Any true perfectionist will tell you that their tendency towards overly high standards is not really a flaw. In fact, many people will “admit” to being a perfectionist with a certain level of personal pride. No matter how much you tell them that their behavior may be harming them, they will nod, smile, and continue to wish they could pull that cat hair off your white sweater.
Business professionals, especially sales professionals, tend to see leaders in the field with these traits and see them as models to aspire to. Where would Apple be without the tireless perfectionism of Steve Jobs?
And yet, there is an underside to perfectionism that can cost you big. If you are not proactive about perfectionism, unrealistic expectations can damage your customer relationships, productivity, and staff well-being.
Procrastination: Perfectionism In Disguise
There is a deep connection between having unrealistic demands and not getting important work done. In the mind of a perfectionist, there is no reason to complete a sales presentation until it can be done exactly right. And who has time for that today?
Research supports this theory. In a study at York University a link was found between those who had abnormally high standards and those who irrationally delayed completing tasks. In theory, you could be losing huge numbers by avoiding activities (like cold calling) that you are not 100% perfect at.
It’s time to recognize that imperfection does not necessitate failure. You can only close the sales that you attempt, and perfectionism is only keeping you from opportunities that you could be learning from.
Avoiding the Unknown: Perfectionism and Creativity
In recent years the concept of creativity has become a huge issue for sales professionals. As buyers have become more savvy about their purchases, organizations have recognized the need to constantly be thinking of new ways to find, track, and close business. This has led to brand new marketing plans, incentive structures, and “feel-good” events that build relationships instead of just putting up contact numbers.
Unfortunately, creativity is another area where perfectionism can cost you big. In a recent study from Jack Morton Worldwide, 86% of business professionals around the world stated that creativity was a key to sales success. This is a huge problem for perfectionists, as they have a tendency towards conservative thought, especially when it could prove them wrong or unsuccessful (University of Nebraska, “Perfectionism: The Good, The Bad, and The Creative,” 2012).
This means that a perfectionist (especially as a sales or marketing manager) may keep you from exploring new concepts that could make you more money. To be successful, you need to create an organization that will allow creative sales ideas, in addition to failure in the pursuit of those ideas. If you don’t, your perfectionist staff members will continue to use outdated, dependable methods, even in the face of something creative and more lucrative.
Perfectionism and Burnout: The High Cost of Poor Customer Service
Although any employee can burnout, perfectionists are at a much higher risk of letting it affect their work performance. This makes un-managed perfectionism a huge liability for your organization. Research has proven that burned out customer service providers are less patient, less invested, and less accommodating to customers. This can lead to loss of business and a tarnished reputation unless you are able to alleviate the stress that perfectionists feel to perform at a perfect level.
It’s important to recognize burnout before it damages your reputation. Be sensitive to your perfectionist employees and co-workers and helping them de-stress when dealing with customers. It’s much less expensive to pay for an in-office massage chair than the fallout from a very unpleasant customer interaction.
Avoiding First Contact: Perfectionists and Prospecting
One of the major points of difficulty for perfectionists is prospecting. Not only does it force them out of their comfort zones, but there is already a high probability of the one thing they can’t stand – failure.
In the book How to Manage a Security Sales Organization, author Lou Sepulveda highlights the problem that some perfectionists have with Over-Preparation Call Reluctance. This form of procrastination is characterized by endless data-mining, information analysis, and pitch perfecting all before the phone is ever picked up.
The problem is, while the over-preparing sales professional gathers data, looks for errors on a presentation, or finishes his deep background research of a prospect, another company’s sales rep is taking action. Perfectionists must be taught that action is the key to sales success. That means getting in front of the customer, even if the presentation is not 100% perfect.
Perfectionism: An Expensive and Dangerous Illness
Science agrees: Perfectionism is not just a major blockade to success, but it’s bad for your health. Often, those with perfectionist tendencies overwork themselves and subsequently do long-term damage to their health. For a manager or CEO, the costs of paid sick days, increased health insurance premiums, and exhaustion-related accidents can be staggering, albeit necessary.
Be proactive about helping your perfectionist colleagues by formally appreciating their work, especially if it isn’t perfect. Encourage staff members to take full lunch breaks, go home on time, and take their vacation days regularly. According to Oxford Economics, these practices will help keep them both mentally and physically balanced, as well as increase their overall sales productivity. (“An Assessment of Paid Time Off in the U.S.” 2014)
Although attention to detail and high quality of work are excellent qualities in a sales professional, perfectionism can be a huge liability for your company. Unrealistic expectations can lead to overwork, burnout, health concerns, and customer service lapses that can negatively impact your brand. Instead of waiting for perfectionist tendencies to damage your work environment, engage the susceptible few in positive activities and habits that will help them feel that they can fail safely.