Poker and Sales: The chase, the thrill, the game…..

My buddy Don Perkins, marketing and sales colleague had asked me 2 years ago, if I would write about the similarities between poker and sales. I had agreed, but after attempting a few times, I had stalled. There have been numerous blogs already written on poker and sales and I felt I had nothing to contribute that was fresh or unique.

But, bluffing and reading your prospects was interesting to me. It’s those subtle pieces of information that can be the difference in winning or losing. In poker, we call these things “tells”. Body language, betting patterns, reputation and style can tell you volumes about the strength of their hand. In a complex sales process, you have to pick out the critical pieces of information to be successful too. Sales and marketing call this “buying behavior” and Don tackles a lot of that here in his blog

Great poker players have the ability to read players and recognize their tells. Great salespeople have the ability to recognize “tells” that indicate where the buyer’s level of interest is and when, or if, they will be in a position to buy. If you play poker, these tips might be useful.

1) You always need to be one-step ahead of your prospects and leading them to the next stage in their buying process. Right? Poker is very similar in the way they bet pre flop to the river. Often, betting is just a tool used for the purpose of gaining information as cheaply as possible. In sales, asking good, relevant questions to get information might be quicker and more effective than always talking about product features and discounts and price. You always have to be trying to provide the correct information or getting the correct information at the correct time and always anticipating a challenge. Your prospects are always analyzing risk. You are never viewed as 0%. Credibility, setting objectives and being prepared reduces it.

2) When you think you are ahead and have the advantage…shut up and stop overselling. Poker players call this value betting – getting the most value you can get from a hand..without getting the other person to fold when you have the hand won. That’s exactly what happens during sales interactions. You oversell at the end and get the prospect to lose interest and fold his hand rather than piquing his interest long enough to see what you are “holding.” Since buyers are more informed and more educated, how do consultants and salesman redesign their methodology? How do we keep interest without scaring prospects away with too much information and hold their attention long enough to see the hand through. Sales and marketing departments call this engagement.

3) Tilt – “negative emotions a player might feel after a “bad beat ” ( losing with AA) Take personal responsibility for our actions, and give credit where it is due. Players who tilt regularly tend to blame their losses on bad luck, superstition and other outside influences. Poker players and salesman should also analyze their bad beats afterwards in terms of how they played the hand. Poker is a game of skill, instinct, bet management and knowing the odds of the hands dealt to you. There are both good and bad plays. Tough choices and easy plays. Some right, some wrong. Move on and learn. What have you learned from your losses? What have you learned when prospects said no?

4) The Grind- “Grind out; to play tightly and win consistently; playing in a manner that minimizes variance, lots of folding”

If you were a hiring sales manager of a start up company that just got launched with funding and your focus was to hire and train 1 salesmen from 10 applicants and you have identified 2 of them as your top candidates. Both, have a good work ethic, the drive to make $$ and healthy work history. It’s comes down to your people skills. You really want someone to stay long term and get this thing off the ground. It’s a unique product and you need someone quick and agile.

The 1st applicant 1) Smart, really good at interviewing, had high marks and an impressive track record and just said, ” all the right things ” and was highly confident. 2) The 2nd applicant, was a rags to riches story, who told you about his struggle to get to where he was today. He was very modest and didn’t really “sell” his best traits to you. But, you empathized with his story.

Most people would pick “applicant A” …. Great, impressive interviews convert into job offers. Hiring sales managers want to be “sold” on why they should hire you. But, maybe you as the manager is an experienced poker player thinks that “applicant A “, although experienced and achieved a lot indicates he may not be the most trainable and might find it difficult to adapt to new products or approaches. Maybe he did most of the talking…you thought that was a sign of arrogance or deceptiveness. Applicant B said less, but he was more direct and relevant. His background was not as impressive but he’s familiar with “rolling up his sleeves,” and the job role may require “start up” work that is less glamorous. So, who would most likely stay long term and grind it out? Who would most likely be more hungry and eager to learn? Who would you pick?

I truly feel the disciplines of poker and sales are interchangeable. As sales and marketing and buying behavior changes, the fundamentals of poker won’t. Even though the bubble of marketing and poker are at its height, if you love the chase, the thrill , the game, the hunt…humanizing a sales call or interaction will never get old and the room for improvement will always be continuous.

The sales funnel is filled with few Aces and Kings, some mediocre cards and lots of weak hands. When we are all looking to get pocket Aces on every sales opportunity, what kind of character, ethic and skill do we need developed to maximize our expectations on every given hand when we don’t get Aces?

Here is a great example of how an experienced salesman Dave Greco, The SalesPreneur failed to read the Sharks on Shark Tank.

The overview- and here is my buddy Kelley Robertson’s take on an episode of Shark Tank.”


One thought on “Poker and Sales: The chase, the thrill, the game…..

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