Inventor Thomas Edison, dubbed the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” is credited with saying, “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways not to do it,” summing up the inventor’s dilemma. With no proven approach or established best practices to follow, he had little choice but to “figure it out,” one failure at time. The result, maybe on attempt 10,001 was the light blub.
Left to figure it out, one customer and opportunity at a time creates a performance dilemma for the sales rep. They can’t afford 10,000 failures before they begin to recognize and apply the patterns, activities and messages that happen when customers buy. They can’t lose winnable opportunities because they missed a common variable or failed to execute on a specific selling activity. They don’t have time to individually craft uniquely brilliant, one-off strategies for each interaction only to see them fail. Sales professionals must deliver revenue and they have to perform, now. That’s the reality of professional selling.
To perform, sales professionals must efficiently manage multiple accounts and opportunities simultaneously. Every customer decision is made for different reasons, but the activities, behaviors and criteria that lead to a customer decision follow a recognizable pattern. These patterns form the basis of the customer management strategies that highly productive sales professionals use repeatedly to connect and interact with customers. The only way to successfully manage enough accounts and close enough opportunities to achieve quota is through the efficiency and productivity realized from naturally and regularly following proven customer management strategies.
Absent of a defined strategy to follow, individual tactics and activities will flourish as salespeople flail away trying anything to gain traction. New hire time-to-time productivity will become much longer as new salespeople will need more time to figure it out individually leaving a trail of blown opportunities. Frontline sales managers will be unable to coach as individualism will trump organizational execution and performance. When a salesperson leaves, account transitions will present more creative opportunities for the new sales rep to figure out a new account, most assuredly with a different approach from the exiting rep. The customer will need to start over as well with the new sales rep because there will be no corporate relationship, no sense of brand loyalty, only the broken individual connections with a now departed rep. The good news is transition meetings will be quick.
More complex selling environments, involving multiple customer-facing sales resources, will require even more time to collaborate as now the group must determine how they will interact with a customer on each opportunity. The team will need time to establish their special framework for managing that account, the factors they think that matter, the terminology they will use and activities that need to be done, and then consider the unique message to deliver. After each interaction, the group will need to reconvene to create the next customer interaction.
On the white board, empowering highly autonomous and creative people around a problem might appear viable. Hire smart people, give them a pitch and let them figure it out. Ask a salesperson and they would love a world where they don’t have to worry about quarterly numbers, commission dollars or managers asking about performance.
In the real world of sales, where performance drives income, time is money. Sales leaders won’t be sales leaders very long if they don’t deliver, every month, quarter and year. Salespeople won’t last long either if they can’t quickly and efficiently create opportunities, successfully manage opportunities and manage the customer relationships that lead to revenue. Every time you go for a ride, you don’t need to rebuild the bicycle.