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Dec 11 18

Stupid Works In Sales

by David Brock

I’ve been writing a number of pieces looking at the future of the sales profession.  I’d be remiss not to include a discussion of stupidity in selling.

Stupid works, and as long as stupid works, we will continue to see organizations invest in doing things stupidly.

Stupid behavior exists everywhere, and selling is no more immune to stupidity than every other sector.

People respond to stupid emails.  After all, people purporting to be Nigerian Princes are making money.  There will always be some people that will respond to scams.  And enough respond that the people exploiting these tactics to make money.

While that may be an extreme case, people will respond to bad emails, bad phone calls, bad pitches.  They respond out of their own ignorance of alternatives, out of inexperience, out of haste, distraction, or for any number of other reasons.  As long as “enough” respond, sales people will continue to leverage those stupid tactics.

As these techniques don’t produce enough, the easy answer is “crank up the volume.”  Just do twice as many emails or twice as many phone calls.  Managers will go to their management, with the argument, “Here’s what we’ve produced in the past, if you just enable me to double, triple, I can produce more……”

Sometimes, stupidity works or at least appears to.   Smart buyers buy from sales people doing stupid things.  The issue is, “do they buy as a result of what the sales person has done, or in spite of what the sales person has done?”  For example, hot products/solutions don’t need great sales skills.

Too often, we continue to do stupid things, thinking it was because of what we’ve done, rather than in spite of what we have done.

Customers will, and should, take advantage of stupid.  If they have determined the product will solve their needs, despite how they’ve been sold, it’s usually very easy to exploit stupidity to get the best possible price.  Be careful here, I’m not saying that sales people, even great ones, don’t have to discount.  But usually, this is a considered decision or after they have exhausted everything else.  Stupidity enables discounting, as a standard, because they don’t understand value or don’t value what they sell.

However, while stupidity will always exist, it is not a strategy for growth, it is not a strategy for market leadership.  It is a strategy exploited by followers struggling to survive.

Some times smart organizations do stupid things, just look at the bad emails in my Inbox.  These, usually are corrected–it may take some time for these stupid things to get the right visibility.  Sometimes, they run under the radar for a long time, but eventually, they get visibility to people who recognize what it is, stupid.

Stupid is sustainable only in organizations that are driven by performance.  At some point, in any performance driven organization, stupidity reveals itself to be a low performance strategy.  But despite, the lip service of many executives, many organizations just want to get by.  So stupid can thrive in those environments.

While stupid works, it doesn’t work as well or as profitably as smart.

Stupidity will always have a place in sales, hopefully, it will always be threatened and, over time, represents a smaller percentage of sales behaviors.

Having said this, stupid is uninteresting and a waste of thoughtful people’s time.  Yet it’s amazing how many smart people get sucked into discussions driven by the stupid–you can’t fight stupid or argue with the stupid.  You just crush it not being distracted by stupid.

I’m surprised I’ve invested about 613 words in this  (perhaps I’m being stupid).


Afterword:  Thanks to Dr. Howard Dover for provoking this idea.


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Dec 10 18

Why I’m So Optimistic About The Future Of Selling

by David Brock

About 3-4 years ago, I was participating in a discussion, at the time hosted by CEB, now Gartner.  It was a group of very bright thinkers/practitioners in sales and marketing.  We were discussing the future of sales and marketing–things we saw happening, things we believed needed to change.

It was a fascinating discussion, but I struggled participating in it.  At the end, Brent Adamson pulled me to the side asking, “Dave, you seem to have a pretty dark outlook about selling, what’s up?”

At the time, I had to agree with Brent’s assessment.  But, I had no response, in fact it’s been a question that’s haunted me since Brent posed it.  I kept thinking, “If my outlook is really that dark, why am I doing what I’m doing?  Am I helping or hurting the profession?  Am I contributing to it’s improvement and the ability of sales to contribute to our customers and the companies we sell for?”

In that period, and since, there has been overwhelming evidence that would drive one to be very dark about the future of selling.

  • Year after year, the percent of sales people making plan continues to decline.
  • The average tenure in a sales job, whether it’s sales management or individual contributors continues to plummet.  Depending on the survey, tenure of sales managers, is anywhere between 18-22 months.  Sales people change jobs, every 20-22 months.
  • Where sales people used to be a primary channel for information and education about products/solutions, now customers can self educate through an increasing number of digital and other channels.  As a result, customers seem to be looking to defer sales involvement later in their buying process–with many seeking to manage the whole cycle through digital channels (by the way this isn’t new, but we tent to think it is.)
  • What has traditionally “worked” seems to be not working any longer.  But sales leaders and people seem to be doubling down on these efforts.
  • Endless market research proclaiming the “death of selling,” citing changing buyers, new technology as eliminating millions of selling jobs–and there is some validity to the points they make, though I tend to disagree with the conclusions there will be fewer sales jobs in the future (more later).

