Now, I’m not a professional poker player, but, one of my favorite things to do on a Friday night is to get together with some friends and play a bit of Hold ‘Em. I used to absolutely love playing poker in my dingy, poorly lit college apartment to distract myself from any studying I had to do. Now, I use it as a way to unwind after a stressful week in sales (although, it often tends to have the opposite effect). I like to think that all of these hours spent improving my poker game translated into some useful life skills, particularly in the sales category. Here is what poker taught me about selling.
Knowing your Opponent
To me, the most glaring similarity between sales and poker is the importance of knowing your “opponent.” In sales, this “opponent” is your prospect. You need to know how exactly they play the game. What is their motivation? How experienced are they?
Once you know your opponent, you can begin to shape your sales tactic. And, as you gain more knowledge through continuing to “play the game” you can re-adjust as needed. Above all: never, ever feel like you have someone completely figured out.
Related: 5 Ways to Get a Meeting With Anyone
The Value of a Good Poker Face
A poker face can be invaluable in sales. You don’t want your prospect to know that you are panicking just thinking about losing that deal you’ve spent months working on. Staying cool, calm, and collected will take you a long way.
If you don’t have a good poker face, your prospect might be able to manipulate you towards their every whim. A price decrease, some add-ons, special benefits. But, if you seem confident in the deal you are offering, you’re much more likely to get what you want.
Choosing the Right Pot Odds
In poker, you want to maximize reward, and minimize risk, not unlike in sales. There are a lot of underlying statistics you can use to your advantage in poker, in order to have the highest possible win rate. Pot odds are defined as the ratio between the size of the pot and the bet facing you. Simply put, if the pot odds are higher than your odds of winning, you should call. You should fold if your pot odds are lower than your chances of winning. In case you aren’t familiar with all this poker jargon- don’t worry. Let me translate it into sales.
In sales, you want to ensure you put the right amount of work into each deal that you are working. Be sure to align your effort with the potential returns. Make sure you aren’t over-investing in a small deal, or under-investing in a huge one.
When to Fold
Folding sucks, whether in sales or in poker. But, in either case, it can save you a lot of later pain. Every poker player has had a game where they’re pretty far in the hole, and think they can bluff their way out of a bad hand. As the bets keep going, you need to realize when to quit. It’s better to take a hit now, rather than lose everything you have.
This is similar to a deal you’ve been working on for an extended period of time. It sucks to have to kill an opportunity after spending days and nights trying to force a close. But, if there’s virtually no chance of winning the deal, you need to just acknowledge that that time is already lost, to avoid losing even more later down the line.
After a bad loss in poker, I usually want to crawl into a hole and never come back again. However, just like in sales, I have learned to embrace these minor hiccups that are bound to happen throughout my journey towards poker expert.
The thing is, poker and sales are both a bit about luck in the short term, but skill will win out in the long term. If you play your odds right, you’ll end up ahead overall. But, you can’t avoid a loss every now and then, so be sure to take those losses in stride.
Hopefully any other poker-obsessed salespeople reading this realize how many sales skills they are building with each and every poker night they attend. And, if you haven’t picked up the sport yet, maybe this will inspire you. And, it goes both ways. If you are a great salesperson, it’s pretty likely you’ll catch on quickly!
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