Like Magic, Selling is Both Art and Science

Everyone loves a good magic trick. You want to believe in the supernatural even though you know it’s just slight of hand. The reason I like magic tricks is because they are filled with both art and science. The art involves ones ability to gain the confidence of others and hold their interest. The science is that magic tricks often play off the basic laws of physics.

Like magic, most people feel that the sales role is either really easy or really difficult. This binary outcome can be attributed to the fact that more than any other function, sales is a role that requires both a strong right and left-brain. The art (right-brain) includes marketing, relationship building, and negotiating. The science (left-brain) requires skills like pricing, pipeline management, and contracts.

For this discussion, let’s take the need for right-brain skills as a given. If you cannot earn someone’s trust, be able to connect with them emotionally, and motivate them to act, there is no reason to continue. That’s the art…and yes, it can be taught. Instead, let’s focus on the science, or left-brain, requirements of growing top line revenue.

In my experience, successful salespeople utilize three interdependent left-brain components: analytics, process, and technology.

1. Analytics: Surprisingly, most salespeople are not comfortable with numbers (except when it comes to calculating their quarterly commissions). That’s because they are left-brain dependent and got into the business because they prefer relationship building. I’ve always looked for solid analytical skills, because like an economist, the salesperson needs to be able to account for a number of variables to deliver the optimal outcome. I’ve secured major deals because I was able to calculate a number of factors in my head during negotiations, helping to short-cycle the sales process. The other reason I like analytical salespeople is they tend to better understand the financial aspects of their role, e.g. the interplay between pricing, volumes, margins, and probabilities and how it impacts forecasting and the income statement. A side benefit is that I don’t always have to double-check their work.

2. Process: Most salespeople abhor process. They usually associate process with bureaucracy (sometimes they are correct). In fact, most salespeople circumvent processes, even the processes they helped create. You could write a book on why process is critical to this role, but let me discuss two. First, a scalable and repeatable sales process is about time management. Others in the organization know how and when to get involved each step of the way. Second, a robust sales process ensures consistency in the deliverables (presentation, pricing, contracts, etc.) and the quality improves each time.

3. Technology: When I first started in sales in the 80’s the available technology was a pen, day planner, calculator, and marketing materials. Cell Phones, computers, and the Internet were still years away from being ubiquitous. Today, technology is a must-have and it starts with your CRM system. CRM helps streamline processes and makes real-time decision making possible. The better question is how are salespeople using the technology? I’ve helped numerous companies that had all the technology, but didn’t know how to properly utilize it. Technology is about two things. First, having access to information that allows the salesperson to make better decisions. That could be the price of certain commodities or it could be a service failure that happened 10 minutes before a client meeting. Second, technology is about time-management. My goal has always been to maximize the amount of time the salesperson is in front of the client. Each minute saved is another minute they can push an existing deal over the finish line or prospect for a new client.

There is a reason why the average tenure for the VP of Sales position is only 2 years. Most of that turnover can be attributed to their inability to tap into their left-brain and setup a scalable sales organization based on rigorous analytics, repeatable processes, and time-saving technology. Obviously, there are other factors; however, when these three are implemented properly, your sales organization will become a true growth engine and your top line will see significant and immediate lift.

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