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Hacking Sales

by David Brock on June 12th, 2019

“Hacking” is a hot word. We read constantly of hacking–both in good and bad contexts:

  • We’re terrified of people/organizations hacking our passwords, ids, accounts, systems, and so forth. In this case, hacking is breaking in and stealing something.
  • We’re fascinated with computer hackers. Both terrified of those hacking for bad purposes, and envious of those that figure out how to get things done in clever ways.
  • People like Tim Ferris, make millions in helping identify “hacks” or shortcuts to all sorts of things–whether it is learning a language, traveling, learning a new skill, making money, getting fit. We’re enthralled to learn the shortcuts to success.
  • We identify “hacks,” as “cheap, mediocre, second rate practitioners,” often incompetent.
  • Hacks are often “jury rigged” or temporary solutions.

Hacking sales/marketing is the subject of countless blog posts and books. Every pundit seems to have some sort of magical short cut to success, stating, “all you have to do is this simple thing….”

We invest huge amounts of time and energy in trying to “hack” sales/marketing success. We seem to be obsessed with finding short-cuts, ironically, not focused on helping us get better, but more focused on avoiding doing the work.

We mistakenly think these sales hacks make us better. I’m no different from you, I’m not a masochist, I want to find better/easier ways of doing things.

I think we confuse “hacking” with “simplification.” Both appear to have similar objectives–perhaps making us more effective or more efficient, or to make things easier.

But the way we achieve these objectives is very different, and our ability to continuously achieve those goals is very different.

The process of finding hacks is usually focused on short cuts. It’s typically very narrowly focused on just one thing. For example, “How can I avoid all the tough work in prospecting?” We usually come up with very narrow solutions, optimized just to that. For example, hacks for prospecting might be: It’s marketing’s/SDRs job, I’ll let them do it, it’s not my fault if they can’t find enough. I’ll just focus on inbound. Or, “Targeting is too much work, I’ll just send a few thousand more emails and see who responds.” Of course, technology is our friend in coming up with hacks, we have the ability to scale what we do virtually infinitely, at no or low incremental cost. So, too often, we leverage technology to hack selling.

Hacks work until they don’t, usually they work for a short time, but I’ve never seen a hack that produces sustainable results.

Simplification is different–simplification is not simple, in fact it’s hard work. It means we have to really understand what’s happening, and why. In prospecting, we have to understand, “Who’s most likely to respond to our outreach, why do they respond? How do we find them? How do we engage them in the most impactful ways?”

At the same time, in our simplification process, we recognize that what we do is impacted by other systems, processes in the organization, and we impact other systems and processes. We don’t treat the problem in isolation, but try to understand the interconnections. So we might work with marketing to see what they might do that can help improve our ability to prospect, or to make sure we understand if anything we might be doing might have an adverse impact on what marketing is doing. Likewise, we would look downstream from those prospecting activities to understand how what we do impacts others that might be involved. Then we would look at how we do it effectively and efficiently, producing the best possible outcomes in the best way possible.

You may be thinking, “this is entirely too much work, it’s just so much easier to find a hack……” But then the reality is our hacks aren’t working. If they were, we wouldn’t see:

  • Continued year over year declines in sales performance.
  • Continued customer avoidance and unhappiness with sales engagement.
  • Active customer dis-engagement.
  • Increases in dis-engagement among our people.
  • Increases in voluntary and involuntary turnover.

Organizational and Individual Performance is driven by obsessive learning, relentless execution, continuous improvement, deep understanding. There are no shortcuts, we have to do the work.

We can’t hack our way to success. We can create some “sugar highs,” but without deep understanding, it is impossible to sustain.

And we’ve known this all the time, but too often choose to ignore this. After all, the dictionary is very clear: Hacks are cheap, mediocre, incompetent practitioners. Hacking something is only a temporary, jury rigged solution.

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