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Automating Stupidity

by David Brock on October 24th, 2018

I have a very good friend, Dr. Howard Dover.  He does wickedly smart things in driving the sales curriculum at UT Dallas.  Every once in a while, I get terribly frustrated and need to vent  and Howard lets me vent.

I was venting on the mindless focus on activity.  Activity for activity sake, with no concern about the results these activities create–the goal has become activity.  I read an article, “Can your sales people complete 120K activities a year?”  There was some data that normal sales people are a fraction of that.   These articles somehow only seem to talk about activity, never results.  I suppose if I were measured and compensated on activity, I’d be all over this.  But somehow, outcomes and results have always seemed important to me–both outcomes I help my customers create and those I create for my company.

But it seems the volume/velocity movement is exciting.  I suppose it is, because it’s absolutely mindless.  I start to think how I game this.

“Hmm, 120K activities a year.  That works out to be about 1 activity a minute, unless you have to pee, eat lunch, take a break or do anything else……  But, I can beat that.  Let’s see, a mailing list of over 100K, an email a day….who cares about the content.  In a week, I’ve completed 500K activities.  Multiply that by 50 weeks, that’s 25M a year!  Somehow 120K seems like under performance.  Then I can get a power-dialler and start calling those people.  After all, we know we are suppose to leverage multiple channels simultaneously……”

You can see where I am going, you can see the mindless logic that accompanies too much of the volume/velocity/activity focus.  Yet it’s easy to do and you don’t have to think.

As one digs deeper into some of this, one starts to discover an unintended consequence of this mindlessness.

We are training our targets not to respond!

Open rates on emails are plummeting–enough so that many pundits claim email is a waste of time.  Mindless email is, well crafted emails are high impact (more later).

I’m seeing research showing the number of dials to get a single pick up is skyrocketing.  Personally, I have been trained to never pick up on a number I don’t recognize.  Particularly those that begin with +1-949-305 or +1-949-887  (Yeah, I’m not worried about publicizing those, I won’t pick up.).

But there seems to be no end to this stupid volume, velocity, activity thinking.  As response rates and pick ups , plummet, we mindlessly do the math and ratchet up the volumes, rather than taking the time to think, “Why isn’t this working?”

And there are plenty of tools enabling you to automate this stupidity.  (Regular readers will recognize this is analogous to another phrase I use, “Creating crap at the speed of light.”)

By contrast, yesterday I sat with a very high performing sales team.  We were talking about prospecting.  The top performer was sharing his approach.  Summarized:

  1. He is viciously focused.  He’s refined is ICP and the personas tremendously.  He know the organizations and people he can create the greatest value for, and doesn’t waste his time on those that aren’t a fit.
  2. He spend 60-90 minutes on each target, crafting a personalized telephone and email approach for each individual.  Notice,  I didn’t say each persona, I said individual.  He does the research on what that individual is most likely to respond to.  He doesn’t just focus on one outreach but develops a campaign for that individual.
  3. His pick up and response rates are stunning!  Where most email campaigns and power diallers report fractions of percents, he is in the mid-high double digits.
  4. Because of the focus and prep work he has done, each one of the conversations he has is more impactful, and he is able to accomplish much more in each conversation than those who haven’t done their homework.
  5. More importantly, a higher percentage of these outreaches convert to qualified opportunities (roughly 50%).
  6. Like the volume/velocity/activity crowd, he’s viciously focused on his numbers.  But he’s connected his numbers to the desired outcomes, and he constantly engineers his process to tilt the outcomes in his favor.
  7. As a result, the activity numbers he has set to achieve his goals are infinitesimal compared to the volume velocity crowd.
  8. On top of this, he has a set of technology tools to help him automate, refine, and improve his outreach.  They help him better monitor, track, and improve his performance.

We can be smart or we can be stupid.  Smart is focused, tough work, but it produces consistent, predictable results.  Stupid is…….well….just stupid!

Howard, thanks for talking me off the ledge  😉


Afterword:  New readers may think I’m a dinosaur and don’t understand the value of technology.  I may actually be a dinosaur, but I’m actually a huge fan and advocate of technology.  The only companies whose boards I sit on are tech, all but one AI.  Technology is very power and core to the future in our ability to drive deep relationships with customers.  In fairness to technology providers, most of the time it’s stupidity is not the fault of technology.  Any solution can be exploited with great value, likewise with great stupidity.  It’s how the purchasers of technology choose to exploit it.

