THE ETERNAL SALES DEBATE - ART OR SCIENCE?
Most have historically characterised a successful sales organisation as one that strikes the right balance these between two seemingly conflicting approaches.
The science of metrics, process, CRM and automation.
The art of interpersonal skills, relationships and improvisation.
These days though it’s fair to say that sales has increasingly become a science.
With CRM platforms, marketing and sales automation tools, business to business (B2B) sales teams and business leaders have a plethora of tools at their disposal.
You want it measured, there’s a way to measure it, and we’ve always been told “what gets measured gets done”.
So, science has ultimately won the debate - right? I’m not so sure.
As business leaders, we’ve become so focused on our ability to measure everything, we’ve started measuring the ineffective.
I think that Einstein’s quote sums it up nicely: “Not everything that counts can be counted”
I think, as sales leaders, in our rush to be able to measure everything under the sun we’ve lost focus on some of key requirements of a successful sales organisation.
I’m not a Luddite burying my head in the sand and railing against the modern-day equivalent of the loom. The technology at our disposal these days can be and is a game changer.
By becoming so ‘science’ obsessed, business leaders have lost focus and neglected the ‘art’ component of the sales equation. In too many organisations the balance is now out of whack. Ultimately many business and sales leaders are short changing their sales people, the businesses they represent and their customers.
What are we doing with all this data we now have at our fingertips? In many cases not much. I see many sales leaders who have been lulled into a false sense of security that technology will do it all for them.
I worked with one recently who was mightily proud of the reams of information at her fingertips regarding the performance of her sales team, how opportunities had progressed etc. How had the sales teams and its members performance improved since the implementation of their amazing tools? “It hasn’t really”.
She’s not alone – CSO Insights recently highlighted that only 58% of sales opportunities successfully end in a sale. This statistic hadn’t really changed over the years.
One organisation was proud of being able to show us exactly where in their sales funnel their key opportunities lay – lead generation, lead qualification, proposal, negotiation, close.
“Fantastic – so what buying process do your clients go through?”
A long pause, and then “…Um we don’t really know”
Some of us have fallen so in love with our own data that we’ve forgotten there is another player in this equation – the customer.
We’ve forgotten that there are two processes underway here – a sales process and a buying process.
There is much talk of customer experience today. In the B2B world I don’t see many walking this talk.
How many organisations are mapping out how particular customer segments are purchasing? What is their decision-making process, and what do they need from us at each stage in the process? Not much.
Supporters of the argument that in the modern B2B world sales is more ‘science’ than ‘art’, will outline that ‘art’ won’t succeed as it’s not scalable. They’re correct.
It’s also correct that scientific tools alone can’t make good sales people.
The “art” component of sales has historically been characterised by many as guys (and it’s generally always guys) in slick suits with even slicker hair convincing people to buy what they didn't really need - i.e. Wolf of Wall Street.
In reality, the ‘art’ side of sales is about generating understanding, persuasion and planning.
To generate understanding you need to do two things – get a client or potential client to reveal information and then actively listen.
Questioning techniques to generate insight used to be Sales 101. Many organisations have lost sight of this.
Most people are poor listeners or at best ‘passive listeners’. They hear what they want to hear or are so focused on what they’re trying to say they hear nothing at all.
Active listening is skill that has to be developed and worked on. Many organisations have forgotten this.
Without having a clear understanding of the client need and intent, how are you ever going to be able to provide a solution that meets their requirements?
Another area sales and business leaders are selling themselves short is a lack of focus on storytelling to persuade.
When I say storytelling, I don’t mean lying. I’m talking about using stories, examples, and anecdotes to persuade a potential client to take a course of action. Ultimately clients will remember stories ahead of facts, figures and stats.
People still want to talk to people. Many sales leaders have forgotten this and have increasingly turned their sales people into robots.
With all the information at their disposal you would also have thought pre-meeting planning would be a key part of the modern sales person’s arsenal. Alas, anecdotal evidence says no.
As the Miller Heiman Group commented “checking someone’s LinkedIn profile in the carpark before running into an appointment is not pre-call planning”.
Sales professionals have more information at their fingertips than ever before but in our desire to find a silver bullet, many of the basics of sales seem to have gone out the window.
Getting the balance right between the ‘science’ and the ‘art’ is still as important as ever.
Invest in the right tools, measure the critical components, align your sales process with your customers’ buying process and don’t forget to keep giving your people the skills, training and practice they need to be successful.
The debate isn’t over - long may it continue!