December 18, 2017
Topics: Andy Paul
Reflections on 600 Conversations about Sales
Last month I published the 600th episode of my podcast, Accelerate!
Many people have asked me what I’ve learned from the more than 600 in-depth conversations I’ve had with the sharpest minds in sales, marketing, management and leadership.
Here are just a few of the key observations I’ve drawn from these conversations. These are just observations. I’ll reserve my recommendations for future posts.
1. Selling has changed less than people want to believe
That’s right, despite all the new buzzwords and technology that are flooding into sales, selling really hasn’t changed that much. Effective B2B selling primarily is still about what happens in those critical person-to-person moments when the seller communicates with and delivers value to the buyer. Those moments can’t be outsourced to technology today no matter what vendors may promise you.
I’ve spoken with some very clever marketers that are attempting to repackage and relabel sales strategies that have been around since the Pleistocene Era of B2B selling. Some of these are fads and shall pass. In the meantime, my guests have been nearly unanimous is believing that sellers need to remain focused on mastering the fundamental principles of sales. Sellers will always be able to depend on these.
2. Technology is going to have a massive impact on sales outcomes. But, not yet.
Despite the massive infusion of technology into sales, there’s no data that exists to prove that it’s contributing to higher levels of sales or elevated levels of true sales productivity. In other words, are the companies that are investing heavily in sales technologies generating more revenue dollars per employee than they did without the technology? Entire business models have been created around the assumption that the answer to that question is “yes.” However, it’s not evident that is the case. It should be. And, it will be. But, we’re not there yet.
It’s important to keep in mind Amara’s Law. Roy Amara was a leading futurist. His succinct formulation about the impact of technology is very relevant here. “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.” This is what is happening in sales with sales technologies.
3. Sellers are not paying enough attention to the actual science of selling.
There are two camps that tout the science of selling. One camp is focused on the data of selling and the other on the social psychology of influence.
The science of selling is touted by the data camp as ‘the death of the art of selling.’ Of course, that is just plain silly. What many believe is the science of selling is really basic math centered around the idea that sales is just a numbers game. That’s hardly science and these particular equations about sales based on stage conversion rates have been around since the Jurassic era of B2B Selling.
The current limitation is that the ability to generate more sophisticated data about sales is generally outstripping the abilities of sales leaders to rationally use that data to make better decisions about their sales efforts. Again, we are going to learn how to use data to transform the productivity of average sales people. We’re just not quite there yet.
On the other hand, the science of selling based on the research revolution in social psychology that has occurred over the past 50 years deserves more attention from sellers. If you’re in sales, you’re in the business of serving your buyers. Therefore, don’t you think you’d be well served to invest your time to study how your buyers process information and make decisions? This is the actual science of selling. Every minute we can spend to better understand our buyers is a minute well spent.
4. We are over-complicating sales and overwhelming sales reps.
The influx of sales technology has created in many sales leaders a blind conformity to their sales process rather than blind devotion to serving the needs of their buyers. For many sales teams this has resulted in an unwieldy sales process and an out of control sales tech stack that creates a burden on their sellers. Salespeople are overwhelmed and distracted. It’s a problem sales leaders have largely created. And one they need to take responsibility for solving.
5. Sales leaders still don’t understand the fundamentals of productivity in sales.
Here’s the problem: we confuse performance with productivity. They aren’t the same. Productivity is a rate of output based on the investment of a unit of input. That’s how we should measure productivity in sales. Instead we are still aiming at the fixed target of a quota. As long as sales leaders are fixated on quota attainment, instead of being focused on improving the dollar amount of sales produced per hour of sales time by an individual seller, sales productivity won’t improve.
6. Sales leaders and sales people are not investing enough in their own development.
It has been a consensus among my guests that the sales training model is broken. A new model for sales education is required. Again, the right solution hasn’t been developed. Yet. However, until that happens, sellers at all levels have to assume greater responsibility for their own professional development.
Guest after guest on Accelerate! has lamented the lack of curiosity among professional sellers to learn more about their craft. I’m at one extreme. I’ve read approximately 150 books on sales, marketing and leadership in the past two years. Unfortunately, the other extreme is zero. However, can zero be considered an extreme if that is the typical number of sales books read by the average sales leader and sales professional each year? Changing this even slightly (one book per month?) would have a profound impact on overall performance in the sales profession.