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Figuring Things Out!

by David Brock on March 2nd, 2021

Sadly, the trend in developing sales people skills is toward a higher level of prescription. We provide email sequences, we script conversations and talking points. We try to formularize all the activities our sales people do with customers.

But the world is complex, what our customers face is complex, what our people face is complex. Things change constantly, each customer situation is unique–to them, at a moment in time.

We can’t possibly think of everything out people will face, scripting how they handle these situations. Yet, we continue to spoon feed them everything we think they need.

And the results they produce are declining.

  1. Joël van Beelen permalink

    ‘We provide email sequences, we script conversations and talking points.’

    These can be put in a sequence, made available via tech and thus measured. They can be scaled up or down, giving managers the illusion of control and predictability. (While often massive sales rep turnover is the most predictable outcome).

    ‘programs around problem solving, critical thinking, project management, collaborative conversations? …programs develop skills around the problems customers face and how we help them address them?…help customers learn how to figure things out?’

    These can’t be measured well the way managers prefer nor can you just upload them in a rep’s dashboard and expect results. These require sales reps to be independent thinkers, it’s hard to measure thinking. And independence is dangerous for reps because you might get evaluated on how you judged a situation. Whereas if you just followed guidance from above i.e. guidance from the software you’re looking at all day…

    Even salespeople who are in it for decades are mostly the voiceover to the product-manual during meetings is my experience. It’s comfortable and you don’t have to learn anything new. Apart from showcasing the newest features and other trinkets of course. Typically the status quo remains just that.

    Sales reps are supposed to be part of the machine, almost literally, especially in Saas companies and startups. It’s the Silicon Valley / Predictable Revenue idea: just make sure you ‘insert’ the right type of sales rep, manager and vp at the right stage at the right time.

    Expect a startup from that part of the world to be the first to claim they have succeeded in cloning sales reps.

    I’ve seen countless sales rep job posts, most seem to be copy-pasted, maybe one in fifty expresses that the company is interested in how you think vs what you did in the past and how much you ‘overachieved’ your quota (‘proven’ of course).

    What’s Marcus Cauchi’s stat again..? Perhaps 6% of sales managers can actually manage a team?

    • Joel: Thanks so much. There’s so much packed in this and Mate’s comments. As you see in my response to him, I will be diving into these issues more deeply. Thanks for the great comment.

  2. Máté Nagy permalink

    “I’ve seen countless sales rep job posts, most seem to be copy-pasted…”

    The best postings are the ones that have the wrong company name referenced in the description!

    Great article, Dave, as always! Joël, you’re spot on.

    There is a lot of interpretation to be had in building “scalable” and “repeatable” sales processes. Unfortunately, it seems the concept is being applied too literally. Such, we see a conveyor belt, machine-run, programmatic process that by definition can easily be scaled (add more capacity) and repeated. Of course, this means that every single item (buyer) on the belt is handled, treated, and looked at the same way; they are, after all, identical, and require the same set of actions to build.

    There is certainly nothing wrong with that strategy — when applied in a correct environment. Is the SaaS world the correct environment? The answer to that is in the eye of the beholder, unfortunately.

    If I could exhaust the metaphor…

    Whatever item we build and create on our conveyor belt system finishes production at the end of the line. It leaves the factory, never to return and never to be seen again. This is where, at least from my perspective, the system breaks.

    By definition, in a SaaS world, we have to earn our customers’ business year after year — do we really think they had a great experience with our process? Did we help them achieve whatever outcome they were hoping for? Did we check? Do we care? Or is churn just another metric to be game?

    Is it really sound to assume that every single buyer is exactly the same? Is it wise that they are handled, treated, and looked at the same? After all, aren’t they identical and require the same set of actions to be sold?

    Does applying this systematic process work for every single SaaS business? Is every SaaS company exactly the same? Can they all be handled, treated, and looked at the same?

    As you noted, Dave, we’re heading in the opposite direction of where we should be. Could it be because of this ‘system’ that assumes every SaaS company is the same and should use the same sales process? If we’re failing as an industry assuming we’re all the same, has anyone checked on our customers?

    If we’re failing from our own medicine…

    • Mate: Thank you! There is so much packed into both your and Joel’s comments, that all I can say is, “Yes.” I’ll actually be unpacking much of this in future posts. But one error so many have made (SaaS sales approaches are among the biggest) is to apply manufacturing types of thinking and assembly line processes to the customer engagement strategies. In doing so, they demonstrate their total lack of understanding of manufacturing thinking (most of which is traced back to the Toyota Production System developed in the 50’s.) It works in manufacturing because you strive for zero variability in the inputs and process. Since we are dealing with people, we know we have “inputs” that are and always will be infinitely variable. So one of the fundamental premises to the manufacturing approach can never be met in 100% of the sales situations we encounter.

      I’ll stop here. Thanks again.

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