Have you ever delivered work and immediately thought to yourself, I have no idea what I’m doing?
If so, you may be experiencing Impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome refers to feelings like self-doubt, incompetence, or the internal belief that you don’t live up to your role—even though others think you do.
If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. According to the American Psychological Association, 82% of people struggle with similar feelings. Some self-doubt can be healthy when stepping into unfamiliar territory, but persistent feelings of inadequacy aren’t good for you, your work, or your self-esteem.
This is especially true in sales, where Impostor syndrome can quickly get out of hand. When you’re not sure you’re qualified enough to make an outreach call, talk to a high-value client, or come through on an important pitch, you’re less likely to succeed. Since sales performance is often measured by metrics, outbound numbers, or quotas, this lack of confidence can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
With a recession looming and selling conditions becoming more difficult, sellers need strong self-esteem to help them push through. So how can sales professionals combat Impostor syndrome? Here are five tips we recommend to sell with confidence.
1. Honor your successes—big and small
No matter how you’re feeling about yourself right now, your past accomplishments are fact, not fiction. Credentials you’ve received, organizations you’ve worked for, awards you’ve earned, and compliments from supervisors don’t disappear when you enter a difficult phase of your career.
Remind yourself of your unique skill set
Michelle Pietsch, angel investor and former Vice President of Revenue at Dooly, knows that feeling of constant worry of underperforming, particularly in sales.
“You always have this fear,” she says. “I didn’t hit my metrics. I didn’t hit my quota. I’m going to get let go.”
One way of dealing with this anxiety is to remind yourself of your unique skill set. In other words, focus on past accomplishments and current capabilities instead of moments of missteps.
Pietsch recalls a time when she shared her feelings of Impostor syndrome with her VP of Sales. He responded, “So what? Look at your resume, you can get another job tomorrow. Even if you don’t hit your quota and you want another job tomorrow, you can get another job tomorrow. There’s always something out there for you.”
A simple shift in thinking like this one can allow you to gain confidence in your current position and future prospects.
Build your humble-brag folder
In sales, it’s easy to compare your sales performance with a colleague’s or your own personal best—but this can pull you into a cycle of worry and self-doubt.
If you need a pick-me-up, create a humble-brag folder, and keep it on your desktop. In this folder, store mementos, awards, screenshots of glowing reviews, public Slack shout-outs, and photos representing your successes. Use these as positive reminders when the uncertainty creeps in.
“I’ve had to navigate many different challenges,” Pietsch says. “By doing so, I knew at the end of the day I’d learn from those challenges and have those accomplishments, regardless of the situation on my resume.”
No matter how big or how small the achievement is, if it makes you proud, it’s worth including.
When faced with self-doubt, this humble-brag folder can help you see yourself more objectively, combating Impostor syndrome by reminding yourself of your wins.
2. Seek feedback and share with others
If 82% of people have experienced Impostor syndrome, there’s a good chance one of them is in your network. Opening up about your feelings can help others and help normalize what you’re experiencing. If you’re not quite sure how to go about sharing your worries, try this:
- Grabbing a coffee with a co-worker or leader on your team to chat more about their experiences with Impostor syndrome
- Asking your manager for feedback in different forms (for example, a monthly conversation or a weekly asynchronous chat)
Pietsch recommends seeking out the help of a trusted mentor, either within or outside of your organization.
“If I did ever get really stuck, or was lacking confidence, I would go to my mentor. I would tell them the situation and ask what I could have done differently,” she says
Through these meetings, Pietsch found that 9 times out of 10 her actions weren’t what caused the problem. Having someone else around to validate your feelings or coach you into a better situation allows you to appreciate what you did well or how you could improve.
By definition, Impostor syndrome is based on a sense of inadequacy that isn't true. When you share your feelings or experiences with others, it adds a layer of objectivity to the conversation. Having others validate your accomplishments and your suitability for the role helps fight self-doubt—and sharing your feelings can help people around you feel more comfortable, too.
The most successful salesperson in your organization may constantly face anxiety over their performance, and one of the more junior members of your team might secretly look up to you. Everyone is human, and when you’re transparent about who you are—and who you’re not—it’s easier to focus on trying your best in the role instead of feeling like you don’t measure up.
3. Focus on progress, and forget about perfection
When we’re used to setting big goals and putting high expectations on ourselves, we can tend towards perfectionism. The need to do something perfectly or not at all can put too much emphasis on the outcome and rob us of the joy we feel when we’re pulling off a win or mastering a skill. This is where developing your growth mindset can help you thrive, even in challenging conditions.
