Leveraging the Pygmalion Effect to Transform Sales Teams

Leveraging the Pygmalion Effect to Transform Sales Teams

In B2B sales, success is often the result of strategic planning, deep customer understanding, and execution. While these factors are crucial, there exists another, less tangible, yet equally influential element: the Pygmalion Effect.

A self-fulfilling prophecy, it refers to the phenomenon where higher expectations lead to increased performance. Its opposite is the Golem Effect, in which lower expectations result in decreased performance.

The term has since become synonymous with unrecognized potential. As such, it’s influential in psychology and business. Here, we’ll examine the intricacies of the Pygmalion Effect and explore its implications for B2B sales teams:

Understanding the Pygmalion Effect

In Greek/Roman mythology, Pygmalion was a sculptor who fell in love with his statue, Galatea. Ovid’s Metamorphosis is the most familiar version. In this, she is brought to life by the goddess, Aphrodite. Thus, the power of positive thinking.

Later versions include George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion, the basis of the popular musical, My Fair Lady. It’s since become a favorite trope of Hollywood. Elements are evident in the films, A Star is Born, Mannequin, Weird Science, and Pretty Woman.

The Pygmalion Effect was coined by psychologist Robert Rosenthal and educator Lenore Jacobson. Their concept gained widespread attention through their groundbreaking 1968 book, Pygmalion in the Classroom.

In essence, the Pygmalion Effect operates on a simple premise. Individuals led to believe they can achieve success are more likely to exhibit behaviors and traits conducive to success. Conversely, when expectations are low, individuals may internalize these beliefs and consequently underperform.

The Pygmalion Effect in B2B Sales

Of course, sales is a dynamic and competitive profession. With a never-ending cycle of goals and quotas, a salesperson’s performance often directly corresponds to income. As such, many expect sellers to be high-achieving, Type A personalities. Thus, it’s often assumed these sellers succeed because they believe in themselves.

However, this is another trope of Hollywood. In real life, sales professionals run the gamut of personality types. While confidence helps, it alone does not guarantee success. Hard work counts.

It follows that effective selling is less a product of personalities than a skill to be developed. In addition, there are many factors that contribute to success. These include the expectations, confidence, and beliefs of managers and leaders. As such, harnessing the power of the Pygmalion Effect can help transform sales teams.

Leadership Expectations

When leaders express confidence in their team’s abilities, they instill belief. This belief drives individuals to excel. Conversely, skepticism or doubt can undermine morale and hinder productivity.

Even more than mere belief, however, sales leaders must set high standards. In research cited by LinkedIn, almost 70 percent of sellers who exceed yearly quota praise leadership. They graded their leaders as excellent or above average.

Of course, high standards alone are not enough. Equally important is how these are conveyed. Sales leaders should consider the following:

  • Communication
  • Inspiration
  • Enablement

In the same LinkedIn research, strategic clarity is key. It accounts for 31 percent of the difference between high and low performing teams. And according to McKinsey, leaders generate 2.6 times the sales ROI of laggards. Clearly, a sales leader’s communication drives performance.

And this can be as simple as clear direction. For example, consider the following from Salesforce. Ninety percent of sales reps on high-performing teams say leadership prioritizes long-term relationships over short-term wins. This is not a coincidence. It’s the Pygmalion Effect.

By effectively communicating a goal—long-term relationships—the leader enables their team. This simple directive executes a chain reaction. Striving for deeper connections, reps emphasize active listening. This builds trust, resulting in more wins. Of course, it’s never that simple. However, it’s clear the goal inspired the behavior and activity to increase performance.

Of course, we are all familiar with inspiring halftime speeches sparking comeback wins. While this is yet another movie reference, top sellers know this feeling from SKOs. However, sales leaders shouldn’t wait for a once-a-year event to inspire teams. Rather, they should consider quarterly or even more frequent check-ins.

Goal Setting

Clear, challenging, and attainable goals are powerful motivators. When set goals are ambitious and realistic, they signal confidence. Moreover, achieving these goals reinforces the belief in one’s abilities. This fuels momentum for future success.

