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354 Sales Conversations In Just A Week!

by David Brock on September 30th, 2014

I was astounded to read an article from a very enthusiastic sales person.  He talked about the 354 conversations with C-Level executives he had in one week.  The article captivated and horrified me at the same time.

By now, you know I’m a numbers guy.  So I started running the numbers.  I thought, “Hmm, the typical work week is 40 hours……..  well, actually no, everyone works more than that…….”  You can see where I’m going.

I don’t know what the typical work week is, but let’s look at this data across 3 possible workweeks:

For a 40 hour workweek, to have 354 conversations, that’s 6.8 minutes per “conversation.”

Fro a 50 hour workweek, to have 354 conversations, that’s 8.5 minutes per “conversation.”

For a 60 hour workweek, to have 354 conversations, that’s 10.2 minutes per “conversation.”

But let’s think a little further.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t spend 100% of my time on conversations.  I’m ashamed to admit it, perhaps it’s a sign of my laziness, but maybe 2-3 times a day, I have to wander down the hall to get a cup of coffee or something to drink.  Then 2-3 times a day I have to run to the bathroom (Hmmm, wonder if there is linkage?)  Then, of course, I take a lunch break–actually, it’s about an hour so I can ride my bike and get some exercise.  I have to do some research and preparation for calls.  Then after a call I pause to take some notes, set the follow ups, and next steps.  Then there’s all the other stuff that takes our time during a typical work week.  Things like doing email, spending time with managers reviewing what we are doing, maybe every once in a while a meeting.  So a lot of things impact the amount of time we actually have available to have sales conversations.

I keep going back to the number, 354 conversations with C Level executives in a week.

Math tells us these conversation are only a few minutes, but what we don’t know is the quality of those conversations.

What insight did we provide?

How did the customer respond?  What questions did they raise?  How did we handle the questions?

What discovery were we really able to do?  What is the customer trying to achieve?  What’s driving their need to do this?

And there are probably a several other things we might want to learn in a conversation.

Then I think of a “conversation”—effective conversations are not just a Ping-Pong game of Question/Answer.  In a “conversation” we want to engage a customer, we want to probe and understand.  We want to share our ideas and views–that’s part of engaging in a “conversation.”

So I’m still struggling, if I want to engage a customer in an impactful conversation, particularly a C-Level customer, how do I elicit all that stuff in only a few minutes?  How much can we accomplish, how engaged is the customer, how do they feel about the conversation?  Can we really engage the customer in a meaningful way, in only a few minutes?

Even, if my side of the conversation is pretty well scripted, the customer’s side never is.  So they wander, they take time to think.  Ideally, they start talking and I want to let them talk, I want to learn as much as I can.

I wonder, how did the customer feel about these conversations?  Clearly, the sales person was shooting for a high volume of conversations.  But did the customers feel as though they were being engaged?  Did they feel they were being listened to and really heard?  Or did they feel rushed and pressured?

So I wonder, are we really having impactful, high quality “conversations?”

But the story goes on, the sales person says those 354 conversations produced 42 appointments.  Hmmm, about 12% of the people he spoke with agreed to a next step.

OK, I think I understand, clearly the objective of these calls was to set appointments.  I get it, that’s a fair objective.

But then I think about it.  If we are setting appointments, perhaps what we want to do is get a little more information about the customer, maybe we want to do a little more discovery, so in that we can be well prepared for the meeting (or the sales person making the call can be well prepared for the meeting).  So we’ll want to probe a little more, we want to determine interests, motivations, who else should be involved.  Maybe even where, when we should meet.  And I want to take notes on this so I remember–or can provide them to the sales person so she can be prepared.  My mind goes to these crazy things, I start running the math.  Say, for those 42 conversations, it takes an additional 5 to 10 minutes–that’s 3-6 hours, but then that means all my other conversations have to be shorter……..

Clearly, this sales person’s goal is to get meetings.  But this causes me to think.  Is the right goal a meeting, or should it be setting the right meetings?  I want to make sure every meeting I go to is a high impact meeting.  I worry about the customer’s time being well spent, but, honestly, I’m more worried about my time being well spent.  So I don’t want just any meeting, I want high impact meetings.  So in such short conversations are we 1)  Getting the right meetings with the right people?  2)  Collecting/sharing all the information we need to have a high impact meeting?  3)  Pre-empting the need for a meeting by taking the phone call to another level?

So this article has me thinking.  Is 354 calls which produce 42 meetings good or bad?  I really don’t know.  I don’t know the objectives of the campaign.

I certainly admire this sales person’s enthusiasm, stamina, and kidney strength.  I know even in my very best moments, I could never do what he did—but I’m not sure I would want to do what he did.  But again, my goals and the conversations I engage people in may be very different than his.

When you start to do the math, it causes met to wonder.

We are always faced with the quantity/quality quandary.  We want to move fast.

But I wonder, what if we slowed down?  What if we had only 177 conversations?  Would we have learned more?  Would we have discovered more, could we have accomplished more, maybe even preempting the need for a meeting, or moving further to have a more substantive meeting.

