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Driving “Volume,” Are We Letting Form Triumph Over Substance?

by David Brock on April 25th, 2018

John Gardner’s outstanding book, “EXCELLENCE,” published in 1961 has one line that has stuck with me since I read the book in college, “Do not let form triumph over substance.”

I think it’s important to reflect on this as we think about our customer engagement and our scaling strategies.

If we consider what customers are saying, customers want, in fact are hungry for substance.  They need help achieving their goals.  They want sales people who understand them, their businesses, their markets, their competition.  They want sales people who can teach them how to improve, who can challenge their thinking, who can help them figure out how to grow and achieve.

Countless surveys show customers want/expect that in sales people.  Customers search for answers, leveraging digital channels, peers, other sources.  Part of this is because of the increased availability of information resources and the ability to leverage them on demand, part of this is to fill the vacuum created by sales people not fulfilling this need.

Ironically, the majority of sales and marketing strategies are going in the opposite direction, particularly those who drink the SaaS kool aid, are are devotees of the mechanization of sales.

The mantra in too many sales and marketing organizations is about scaling and volume.

To some degree, I get it, to grow, we have to scale our efforts–we have to reach more customers, engage in more buying motions, and win more business.  That’s what businesses have been about ever since Eve set up an apple stand.

But in today’s world, volume and scale has taken a whole new dimension.

For example, not long ago, I was talking to some “experts” on Power Dialing.  They were citing statistics, “To get a couple of hundred conversations, you have to make 15,000 dials.”  The implication of this is figure out how many conversations you want and multiply the dials by 100.  (using 1% as the connect rate).

I suppose I was being impolite, but I asked, “5 years ago, what was the number of dials you had to make to get the same number of conversations?”  I noticed a lot of fidgeting, shifting eye contact, and nervousness.  I couldn’t get a specific answer, but I sensed it was significantly lower.

We see the same with emails.  Years ago, open rates and response rates were far higher than they are today, Email was an effective engagement strategy.  Today, volumes have skyrocketed, my in-box is overflowing.  Fortunately, I have filters that delete the majority of emails without me seeing them (and by the way, screw up marketing’s data because they show the email as opened–even though I’ve never seen it.)

This morning, I was astonished by a discussion thread in Modern Sales Pros.  The question was, “How do we scale handwritten notes?”  The discussion went to all sorts of technologies and solutions about how to multiply the volume by 100’s or 1000’s, all while having a “reasonable amount of personalization.”

Isn’t that exactly the opposite of the intent and power of handwritten notes?  The issue isn’t handwriting, it’s the deep personalization and the ability to connect with someone at a deeper level then we currently do.

Our marketing automation systems give us the power to segment and target our customers, delivering more relevant messages to each segment.  Yet, we don’t use that capability, even though we are paying for it.  Instead our marketing automation systems enable us to send ever increasing amounts of messages through increasing numbers of channels, to everyone.  And we buy more lists, to enable us to expand that volume even further.

We have research tools that enable us to have deep understanding of companies and individuals. yet sales people randomly dialing (or letting the power dialer connect them with someone), don’t take the time to research and think about who they are connecting with and how to best engage them.

We make it worse, by scripting everything they say, so we eliminate the necessity of having sales people that can think and figure things out.

The way we reach our numbers–our conversation objectives, our email opens, our click throughs, is simply by doing the math.  If we want to double the number of conversations, we double the number of dials.

And as we see the ratios plummet, we adjust the math, maybe we have to triple, quadruple, quintuple the number of calls, emails, messages, to double the connect/engagement rates.

The solution to every problem seems to be increasing volume, because that’s the way the math works.

But, few look at the numerator!  How do we increase the percentage of people responding to our out reach, regardless the channel?  Rather than 1% response rate on dials, how do we get 5, 10, 50 (In our company the response rate is often over 50%–so it means we have to do far fewer dials and emails to hit our numbers)?

The customers are telling us how to do this, they are crying out telling us how to do it.  Their actions and lack of response, shout volumes about how we are failing.

The answer is simple, they want substance.  They want knowledge, they want leadership, they want to be heard and to listen and learn.

Isn’t about time we paid attention to them?

Isn’t about time that we started to respond?

Some will say, we can’t afford to do this, the cost of selling is too high.  But we aren’t producing the results, and our costs are skyrocketing.  And every analysis we’ve done show that we actually have much better performance whether measured on a CPOD or CAC basis.

When are we going to start thinking about “substance” rather than form/velocity?


Afterword:  John Gardner’s book is a classic.  It’s very short, only about 162 pages.  It’s out of print, but you can find used copies at reasonable prices (I have an autographed copy of the first edition–unfortunately it’s “To Phil….”  😉  It has recently become available on Kindle.  It’s a foundational book on our society and culture, but has lessons for everything we do:  EXCELLENCE



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