In this, ambitious goals are a test or challenge. They are sales leaders saying, “We don’t set these goals to see you fail. We set these because we know you can succeed.” Consequently, the team strives to live up to expectations.

Here, understanding the Pygmalion Effect is essential. It can enable sales managers and leaders to empower their reps’ goal setting. Gartner’s 3 Ways to Set Effective Performance Goals lists the following for managers and leaders:

  • Provide context for goal setting
  • Make goal setting collaborative
  • Empower employees to update goals regularly

Increasing goals without reason or context is a recipe for disaster. It could cause resentment. Gartner notes the importance of aligning employee goals with organizational needs. This increases performance by 22 percent.

Plus, today’s work is more team based than individual. Yet only nine percent of organizations involve peers in goal setting and only 15 percent involve teams. This is especially important for remote or hybrid sellers, who often feel disconnected from organizational goals.

In addition, only 44 percent of employees update their goals following a change in expectations. This makes it essential that sales managers and leaders not only update goals. They must also work with reps to revise goals and strategize how to achieve them.

Successful sellers know the importance of data to support clients. When setting goals for teams, sales leaders must follow suit. Today, top sales organizations employ SMART goals. This is an acronym for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time sensitive

In this, note it’s not about the most ambitious goals. Instead, like the Pygmalion Effect, SMART goals should enable and empower sales reps to achieve and succeed.

Continuous Learning

Continuous learning not only enhances skills and knowledge. It expresses a belief in the team’s potential. Providing resources and opportunities for improvement reinforces positive expectations. This empowers sales professionals to strive for excellence. Consider the potential of the Pygmalion Effect in the following:

  • Regular sales training
  • Weekly and dynamic sales coaching
  • Ongoing reinforcement

Qwilr notes companies that prioritize sales training are 57 percent more effective. In a nutshell, regular sales training achieves results.

In Gartner’s research, effective coaching boosts sales performance eight percent. According to Task Drive, coaching can improve win rates by 29 percent.

LinkedIn notes 25 percent of top performing sales reps receive weekly coaching. This is compared to 20 percent of low performers. In addition, companies with dynamic coaching programs achieve 28 percent higher win rates.

Dynamic sales coaching is typically defined as purposeful, formal, and tailored to your reps’ needs. Today, it often includes incorporating tools, like conversational intelligence. This enables managers and sales reps to analyze quantitative and qualitative data.

Perhaps nothing illustrates the importance of sales coaching more than this LinkedIn stat. They note 47 percent of account executives left their companies due to poor onboarding or coaching.

Most importantly, sales training and coaching can never be static events. Instead, the best training and coaching are entwined and augmented by continuous reinforcement. That’s why today’s top sales training companies employ digital reinforcement. These preprogrammed reminders and lessons are automatically sent to sales reps on laptops, tablets, and phones.

Team Culture

Cultivating a culture of elevated expectations and support is fundamental to maximizing the potential of B2B sales teams. This includes promoting the right values. When teams feel empowered, they take ownership of their roles. Thus, they are better enabled to contribute meaningfully toward shared objectives. This starts with:

  • Collaboration
  • Innovation
  • Accountability

Promoting collaboration can reduce turnover by 50 percent. It can also improve employee satisfaction by 17 percent. It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: Happy sellers sell more.

In addition, collaboration fosters innovation. It better connects sales teams to their organizations. This can break down barriers in communication. It also affects how they sell to clients. It allows for unique and streamlined processes that benefit the whole team. Most importantly, it leads to a greater investment in the organization’s overall goals.

In sales, accountability is a critical part of the Pygmalion Effect. After all, the loftiest expectations, SMARTest goals, and top-notch training are meaningless without it. In positive cultures, sales reps take responsibility for their actions. They know when they drop the proverbial ball, their team will rally together.


In all, the Pygmalion effect can inspire meaningful change. It fosters a culture of expectation, support, and continuous improvement. These can unlock a sales team’s potential to achieve remarkable results. Thus, sales leaders and professionals must embrace the transformative power of belief and strive for excellence.

Henry Ford: said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” In the world of B2B sales, belief is a potent force to achieve success. We hope this helps your organization utilize the potential of the Pygmalion Effect to transform your sales team.