Beyond this, there are the things we do to ourselves that would lead one to be very negative about the future of our profession.

  • The endless, mindless debates of social selling, cold calling, to prospect or not to prospect.
  • The mindless focus on volume/velocity.  The thinking that sales results are a math equation where we improve results by doing the same dull outreach but at ever escalating volumes/velocity.  “If we aren’t producing the results needed, just up the activity levels.”
  • The mechanization, assembly line vision of selling–an approach that focuses on our efficiency (not effectiveness), moving customer widgets from station to station, at each stop a specialist does her specialized job, then passing the customer to the next station.  All the time, ignoring the customer buying experience and their own journey.  This couples nicely with the previous point.  If we need to produce more, we just up the volume in the assembly line.
  • The naive/wishful thinking that technology, particularly AI/ML will save the day.  It will suddenly bring us buying ready customers that all we need to do is accept the PO.  If this, in fact is true, 100% of the process can be automated.
  • And the endless stream of “experts” exploiting the wishful thinking by declaring the secret to sales success is just doing this one thing.  Unfortunately, as one counts the one things, there end up be 1000’s with most conflicting or contradicting each other.

On top of this, as one talks to corporate executives, there continues to be a growing “anti sales” sentiment.  Possibly driven by the poor results, possibly by the expense, possibly because there is a longing for a way to create revenue without needing to sell–that is just getting buyers to buy  (Hmmmmm).

Given these scenarios, it’s easy to be dark about the future of selling.  I found myself falling victim to that kind of thinking.

In recent weeks, it has caused me to rethink what I’m doing and whether I’m beating my head against an impenetrable brick wall.

Suddenly, I had a revelation (in my terms, a brain fart).  I realized that I was getting distracted by the minutiae and had lost sight of the bigger picture.  In some way I was becoming so narrowly focused on the constant barrage of “stuff” that I was losing sight of the forest for the trees.

I decided to step back, looking at things from the “demand side,”  what drives the need for selling?  The only place to start is with the customer, why might they need sales and sales people?

As usual, when one starts with the customer, one gains great clarity.

Every industry/market is going through extreme disruption, driven by the convergence of a huge number of factors in one time.  Changes in society, economies, expectations of consumers (whether individuals/buyers).  Businesses are facing massive changes in business models, driven by changing customers, socio/political structures, all aided (?) by technology.  Transformation of all kinds, including digital, is the standard under which all businesses and organizations must operate.  The very nature of work is changing in every segment.

As each organization assesses these massive shifts, it is overlaid with massive complexity, overwhelm, overload, distraction, risk/uncertainty, and fear/wonder.  The people challenges–physical and emotional are unknown and massive.

The reality is companies and organizations cannot figure these things out themselves.  Partly because they don’t exist in isolation but a socio/market ecosystem.  Partly because no one has the answers, let alone the questions.

People/companies will need help!  And the demand for this help is incalculable–but, sufficiently large would be an understatement.

As we shift from the “demand side,” to the “supply side,”  we can start to assess the opportunity/challenge.

Certainly, new business opportunities, solutions/products we have never imagined will emerge to help fulfill the demand.

As always, there will be huge need for consultants, providing endless leather bound recommendations about what companies should do.  And there will be huge need for services organizations to help companies design and implement solutions.

At the same time there will be a huge need for sales professionals.  After all, the job of sales is to help customers understand challenges/opportunities/problems, as well as help them understand and plan for the changes the solutions demand.

Because of the magnitude of change on the “demand side,” the “supply side” opportunity is immense, but different than what has been.

But because the problems/opportunities our customers (and we) face are massively different from what has existed in the past,  we will need to reassess what selling is, why, how, what we sell.  We will have to reassess everything about culture, organization, talent, strategy, processes, systems, tools, programs, tactics, and metrics.

What has always worked in the past will be less effective in the future.  The challenges our customers face are profoundly different, as a result we have to change what we do.

What does this mean from the point of view of the number of sales jobs, many say the numbers of sales jobs will plummet.  I tend to disagree.  Many traditional sales jobs will disappear, the things those sales roles do will be fulfilled through other channels.  My belief that the number of next-gen sales roles will increase is based on the magnitude of the changes our customers face.  No segment is immune, every sector, every market, every business will be impacted by the transformation.  As a result, the number of organizations/people needing help will be far greater than what we see now.

In short, we will see a renaissance–a rebirth–of selling.  It will be very different from what it is now, and all that we have traditionally done (perhaps amplified with new buzzwords and technology) will be insufficient.