Stephanie Blair, Founder and CEO of executive coaching company Know and Flourish, says she notices Impostor syndrome the most among perfectionists and people who try to ‘do it all.’ These high achievers often doubt themselves or wonder whether they deserve to be where they are. However, Stephanie suggests that a high achiever is also one who realizes that their job is never done.
“You’re always on a pursuit of learning, of excellence,” she says.
When progress, not perfection, is the goal, it’s easier to take satisfaction in your work and feel like you deserve a seat at the table.
If you’ve spent most of your career in sales, there’s likely something you enjoy about the job. Whether you’re connecting with customers, sharing your knowledge, or giving someone a tool you know they can use, there’s meaning in the work you do. Focusing on the process rather than the outcome can help you focus on steady improvement rather than racing toward the next big goal.
Giving yourself credit for your work has tangible benefits on your mindset and outlook on the future. In his “Theory of Well Being,” psychologist Martin Seligman found that feeling hopeful about the future is easier when you can allow yourself to feel proud of the work you’ve done in the past.
“Within limits, we can increase our positive emotion about the past (e.g., by cultivating gratitude and forgiveness), our positive emotion about the present (e.g., by savoring physical pleasures and mindfulness) and our positive emotion about the future (e.g., by building hope and optimism),” he writes.
Whether you’re writing your wins down in a notebook or making a monthly spreadsheet to track your goals and growth, practicing gratitude for your accomplishments leads to more confidence, and less Impostor syndrome.
4. Reframe your negative self-talk into productive dialogue
Negative thoughts can lead to a downward spiral, and letting them take over may cause you to feel stuck. Leaders like Pietsch suggest reframing these kinds of thoughts to more adaptive patterns.
“When I feel like I’ve messed up, or if I'm feeling like an Impostor, it’s that downward spiral of rumination,” Pietsch says. “Our self-talk can often be, Why did I do that? Why did I say that? Why, why, why.”
According to Pietsch, you can reframe this narrative by shifting from “why” to “what.” The thought then becomes, What can I do about this? What can I do next? What can I change?”
This shift brings action into the conversation and helps to reframe your frustration into fuel for improvement rather than fodder for self-doubt.
Blair suggests that it’s important to acknowledge the feeling and “use it as fuel.”
To do this, Blair recommends finding your skill and knowledge gaps and finding ways to fill them with the help of a leader or a peer. For example, you might be great at making cold calls but struggle with speaking in front of colleagues. If your presentation skills are lacking, you can make it a goal to improve in this area and take action by joining a Toastmasters group or reading a book on storytelling.
With a growth mindset, you may reframe difficult times as a chance to get crystal clear on your value proposition, sharpen your sales process, and develop your buyer empathy.
5. Connect your work to the business as a whole
Even objectively successful people can feel like Impostors if they can’t see how they contribute to the organization. According to Blair, companies can get into the habit of hiring talented employees only to put them in a fixed box.
“As a business, sometimes we were saying, ‘Just do X. We’re going to give you great perks, Bagel Fridays, and unlimited education,’” she says. “But if the employees didn’t feel their contribution to the business, they were disengaged.”
In other words, it can be easier to take pride in your role when you shift your goals beyond extrinsic incentives and metrics. Ask yourself: How does your work impact the organization and help it grow? What other ways have you supported your company or your team? Training other staff, helping out on a big campaign, mentoring an employee, or taking on a stretch goal are all ways you add value to the business.
Blair encourages company leaders to “give people a more malleable box,” so they have room to make different kinds of contributions. For this, she suggests having an open dialogue in your organization so that perfection isn’t seen as the only acceptable outcome.
Adding value to the company in out-of-the-box ways, such as finding new ways to bring in customers or putting exciting ideas into motion, can help you feel like you’re making a difference and will likely garner validation from the people around you.
Celebrating where you are
When you’re not hitting your metrics, quotas, or sales goals, it’s easy to feel like you don’t measure up. As we head deeper into a downturn market, some months may not measure up to the past. This doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to be where you are. Instead, it may mean you need to find new ways to discover and achieve new goals.
Feeling uncomfortable is a natural part of growth, but honoring your accomplishments is equally important. Besides, feeling confident isn’t just good for you, it’s good for business. By taking the steps to meet with a mentor, keep track of your accomplishments, assess and grow in your knowledge gap, you’ll feel successful and boost your overall performance at work.