeeding” syndrome. It’s brought more than one brilliant sales career to a premature – and unnecessary – end.

While experience isn’t a magic potion, it can be a wise teacher. Whether you measure your tenure in weeks or years, always be receptive to the lessons of experience. If a technique lauded as “surefire” doesn’t work for you, drop it. If you discover a tactic that feels right and makes a difference, no matter how unorthodox and if it does not compromise your integrity, invest in it. Never stop refining and re-evaluating your skill set, because the notion that a good salesperson is ever fully trained is just another myth.

Become a Myth Buster

Are you ready to learn how to dispel sales myths and start earning what you’re worth?

Sign up now for our Power Up Your Sales Webinar today and you’ll learn how to:

Eliminate excuses and maximize prospecting and/or engagement activity.

Eradicate negative sales-defeating behaviors.

Clear “head trash” that is more dangerous than the current market conditions.

Suzanne C. Dudley, CPA,

Suzanne C. Dudley, CPA, is president and CEO of Behavioral Sciences Research Press. She is also the co-author of BSRP’s latest book Relentless: the Science of Barrier-Busting Sales. For more than four decades, BSRP has been helping organizations and individuals create sustained sales improvements through real science with real results.