Too often, in our rush for speed and quantity, we sacrifice quality.  We sacrifice the opportunity to learn more, to develop the relationship.

I don’t know the answer, but we always have to look at the right balance of quality and quantity.

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11 Comments
  1. Martin Schmalenbach permalink

    354 conversations at the ‘C’ level takes some setting up… either by the sales person or a lead-generating function.

    But this was to set up those leads – so perhaps this sales person was doing just that – being the lead generator.

    How many of these ‘conversations’ were anything like 6.8 minutes long? How many were the much shorter “I’m sorry, I’m not interested right now… thanks for calling. Have a great day. “? And by the way, those, in my book, aren’t conversations. We all know some sales people can, shall we be kind and say, ’embellish’ things a little?

    So Dave, to your point, yes, let’s shoot for quality conversations, and by that, I mean ones that leave the client thinking that those few minutes they just spent with you was worth their time – otherwise why would they take your next call, no matter what they said they agreed to…?

    And let’s also be more critical of the data we are presented with. For me this is quite a big as well as deep point. I’m a transplant to the US, coming 4 years ago from the UK. What I find troubling is just how poor the critical thinking skills of the general population are – in the US and the UK. It’s not something that seems to be taught, or taught well, at any level generally. And it is from the general population that most sales people come from…

    It’s my experience that clients really value a sales person that DOES employ critical thinking skills, that can help the client navigate the increasing complexity & number, size & shape of options open to them.

    So did the sales person really have 354 C level conversations in a week? I very much doubt it. Perhaps 100, in a long week, once a lot of pre-work and set up had been done perhaps. And of course, I could be wrong.

    But it doesn’t matter as much as perhaps the real message – DO NOT COPY THE SALESPERSON IN THIS STORY!!! You are better than this and you owe it to your clients as well as yourself!

    • Martin, as usual you raise a number of very thought provoking and important questions. I’ll focus on a few (also look at my response to Kurt Haug’s comment.)

      I don’t doubt the person’s data. It was a result of 7,692 dials. So clearly, the company is leveraging an interesting technology—there are, I think, some serious issues about what they are doing.

      I think there may also be a great difference in the type of call and the type of customer he is trying to reach, as well as the customer experience they or their clients are trying to create. Clearly, if we look at the Microchip sales person, or any of the sales people who represent my client set, we want to have deeper more meaningful, more impactful and value based discussions.

      I do worry, though, that we don’t think and analyze what we do, always going for quantity over quality. We see this in marketing programs everyday, we see this in outbound sales programs, we see too many poorly thought out and executed programs that create terrible customer experiences, as well as poison the well for those that are more focused on the right balance of quality and volume.

  2. “Kidney strength.” HA! Priceless!

    David, you keep saying the math “makes you wonder.” Not me. I know EXACTLY what is going on. HE IS FLAT-OUT LYING. As you point out, the math proves it isn’t physically possible.

    Let’s take it a step further. Does he claim he actually SPOKE to C-Level execs? How many of those calls and appointments were actually with gatekeepers? If these were gatekeeper calls/appts, 12% mean he actually has real meetings with less than 5%, and of those, half are doing it grudgingly and are pissed off that their admins didn’t screen this guy.

    So let’s assume he tries to go to all 42 of those meetings. 20 minutes to get there, 20 minutes back or to next appt, and 20 minutes for any “meeting.” (I know that as a CEO even if I would EVER take a meeting off of a cold call there is NO WAY it would be more than 10-15 minutes max. I don’t even want to have to validate the guys parking.)

    Let’s call it one hour per meeting. And he works a couple of lunch hours so he can squeeze 42 meetings into one week. At 2.5% turning into a “real” meeting, that’s nine 20-minute meetings. And it took two weeks of hurculean and mercurial work (plus still a fair dose of suspended reality) to make that happen. That’s almost 9 hours per meeting, and let’s not even speculate on the QUALITY of those meetings.

    Oh, and what was happening for all of his other customers during those two weeks he was out of pocket chasing a proud handbag full of 42 appointments? How many do you think he would lose because of inattention?

    So I agree with Martin. The moral of the story is DON’T FOLLOW THIS GUY’S EXAMPLE.

    And DON’T HIRE HIM. Not only does he have a wrong sense of priorities, he’s willing to lie and lean on “puffery” to stroke his ego and try to convince you how awesome he is in spite of the fact he’s not closing any business.

    • Kurt: Maybe some clarification. I actually believe his data, or I’ll accept it at face value. Clearly, his job was appointment setting–for someone else. Was he really talking to decision makers or talking to who he got? I’m not sure, I’m not certain that’s really the point.

      To me, the real issue is, what was the quality of those conversations? What was the quality of the meetings that were set? Having been on the receiving end of those calls (yes, I actually take them purely out of curiosity.) There is no discovery beyond “Are You the business owners?” “Would you be interested in….” If I toss up a brief objection, there’s a quick answer, no probing on the objection, no discovery, no learning.” The goal is simply to get the meeting.