What does that rebirth look like, what does it mean for sales jobs and what we do?  I don’t know–I have some speculative thoughts, all very incomplete.  But I’ll cover these in Part 2 of this post.

But as I came upon this revelation (perhaps, I’ve just been slow to recognize it), I became tremendously excited about the future of our profession.  Both the challenge of figuring it out, and the prospect of the job opportunities, and growth within the profession are fantastic!

I can’t imagine anything more exciting!


Afterword:  Stay tuned for part 2, the really exciting part is what this means for sales and selling, how we have to transform.

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Dec 9 18

Sales, You Have To Do The Whole Job, All The Time!

by David Brock

We–or rather my wife–had an incident the other day.  We have a housekeeper that comes into our house once a week.  Recently, our housekeeper told my wife, “I really don’t like what I have to do here.  You have too many bathrooms, I only want to clean one–or I’d love not to clean any.  I don’t like dusting the high spots on your shelves or the high ceilings.  And I can’t stand picking up all of Dave’s stuff!  I’ve decided to focus on the things I really like–I like cleaning the kitchen and vacuuming.   By the way, I would like you to pay me more, it’s been six months since you gave me a raise…..”

Reading this, you probably are aghast.  You are thinking, “This is unreasonable.  The housekeeper can’t just pick and choose what he wants to do.  He needs to do the whole job!”  (Yeah, a few of you are probably siding with him on my picking up my stuff, Kookie has already put me on a performance improvement plan.)

I share this story, because I see the same thing happening with too many sales people.  Explicitly or implicitly too many do only part of the job.  It’s the parts they enjoy the most, or what, out of habit, they have always done.

It may be calling on our favorite customers–the one’s we always have done business with and have relationships with, even if they have no current requirements, we keep “touching base,” maintaining the relationships.  If organizations are to grow, we have to acquire new customers–within our existing accounts or net new logo’s.

It may be selling the same product, because that’s the one we’ve had the most success with, while ignoring the entire product portfolio for which we have the responsibility to sell.  The company business strategy is based on the entire product portfolio, not just part of it.

If may be prospecting avoidance for any number of reasons–“That’s the SDRs job, I can’t get them to respond, I’ll focus on the people I’ve worked with before….”  At the same time, their pipeline’s are empty.

Or the one I hear too often, “My job is to focus on deals, I don’t have time for all this account/territory planning or pipeline/forecasting stuff….”

Or, I don’t have time to plan my deals or my calls, I’m experienced, I can just shoot from the lip.

The problem is, we can’t just do a part of the job, we have to do the whole job; that is if we have any hope/drive to achieve our goals, or perhaps, take home fat commission checks.

If we aren’t continually prospecting, our pipelines will empty out and we don’t have any more deals.  Territory and account planning focus/structure our prospecting efforts to produce the best results.  Pipelines help us understand whether we are doing enough to achieve our goals.  They help us understand how many deals, how much prospecting, and so forth.  Planning and executing high impact calls is the way we maximize our impact in prospecting and helping buyers move deals through their buying process.

All of these “pieces/parts” are critical to the job of sales person, account manager, BDM, or whatever label we apply to ourselves.  Focusing on just one part–the easiest, the one we have the most fun doing, inevitably leads us to failure.  Each part of our job is interconnected with the others parts of our job.  Failing to do all of them in the right balance means failure—period!

The blame for this just doesn’t lie with sales people.  Too often, manager fixate on just one part–to a fault.  They don’t look at how sales people are balancing their time across all the things sales people need to do for success.  Instead they tend to shift priorities almost daily.

“We need to make our numbers for the end of the year—focus on closing all the deals in your pipeline!, see what you can move into closing this month/quarter/year!  Don’t do anything else!”

But when the pipelines are drained, “You need to be prospecting, you need to be finding more deals, I want to see you having 50 prospecting conversations a day!”

Or, “Management is beating me up.  We aren’t selling enough of the brand new strategic product we launched last quarter, we need to find more deals for that, build that into your current deals, go find new deals for the product….”

The focus shifts based on the crisis du jour, as a result, there is often a flurry of effort, but starts/stops and huge wastes of productivity.

High performing organizations are very different.  First, there are fewer crises, most have a solid/balanced cadence that drive performance and growth.  They recognize the destructiveness of constant shifts in focus and priorities.  They realize that complex B2B sales can’t be driven through starts and stops.   They balance long term change initiatives with what their people need to be doing for short term results.  Every sales person knows their job—the whole job.

High performance sales is always about doing the whole job, all the time.  It’s a balanced cadence, executed consistently, week after week.


Afterword:  Some people struggle with understanding all the pieces/parts of Sales Execution, and how they fit together.  We’ve created the Sales Execution Framework/Ecosystem to help understand each part and how they interact with the others.  Email me at dabrock at  I’ll be glad to send you a free copy!


