My social feeds are filled with advice and tips proclaiming, “If you just do this, you will blow away your quotas and max your comp plan!”
Many of these seem to be focusing on that very first conversation with the customer. “Just use a pattern interrupt….” “Say these words….” “Do these sequences….” There are others, focusing on specific objections, others may address closing, or how to handle the demo.
There are techniques or tactics that have worked for these “experts.” And, according to them, doing this is “guaranteed to work for you.” And then people go out doing this, all looking the same, and eventually it no longer works. When this happens, the “experts” have another tactic or technique, “Just do this…”
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes these tactics are useful. I’ve leveraged some myself. But they are seldom sustainable. Additionally, the failure rate of those who implement these tactics is relatively high. More importantly, the tactic, in and of itself, just gets you to the next point. It doesn’t get you to the end of the process, it doesn’t produce the slam dunk that was hoped for.
There is a key problem with, “say these words, use this technique, do this one thing.” It focuses on that thing, not what you and the customer are trying to achieve. Let’s dive into it.
Most of the time, these tactics are very narrowly focused. They enable you to get to the next step, but don’t provide the help to get to the end of the job. For example, if I say the right words on the first phone call, it gets me to the next phone call. But what do I do with that, and then what’s next, and next, and next. Tactics help us with just one thing, but they don’t enable us to develop and end to end strategy to achieve our goals. For example, the pattern interrupt, gets a person to stay on the phone, but it tells you nothing about what to talk about in the rest of that conversation, much less how to get the next conversation and the next.
It’s how we put everything together that sets us apart!
We have to think of what we do, why we are doing it, and how we execute it in more holistic ways. We spend too much time focusing on the words that come out of our mouths, the subject line that causes someone to open an email, or some other tactic that moves us half a step forward, but provides no clarity on how we put it all together in an effective and efficient execution strategy.
We have all sorts of examples, from other spaces. A chess champion doesn’t think of the next move–thinking is about the whole board, a series of moves, and how they achieve a goal. A military tactician doesn’t think just of “landing on the beach,” but what the overall goal of the initiative is and all the things that must be done to achieve the objective–as well as contingencies when a tactic doesn’t work. Gamer’s don’t think of the next action, but they think about all the players, the whole game, and alternatives to achieving their goal–nimbly adapting their strategies as the game unfolds.
Decades ago, Dr. Stephen Covey suggested a key habit, “Start with the end in mind.”
In the context of selling, this habit forces us to think about what we do differently. For example, if we are looking at achieving our quotas, we start by asking ourselves questions about what it takes to achieve our quotas: How many opportunities of what average size does it take? Where should we focus to find those opportunities? How many customers do we have to talk to to find enough interested in considering a change? How do we find and engage those customers? What are things that may adversely impact our ability to do this?
As we look at opportunities, we have to start with things like, What’s the customer trying to achieve, why, and when? What are the things we and the customer must go through to get to the end point? Why are these important to the customer and us? What happens if we don’t do these things? And the list goes on. We put together the activities we and the customer must go through to achieve the goal. Most importantly, we and the customer understand why we need to do these activities, the consequences of not doing them. Once we understand this, we figure out how we best accomplish each activity.
For those who are students of systems thinking, you will recognize this as systems thinking. And we know that once we have the elements of the system defined and how they interact, we can then focus on the subsystem figuring out what to do. And we keep breaking that down until we have defined each thing that must be done, how it’s done, how it fits, and why it’s important. We also understand what happens when that thing might not work as expected.
This perspective gives us a rich view of how to more effectively engage our customers. Getting the customer to listen to our first sentence, giving us the ability to make the next sentence becomes less important in engaging our customers. We have the ability to be much more nimble and adaptable when we understand how the pieces/parts fit together to achieve the overall goal.
One of the magic things is this helps us focus on the customer, thinking the way they are thinking. They are focused on achieving a goal, solving a problem, moving forward. They don’t care about a single sentence or a single email title that causes them to give permission to say the next sentence.
Tactics only make sense in the context of an overall strategy and goal. By themselves, at best, they get us to the next step, but don’t provide insight on how to proceed.
Afterword: Thanks to Jeff Molander to provoking my thinking on this topic!