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“I’ll Know It When I See It”

by David Brock on March 26th, 2015

“I’ll Know It When I See It.”  I hear that phrase way too often.

I hear it when I’m talking to a manager about hiring new people.  Usually it’s in response to a question I ask like, “What specific skills, experiences, competencies, attitudes, and behaviors are you seeking in the ideal candidate?”

Or when I talk to someone about their search for partners or strategic alliances.  Usually, in this case, it’s in response to “What’s the profile of the ideal partner?”

Often, when I talk to a sales person about qualifying prospects.  They seem somehow to feel or intuit whether a deal is real, whether it’s the right one, whether the customer wants to change.

Or when I’m trying to understand their sales process,  “How do your customers buy, what are the critical things you have to do to align with their buying process and help them navigate it.” There the response is a variant of “I’ll know it when I see it,”  it’s, “When you’ve done as many deals as we have, you just instinctually know what to do.”

Each time I hear those words, I ask the follow up question, “Well how will you know?”  It’s usually followed by a lot of hemming, hawing, big arm motions, often with phrases, “I’ve been doing this a long time….”  or “It’s easy to recognize…….”

Sometimes the response is a list of very broad generalities.  Then when I press for more specifics, there’s an exacerbated sigh with the familiar, “Well you just know!”

“I’ll know it when I see it!”  When I hear those words, I cringe.  To me, it’s a huge red flag, usually confirmed by their inability to respond when asked, “Well, how will you know?”  In my experience, the person saying those words is either clueless–but doesn’t recognize it, or too lazy to do the homework critical to getting what they want/need, not what they get.

If you’ll know it when see it, then you should be able to articulate it to great detail!  Yes, if you’ve been doing it successfully for a long time, you should have the specific data and information needed to answer that question.  You should know:

When recruiting, “People who are successful in our organization have these specific skills, competencies, behaviors, attitudes, experience.  They display it in these ways….  They produce these results… ”  You can write it down, weight each one and use those criteria in your recruiting/interviewing process.

When looking for partners/alliances, “Organizations that have this vision, these values, the willingness to take these risks, invest these resources, share in the returns/rewards….  They have these specific capabilities, priorities, goals…..”  You can list the specific attributes of organizations that make great partners and produce great outcomes.

When developing a sales process, you can be very specific, “When we do these things, with these customers, and these people, at this time…….it always produces good outcomes.”

“I’ll know it when I see it,” is a statement about pattern recognition.  It’s important, in everything we do, to recognize the patterns that drive success.  “What makes a successful sales person,  What makes a successful partnership/alliance, What causes us to win, What do people respond to in our marketing programs, What do people respond to when we are effective in our prospecting, How do the best sales people spend their time, What happens when we do effective coaching, …..?”

The answers to all of these are usually staring us in the face, they are the patterns of success–the things that more often produce successful outcomes.  Patterns of failures are less helpful–they tell us what we shouldn’t be doing, but don’t help much about identifying the right things to do.

We have to drill down in each of these, we have to understand the detail, we have to articulate it very specifically.  It becomes a checklist, a process, a template, a script.  All of these things, based on rigorous analysis of past success help us execute the right things more consistently.

But that’s tough stuff, it requires disciplined analysis, data and leveraging that data to understand, rigorous and critical thinking.  Then testing through consistent execution.

But it’s this rigor, this discipline, this analysis that separates top performers from everyone else.

As a caveat–for a future post, when you have done this, and are executing with precision and consistency–and it isn’t working, it means something has changed, your customers have changed, your markets have been disrupted, something is different.  Time to look for the new patterns.

Postscript:  For one of the best discussions about how to do this in building a high performing organization, make sure you read Mark Roberge’s “The Sales Acceleration Formula”

Book CoverFor a free peek at Sales Manager Survival Guide, click the picture or link.  You’ll get the Table of Contents, Foreword, and 2 free Chapters.  Free Sample

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