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Authenticity Sells: 5 Tips for Overcoming Impostor Syndrome

Dr. Cindy McGovern
Dr. Cindy McGovern

If you or members of your sales staff feel like they need to adopt an alternate persona, now is a good time to evaluate that notion. Customers tend to buy from people they know, like and trust.

Some say that sales professionals wear many hats. It might be more accurate to say they put on many faces.

The fact is that the outgoing, friendly, anything-for-the-customer persona that sort of defines sales pros doesn't necessarily come naturally to everyone. Some may become a character of sorts while they're working so clients and potential customers will believe that is their true personality.

If it really isn't, though, is it wrong to simply be yourself to conduct your sales calls using your authentic personality and behavior?

The fact is that the "typical" salesperson doesn't fit into the stereotypical notion that people have of them at all. Most are not fast-talking go-getters who are always "up." An awful lot of sales pros would not consider themselves great public speakers. They're not pushy, slick, hilarious or quick on their feet.

In fact, lots of sales pros are genuinely helpful people who believe in their products and want to offer the best possible deals to their clients. They're looking for a win-win rather than for the fast buck.

There's nothing wrong with that. If you or some members of your sales staff feel like they need to adopt an alternate persona, this is a good time to evaluate that notion. It could be that presenting their authentic selves to their customers and potential clients could be the very best sales tool they have.

This is a good time to talk about this because it's almost Halloween. Lots of adults still dress up in costumes, just like their kids do and trick or treat as a family.

Adopting a sales personality that's different from your own is a lot like dressing up in costume for Halloween. You're pretending to be someone you're not. If that's the case, you might be suffering from impostor syndrome. People who experience impostor syndrome feel that they lack the skills, qualifications, personality or behavior that are sufficient for the jobs they have, or they might feel that being authentic will make them appear less able to sell.

It's simply not true that being authentic doesn't sell. Here are five ways to overcome impostor syndrome and use your natural talent and personality to grow into your job:

1. Fake it till you make it.

Adopting an "impostor" persona temporarily when you start a new job or accept an unfamiliar task is common. You don't want others to know that you lack a certain skill that the job requires or perhaps you don't feel authoritative enough to manage a project or other people. However, once you gain the confidence of your clients, staff, bosses, or whoever else you feel you need to impress, and once you learn the ropes and have the job down pat, drop the act.

Then, make it your own. Find your footing. Find your voice. Bring your authenticity both to the work and to your behavior. Be yourself.

2. Put your stamp on it.

Say you're starting a sales job and you're surrounded by experienced pros who sell tons of products and services and rake in the money for the company. You observe that they drive fancy cars, wear expensive watches, tell hilarious stories and never stop smiling.

That works for them. It might not work for you. There's more than one way to make a sale. That may be their way, and then there is your way. Lots of people feel uncomfortable with loud conversations and off-color jokes. If that's not your style, don't adopt it. You won't like it. You won't like yourself while you're doing it. How are your customers going to like you if you don't like what you're doing?

Learn from those guys – they're uber successful, but tweak their routine so it fits you. Adapt their best practices in a way that suits your own, authentic personality. Take what works for you and use it. Leave the rest alone.

3. Find your voice.

Stories sell, and nobody tells your story better than you do. Storytelling doesn't have to be outrageous, back-slapping fun. It can come from a place of sincerity and even vulnerability. While you're listening to the other guys tell their stories, realize that those stories aren't yours. Their method of delivering those stories isn't necessarily how you like to tell stories.

Stories don't have to be wild and gut-busting. Stories about your children, small talk about the pandemic, or enthusiasm about the product your selling – complete with examples of how other clients have made it work for them – are just as interesting to clients as the fun, tall tales that more gregarious sales pros like to entertain their clients with.