Having said that, I take great offense with those technology providers whose messaging focuses on reinforcing stupidity, mindlessness and the “easy solution.”



From → Performance

  1. Manage behaviour, track results!

    Dave, your blogs always speak sense and this one grabbed my attention because I agree. There is a mindlessness about the sales and sales management profession. According to CSO Insights 2018, the number of reps globally hitting target has fallen from 64% in 2013 (which was not a number to be proud of) to what looks like below 50% in 2018.

    Activity is not action. Your example of the A-player rep uses his time for focused, meaningful action and his results show why that matters.

    What you measure happens. What don’t doesn’t. He measures his results. Too many managers measure lagging indicators and actually encourage unproductive behaviours

    Great post. Keep it up


  2. MICHAEL F HOTCHKISS permalink

    David, As usual, you hit the mark in my opinion. I love the new tools that tech offers us. I dislike the foolish application of volumetric goals just because you can. Bravo!

  3. It is just my impression, but it what I see is a confusion between two types of functions — broadcasting and networking.

    Broadcasting requires simple emotive messages and relies upon the mere exposure effect. So, mindless speed is a relevant factor.

    Networking is more like small individually prepared conversations. It is very hard to script a real conversation, no matter how much research.

    And there are only so many good conversations you can have in a day, probably under 7.

    (Unless of course you have the skills of a Dashiell Hammett

    A judicious mix of broadcasting/networking is what I think most should be aiming for.

    • Michael, as usual, you get me thinking. I’m struggling with the concept of “broadcasting,” at least when we focus on complex B2B. Does broadcasting even have a place in selling? The tools enable us to massively customize and tailor messages to each individual we contact. If we have that capability, and we know that customers respond to these at higher rates than drivel that’s pumped out by most marketing organizations, why wouldn’t we focus more on networking? Why would we ever do broadcasting?

    • Thanks Mike, these are interesting.

  4. Amen to everything you said, Dave!!

    Until sales leadership (and their bosses) stop insisting and grading performance on “more activity”, especially when the pipe isn’t looking that good, people will complete the required activities regardless of the quality of that activity or even if the activity is actually doing something worthwhile. You know… like driving sales opportunities. All sales leadership is doing by insisting that reps hit some arbitrary number of “send more emails and make more dials” is training behavior that goes counter to doing what needs to be done to hit quota.

    This mindless and stupid focus on asking reps to do more of what already isn’t working is not only ridiculous but one of the biggest reason’s that most companies have a CRM full of phantom sales opportunities. Garbage in/garbage out.

    You said it…I agree, Dave. There are no short-cuts. Forget the cheesy hacks. Forget the promises of 10X this or that. Stop expecting technology to sell for you. Technology enables the selling process, it doesn’t replace the actual selling that needs to happen person to person.

    Re the comment about networking versus broadcasting. Broadcasting boiler plate spam is exactly why buyers simply block, ignore and delete and make it tougher for everyone else actually trying to do it right; i.e. personalize and add actual value to a buyer’s day.

  5. Interesting,
    As someone who is getting into marketing from door-to-door selling, I am always interested in the activities to close rate for any system.
    This actually explains why some sales managers early in my career did not understand their own close rates when I asked them. They were focused on just doing the activities.
    Although I think there is psychological value for rewarding yourself for activities, if you divorce it from the sales process, then what you’re doing is accounting, not sales or marketing.

  6. Joel Lyles permalink

    I think the most tragic outcome of this is when the higher-performing reps are chained to mindless activity and are forced to slow down their velocity to do it. I know a top-performing ISR (consistently hits 200% of her quota when only about 50% of any reps in her group hit it per quarter) who wastes about 60-90 minutes a day calling crap numbers just so her activity is logged and then spends the rest of the day doing real work. She knows they won’t lead to anything, but if it shows her doing 50 dials a day then management will get off of her back.

    Also in my group, the three lowest-performing SDRs easily have the highest number of dials. Everyone else in the group isn’t even close to them. And they’re real dials, I hear them on the phone. They’re in no danger of getting fired despite being well below quota because they’re “doing what they’re told”. Meanwhile the top SDR in my group (she is doing 300% quota when, again, barely half of our reps hit it) consistently gets harangued by management for not doing enough dials and emails.

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