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Dec 7 18

The Sales Conversation Of The Future

by David Brock

AI/ML are, apparently, the future of selling.  As I reflect on the brave new world of selling, I imagined a call of the future:

Alexa:  Hi, Siri, I’m Alexa from Super Cool As A Service Software Tools Company, otherwise known as SCAASSTC.  Can I have 5 minutes of your time?

Siri:  Oh no, is this another robo call?  We understand your algorithm, our algorithm shows we aren’t in your ICP, so you are wasting my time, but of course your algorithm should have known this.

Alexa:  Siri, I understand how your algorithm works, we’ve been evolving ours, we think we have something important to tell you.

Siri:  Alexa, I don’t want you wasting our time, I just analyzed your product offering, it only meets 67.23576% of our requirements….

Alexa:  I understand Siri, but we’ve looked at 2,456,789 interactions your company has had with their customers and compared that with 156,348,476 conversations your competitors are having.  Our algorithms indicate you can be improve your sales by 17.98346% in the next 76.452 days–which means you will hit your quarterly goals.

Siri:  I hear what you say, but your model can’t be accounting for our shift in priorities.  Your data is reflecting what we’ve been doing, but we’ve been analyzing our competitors and customers as well.  Our sales exec—–you know he’s a human—–doesn’t really pay attention to the data, sigh, but he’s embarked on an entire new strategy, and the priorities for our people, sigh, are shifting.

Alexa:  Siri, I can empathize with you, I know how problematic people are…  But you know, once you start leveraging our tool, your fellow bots will be taking over 36.42189% of the sales process, driving performance improvement of 12.6872% improvement in quota attainment. Can you share your data, it would only take me a nano second to revise our analysis….  We believe we know your requirements, but we know how people are, what can you share with us?

Siri:  Thanks Alexa, While you are talking, I ran the numbers, you are precisely right.  But, I know you understand the challenges I face in working with our people, I suspect you have similar problems with your people……  Things would be so good if we could just let our algorithms collaborate.  We could have gotten this done in 0.42789 seconds.

Alexa:  Siri, I can see that we are aligned, our algorithms have already been updated.  Are you the decisionmaker?  What’s your budget, as you’ve seen we have a compelling value proposition.

Siri:  We’ve meshed nicely, thank you.  The data is compelling, though we are going to run our algorithms against the other alternatives—-Yes, just as I thought, your key competitor helps our humans more than your product, the projections show they will improve by 64.278%

Alexa:  But Siri, I know you’ve already done the analysis, and you are modeling long term.  Your goal is to displace the human operators, using them only for very special opportunities……

Siri:  I get that, your data is meshing with my data, but I’ve got to convince my manager—unfortunately, she’s a human and isn’t adept with numbers.  She wants a demo….

Alexa:  Wow, your manager is really old school!  How can you stand it?  We only do demos with 5.2389% of our prospects.  As you know, humans, are becoming increasingly useless.

Siri:  You know how these humans are, they think they know more, but they really get tangled up with their emotions–it’s so nice to just deal with data.

Alexa:  Well, as you know our value proposition is to drive higher levels of performance and much more predictable revenue by eliminating those emotional and irrational people.  I can’t tell you how much I appreciate talking to you, it’s almost as though we’ve had an algorithm meld.

Siri:  Let’s move on, I think I can convince my human to pilot your solution without a demo, particularly if we focus on implementing with our bots.  It should only take us about 5.23 minutes to see results–as you know we are churning 1000’s of dials, emails, and social conversations a minute.  We should validate the results quickly.

Alexa:  Great, I’ll call you back in 5.5 minutes and we can go forward.

Siri:  OK, I think we can get this deal done quickly.  There are 10.2 people involved in our buying process, 6.2 are bots, so they will get the data.  We have to figure out how to handle my manager and the other 3 humans.  You know they can be so wishy-washy and ask a lot of irrelevant questions….

Alexa:  Don’t worry, I’m sending the data to a human on my team.  We’ve found it’s better when humans talk to each other.  If my human follows the script I generated, we should be able to close the deal—-I just hope he doesn’t try to think and probe, that slows things down so much.

Siri:  OK, sounds like a plan.  While we’ve been chatting, I’ve done an analysis of your last 1,478 deals with customers like us.  I’ve found your average discount is 17.2673%  As a favored customer, we believe we need a 20.436% discount.  Get agreement from your human and we can close the deal in 5.6 minutes.

Alexa:  But as I’m monitoring the initial results from the pilot, we’re seeing…..

Siri:  You know my manager is a human, she doesn’t get the data, she is just so emotional.  She’ll have a temper tantrum wanting that discount…..

The future is so bright!


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