There's nothing wrong with either, but one way or the other might not be right for you. Tell stories that feel authentic. Tell stories that are truly yours. Here's an example: One relatively experienced salesperson tells the story of how she watched her male colleagues offer complimentary box seats to basketball and football games to large clients in an effort to butter them up for the sale. So she bought a bunch of tickets and started handing them out. And, sure enough, her numbers went up. Her self-esteem, however, plummeted. She said she didn't feel good about herself giving away those tickets. So, she stopped doing it. Instead, she started building relationships based on conversation and finding things in common. She started paying closer attention to what her clients needed and how her product could fill those needs. And guess what? Her sales numbers remained steady.

4. Define sales for yourself.

Slap-your-buddies-on-the-back sales simply isn't right for everyone. Many sales pros practice "consultative" sales, which is all about building relationships with clients so you can fill their needs. Customers are most likely to say yes to the sale when the salesperson is someone they know, like and trust. It's important for you to let clients know you. That's the only way to establish trust.

As long as you're projecting your sales persona, it's impossible for others to truly get to know you. You don't have to tell anyone your darkest secrets, but you can:

  • Discover, through two-way conversations with clients, what the two of you have in common. That's what you can talk about each time you have another interaction

  • Remember details of your client conversations – and making a note of them – so you can remember to wish them a happy birthday or follow up with them to ask how a sick child is feeling

  • Listen to a client who describes problems that need solving. Instead of making your goal simply to sell whatever your company is making, find out how your clients can use your business's products and services to solve their problems. Sell them something they want, not whatever the company wants to unload

  • Show authentic concern and interest in your clients' business and personal lives

This is how you build trust and let others get to know you while you get to know them. The more you connect in this way with your clients, the more they will trust you with their business.

5. Create your brand.

Any professional, sales or otherwise, has a brand. Your brand determines how others perceive you, based on how you behave, talk, and dress; your attitude; how reliable, qualified, and competent you are; and whether you're a team player, among other impressions you might be making.

It's important for sales pros to take control of their brand – and not let others determine it for them. In other words, decide how you want others to perceive you, and then behave in a way that will lead them in that direction.

The key to creating a sustainable brand is to choose one that allows you to behave in a way that comes naturally to you. If you simply copy the behavior of other sales pros – because you see that they are successful and well-liked – you won't be able to keep that behavior up, unless it's authentic to you.

If you try to emulate a fast-talking, life-of-the-party, hard-selling colleague whom you admire, but you're more comfortable talking with clients one-on-one and selling so that the client gets as much from the sale as you do, that's not a sustainable brand for you.

In short, stop being an impostor. Do you what you need to do to learn what works for you, gain the skills you need to feel competent in your job, and then settling into a selling routine that allows you to be and feel authentic.

Your customers will appreciate knowing the real you and doing business with you because they also know they can trust you.

Dr. Cindy McGovern
Dr. Cindy McGovern,
business.com Writer
See Dr. Cindy McGovern's Profile
Known far and wide as “Dr. Cindy,” the First Lady of Sales, Dr. Cindy McGovern holds a Doctorate Degree in Organizational Communication and a Master’s Degree in Marketing. She earned her reputation by building (and rebuilding) entire sales programs from the bottom up. Dr. Cindy, who is CEO of Orange Leaf Consulting, has helped hundreds of companies and individuals around the world from small to huge create dramatic and sustainable revenue growth. She has also authored, Every Job is a Sales Job: How to Use the Art of Selling to Win at Work, scheduled for release in September 2019 by McGraw Hill Professional. Dr. Cindy is an expert in the areas of sales, interpersonal communication, leadership, and change management. She can quickly figure out what an organization or individual needs to be more successful, and her current knowledge of many industries helps leaders implement new behaviors needed to succeed. One reason for her success is that she serves as both teacher and coach, working together with individuals, regardless of their role or where they are in their career to co-create their future. She doesn’t tell her clients what to do—she listens, learns about their successes and challenges, and then helps them create strategies designed to be effective long after her visit has ended. An in-demand speaker, Dr. Cindy has presented at both national and international conferences on the topics of Sales, Management, Leadership, Sales Management, and Interpersonal Communication, Organizational Change, Conflict Resolution, and Collective Bargaining.