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DumbingThings Down Versus Radical Simplification

by David Brock on May 20th, 2013

I’m a great advocate of Radical Simplification.  Our worlds are too complex, we seem to keep piling things onto everything we’ve done in the past.   New programs, new processes, new systems, new tools, new training.  Layer upon layer accumulates, confusing sales people–what do I do?  Which strategy should I follow, do I use this approach or another?  It goes on and on……

Too often, however, in response to this complexity and all the “tools” that have been put in place to manage complexity, instead of simplification, we dumb things down.  We make it so we don’t have to think, analyze, question, respond.

We have scripts, very complex scripts, branching to handle any customer situation.  We listen only to know which branch in the script to follow–not to understand the customer.

We have playbooks, guiding us through every twist and turn of the customer buying process.

We have endless sources of content, with tools telling us which piece is best at which time, based on reactions to all other customers.

We have software systems and tools, prompting us what to do next for every customer situation we’ve anticipated.

All of it works until the customer goes off script, until they ask something, do something, or have a need that’s not covered by all our scripts, tools, or processes.  Then we are lost.  We don’t have a playbook to handle the situation, we don’t have a branch on our script that says “listen to the customer, hear what they are saying.”

From the customer point of view, there’s an emptiness.  They feel like they are being handled, rather than being engaged.  They feel like they are being managed, rather than being heard.

The magic of tools, checklists, processes and training is they free us to think better.  They help us engage, hear, and understand the customer.  They should provide a foundation  to help us adapt and respond, not be captive to the checklist.

It’s a fine line, top performers leverage these tools to help them think, analyze, connect and engage.  They use these tools to help them be better and to  improve their efficiency.

Then there are the others–those applying them blindly without thinking or engaging.  Those who use the tools as the excuse for non performance.

Which category do you fall in?  Do they help you think?  Or are they a crutch?

As a manager, are you providing these to free your people up or are you making your sales people automatons?

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  1. Dave – Excellent topic of discussion. I agree that we need to simplify things in this world that has become increasingly complex in terms of choices and technical details. However, any simplification comes at the risk of alienating those who like to tinker themselves. A great example is Apple vs. Google. Apple advocates simplifying gadgets and user interface to make it easy for an average Joe to use. However, those who are technically savvy and like to play and customize their own way will prefer Google. Which path you follow depends on what type of customers you want to attract.

    • Great point Harry, I actually will be writing more about this later this week. The definition of simplification and complexity is based on the customer. We have to design our engagement strategies to be simple for them—but this means it may be different for various customer segments.

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