Intuiting the Unknown

By Cindy Waxer

In sales the only thing you can be certain of is that you’re bound to experience uncertainty. You don’t know about potential competitors. You don’t know how the economy will be doing in 10 months. You don’t know if your clients will pay on time. There are, however, many ways to handle uncertainty. The larger your repertoire of tactics, the more flexible and efficient you can be. Gary Klein, author of Intuition at Work (Doubleday, 2003), recommends these tactics for managing uncertainty.

You don’t always have to make a decision right when a problem presents itself. Skilled decision makers know when to seek more information and can gauge whether the information is valuable and likely to arrive in time to make a difference.

Pay more attention
If you’re faced with a major decision and your uncertainty is very high, you may want to more actively monitor the situation, perhaps by calling for more frequent updates on how a problem is playing out.

Press on
Despite your preference to have all the information you need before making a tough decision, there are times when it is necessary to realize this isn’t going to happen.

Shake the tree
Sometimes the best way to handle uncertainty is to conduct a preemptive strike against it by actively shaping your environment. Instead of worrying about whether a competitor is preparing to cut costs, you could preemptively cut costs and make your competitor react to you.

Simplify the Plan
Another way to reduce uncertainty is to reduce the complexity of the plan you are formulating. As uncertainty increases you might want to give yourself the capability of altering parts of the plan when you carry it out later – after you learn more about the situation.

Prepare for the worst
Plan for the worst to make sure that you haven’t left yourself vulnerable. Adding more resources – more funding, more team members – is one way to make a plan more robust.