What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is the fear of being found out as a fraud or the feeling you don't deserve your success. Those with imposter syndrome often go to great lengths to hide it, which can be paralyzing to future success and present decision making. But, there are ways to fight it. Find out how in this article.
An early mentor once described sales as a "Transfer of confidence from you to your potential client."
So, what should you do when you can't find your confidence? Worse, what if, deep down, you think you’re a fraud and everyone is just about to figure that out?
At its core, impostor syndrome reflects a lack of confidence in yourself and your abilities. It's the impulse to look at our inadequacies and failures as our defining feature -- even in the face of evidence to the contrary. It's important to understand all of us have doubts and fears about our capabilities. But what happens when those get out of hand?
They can manifest in many ways. For example, have you ever:
- Skipped asking for business in a sales call because you don't think the prospect will take you seriously?
- Looked at top salespeople on your team and thought you could never be that good?
- Avoided making outreach calls because you didn't know exactly what to say?
- Stopped following up with a prospect because you were afraid you wouldn’t be able to answer their questions?
- Labored over a proposal for much longer than necessary because you wanted to answer every conceivable question?
If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, you've felt the effects of imposter syndrome. But, you’re not the only one. Your prospects are dealing with it too, and that can make working with them … difficult.
How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome in Your Prospects
Salespeople don't have a monopoly on feeling like a fraud. It's likely you’ll run into prospects who have the same fears and doubts about their own performance. It’s especially challenging when it prevents them from moving forward and taking action. In other words, when it prevents them from buying from you.
It's not always easy to distinguish legitimate objections and negotiations from the effects of poor-self confidence in your contacts. But there are clues you can pay attention to. In the normal course of your sales cycle, there will be ups and downs in your relationship with your prospect. But when things get stuck for no reason, it's possible they’re dealing with the very human experience of not having confidence in themselves.
This is especially possible if:
- They said they’re the final decision-maker, but they are putting off making that decision.
- They keep asking for more information, even information that doesn't seem relevant.
- They were great at getting back to you, and now they aren't (Also known as, you got ghosted and you don't know why).
In these situations, take a step back and do a quick analysis of the person making the decision. You don't have to be their psychologist, but correctly identifying what's preventing them from taking action can go a long way. Not every prospect who exhibits these behaviors is dealing with imposter syndrome, but when they are, there are simple steps you can take to move things forward.
- Empathize with them. There might be a lot riding on this decision, and if they’re doubting their decision-making ability, it can be paralyzing.
"I know you want to make the best decision for your department here, I get it. What are the biggest things you hope to avoid? Let's look at some ways to make sure that doesn't happen."
- Remind them of past successes. This is especially useful if you've built up a relationship with the prospect or worked with them before.
"After our last conversation, it sounded like you wanted to go with Option A. I think that will work well, it should be similar to what we did with the Smith campaign last year."
- Point out the cost of inaction. If they are avoiding making a decision, they're stuck. And so are you.
"There are a number of good directions we could move toward, and you're perfectly suited to decide which way to go. But let's make sure we don't get stuck doing what you’ve been doing in the past -- because then you’re going to have the same problems."
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome in Yourself
It's challenging enough when you are dealing with imposter syndrome in your prospects and customers. But it can be downright destructive when it creeps into your psyche. Sales success rests on creating forward momentum and activity. But when you get stuck, it's easy to watch your hard work unravel.
You might have heard the phrase "analysis paralysis" in your career. There are many different forms, but over-analyzing your ability to succeed, and whether you deserve success in the first place, is one of the most insidious. So, how do you keep yourself from feeling like a fraud?
- Learn your craft and your offering - It might sound basic, but one way to move past the fear of being unworthy is to put the effort in. You don't have to read every single sales book and each bit of information on what you sell. But, if you focus attention on building your skills and knowledge, you'll feel much more confident when you walk into a meeting.
- Create a "success file" - What evidence of your past success speaks to you? It could be the sales awards lining your wall, testimonials from your customers, or a note from your sister congratulating you on a new job. Whatever material resonates with you, gather it together and make sure it’s accessible when the doubts get really loud.
- Release the need for perfection - No top salesperson has a 100% close rate. You aren't going to get every sale or close every opportunity. That doesn't make you a fraud. When you understand you don't have to be perfect, you can get back to taking action.
- Express gratitude - It sounds a little "touchy-feely," but one of the most powerful ways to get out of your head is to focus on other people. When you’re feeling stuck, think about the things going well in your life. Write a short list of what you can be grateful for, or write someone a quick email saying, “Thank you.” This is often enough to get unstuck and start moving forward.
- Engage with a mentor - A mentor can help by providing perspective. When you’re feeling like an imposter, it's useful for another person to step in and show you where your thinking has gone wrong. They can point out the strengths you do have -- and show you how to leverage them.
These are a few places to start, but the most important step is to re-frame how you view success and failure in your mind. When you do that, you'll realize you aren't an imposter, you deserve to be where you are, and you have the skills and capabilities to help your customers and be successful.