Today's blog post is by Christian Maurer, a consultant for B2B sales leaders wanting to improve the productivity of their organization with solutions based on modern philosophies.
There have never been more sales-information resources available than there are today. Seen from a quantitative aspect, this is certainly true to the point that we have to fear information overload. Considering the quality aspect, however, the picture is quite different. Despite all the books, magazines, Websites, blogs, specialized social media, and discussion groups in general social media, it is difficult to identify a commonly accepted body of knowledge about selling. Just pick a discussion group about selling on LinkedIn or browse through Amazon.com at book titles about selling; you will quickly find a lot of contradictory advice. For example, search for “cold call” on Amazon.com. On the first page of results, you will find a book entitled Never Cold Call Again: Achieve Sales Greatness without Cold Calling by Frank J. Rumbauskas Jr. A bit farther down in the list, there is a book called Cold Calling Techniques (That Really Work!) by Stephan Schiffman. If you look a bit closer, you will further notice that there are many texts rehashing the same old principles, just using different words.
How Did We Get Here?
There are three reasons that come to mind:
- While there is no doubt that a lot of advice is well meant and might even have led to success in certain circumstances, it is presented without this context. This leads to useless arguments among experts based on their own experience and observations trying to prove each other wrong. I remember a discussion in a LinkedIn group on the topic of lead management. You would not believe the tone one contributor used trying to prove another one wrong. Calling the other person “old fashioned” was one of the kindest descriptors I could find.
- Many self-declared experts confuse frequently observed practices with best practices. The fact that a misconception is believed by many people does not make it true. Consider the myth that the win probability of an opportunity can be associated with a sales stage: nothing is further from the truth, but you would be surprised to see how often this association is still implemented in CRM systems.
A best practice is a codified behavior that, statistically, produces better results than other behaviors. In other words, there is a positive correlation between a codified behavior and a desired outcome. But even people who understand this fall into the next trap: confusing correlation and causality. A positive correlation does not mean that one has found the reason why the behavior produces the outcome. The best illustration of this fact is the observation that sometimes behavior in total contradiction to the best practice delivers the same or even a better outcome. Again, different contexts often cause this phenomenon.
Consider, for example, the BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timeframe) qualification criteria. You will find plenty of studies trying to prove that having good BANT qualification increases the win rate. To qualify an opportunity, you will ask the customer if she or he has a budget. Yet this very same question can kill a deal. Imagine that you have adopted a provocative sales style, helping potential customers identify a burning problem. What would happen if you ask this question? The answer, logically, can be only no. In order not to lose credibility with the potential customer, you will avoid this question. Yet you still should have a very high close rate, but for a different cause: helping the customer early on in the buying cycle creates loyalty, which is an important competitive advantage when the customer makes the vendor selection.
- Most texts, in whatever media, are not written with the general intent to contribute to the body of sales knowledge. The authors want to grab attention in a cacophony of sales advice; therefore, the focus is on differentiation for marketing purposes. Have you ever noticed the many terms such as “sales enablement” or “total revenue management” or “revenue cycle management” in sales literature? Or the many new sales job titles, such as chief revenue officer, customer success manager, or customer experience manager?
What Can Be Done About It?
- Do not take the abundance of available information as reason to reduce training and coaching efforts.
- Create your own mastermind peer group, selecting trusted advisors from academia and sales research experts (CSO Insights, Forrester, Gartner, etc.). Join new collaboration sites, such as www.salesopshop.com.
- When selecting blogs, consider whether or not there is an editorial control for comments. This usually is an indicator of quality.
- Turn your organization into a learning laboratory. Get your peers to submit ideas on an ongoing basis so you get a set of useful resources (books, blogs, collaboration sites, and social media groups).