      I worry about the poor sales person going on one of those 42 calls. Taking the time to prepare, drive, meet, drive back. Or even if the next meeting is by phone. These meetings are not well qualified. So the yield from these is likely to be very low.

      To tell you the truth, I know this type of calling is the worst thing possible in the B2B world that I live in. At the same time, there are areas that are purely transactional, that may not need a lot of discovery, a lot of understanding–and the prospect may be happy with that. So it may fit–I still have my questions.

      I do worry about the emerging trend I see about quantity over quality.

      Finally, it’s not this guy–it’s his company and their strategy. He is executing their strategy, doing it very well. So the people to question is company management. The people to question are the people contracting with the company or leveraging their technology/services? The question is “Is this the customer experience you want to create? Does this represent you in the way you want to be represented? Is this the way your customers want to be engaged?”

      For some, the answers to those questions is a resounding “Yes.” And I know those people will probably never be interested in my POV 😉

      • I still say the sales rep is misrepresenting (is that a better word than “lying”) one way or another. He claimed to have 354 sales conversations with C-level executives. One or more of those words is just not true.

        354?– I still have my doubts, even if it is simple appt setting. And if it is, then there are BIG misrepresentations in the rest of the sentence.

        SALES CONVERSATIONS? Setting an appt is not a conversation. And I would call it “sales” in only the broadest of definitions.

        C-LEVEL EXECS? Again, I doubt it. Even if you had the personal mobile number for 354 C-level execs, you’d never get through to that many.

        Did he make 354 calls to a pricey, “C-execs only” list, mostly leaving voice messages? I could believe that.

        If this is an outbound telesales role– which you didn’t specify– this may or may not be a legitimate strategy. Even so, like you, I would question the value of those appts and as a rep going to those appts I’d be irritated at the lack of quality.

        If this guy wants to be a “smile and dial”er his entire career, more power to him. I personally know several people doing that who make a lot more money than a typical outside sales rep. But the GOOD ones admit and understand what they do. And none of them would presume to say those calls are “conversations with C-level execs.”

  3. I agree with both your appreciation of the super active Salesperson, and your positive scepticism as to the value of hyper activity. We have some research, which graphs performance against F2F sell time. The optimum is a Standard distribution, with a peak at about 4 hours a day for IT and Telco. Many [but not all] Top performers were in the 20-24 hours per week F2F.

    Hyperactivity was associated with poor performance, likely for the reasons you state. Very low activity generated few opportunities and hence poor performance.

    On one last consoling thought, one star performer NEVER spent more than 10 hours a week, in a 2 hours a day format.
    It was all he could take!

  4. This article reminds me of a classic story told by sales trainers.

    Sales manager: “How was your day Bob?”
    Bob: “Fantastic! I made 10 sales calls today.”
    Sales manager: “That’s an incredible number.”
    Bob: “I planned to make 12 sales calls, but one of the customers slowed me down by giving me a purchase order.”

  5. Dave: brilliantly put.

    Absent a definition of what success, day-to-day, looks like … Reps and their Managers are being left to themselves to celebrate ‘false positives’. Successes at one thing that may be unintentionally inhibiting revenue results.

    What’s needed, IMO, are broader revenue performance strategies + supporting performance analytics. Like the data that Brian’s offered. Done in a context where what we’re really optimizing is the quantity + quality of interactions with buyers. Like you’re advocating.

    When the impacts of daily practices on future sales and margins are clear[er] for all to see, that right balance of quantity vs. quality is most likely to emerge. The odds of success will be greatest in firms with the humility, courage and curiousity to test various approaches. They’ll likely find mixes of quantity/quality sales practices that surprise others. They’ll be getting unusually good results from their efforts because they’ll have learned what it takes to optimize revenues + margins. For their offerings.

    • John: Thanks for the comment. The post may have been confusing, since I didn’t point to the originating post. However, this was a “celebration” of a sales person doing exactly what he had been tasked to do, and achieving extraordinary success.

      I think, as you allude to, there are more fundamental questions of “Is this what success should look like?” “Is this truly the way we want to engage C-Level Customers?” “Are we really having meaningful and impactful conversations with the customer?” While the original post would lead you to believe this was hugely successful on all these accounts, most of us would look at the math and conclude, the sole objective of these calls could only have been appointment setting. They were not intended to be real discovery calls, they were probably not meaningful conversations, and they probably really didn’t engage the customer in ways that many of us think is engagement.

      If the purpose was solely appointment setting, kudo’s to the sales person. One wonders about the quality of the resultant meetings that were set, and if there were more effective means of achieve a better result–for example, compared to very effective email campaigns in which a customer might request a meeting, the results of this telephone campaign are pretty bad.

      So there are a lot of interesting questions/issues. In the end, perhaps the only real conclusions that we can reach are we have to be very purposeful about what we are trying to achieve, what is the most effective way to do that, what kind of customer experience/engagement do we want to create, what outcomes do we want to create and how do we measure them, and are we doing these as effectively (the quality aspect) and efficiently (the speed/velocity aspect.)

      Thanks for the great comment John.

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