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Moving From Selling As An Art To Selling As A Science

by David Brock on December 21st, 2017

We seem to be approaching or passing the tipping point where leading sales practitioners view successful selling as a disciplined, focused, engineered approach to engaging and creating value for customers.  Stated differently, moving more toward selling as a science.

I hope the days of the sales person being the most gregarious person, always quick with a joke or story, slapping people on the back, are long past.  I hope we no longer live by the mantra, “When the going gets tough, the tough take a customer to lunch/golf.”

But, as with many swings of the pendulum, I worry that the implementation of selling as a science often goes too far, losing people, relationships, and humanity, in the process.

We see too many signs of mechanization, losing the person, treating customers as widgets to move through our highly efficient selling process assembly lines.  We lose sight of the dreams, fears, hopes, aspirations that people whom make buying decisions have.  We’ve focused more on the mechanics and less on the people.

As I thought how best to make the argument of not forgetting the humanity side of selling as a science, I realized what better way to prove this than through the work of our most famous scientists and engineers.  As you really dive into the work of people like Niels Bohr, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Richard Feynman, and others, you find it is deeply people centric and humanity driven.  The reasons underlying their work and their drive to discover wasn’t to come up with cold scientific formulas, but to help understand who we are, why we are here, what is the meaning to our lives.

Too often, we look at the results of their work, we see an equation like E=MC(2).  We think of cold, hard, deterministic equations, where really they are the results of great thinkers trying to put meaning to the things that surround us.

All you have to do is read some of their essays and work to understand how important humanity and people were to their research.

Bohr’s, “On Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge” is a series of brilliant essays about this link.

Feynman’s, “Surely, You’re Joking….” is a remarkable story about his work on himself and what makes us human.

Einstein published dozens of essays, but look at “Out of My Later Years: The Scientist, Philosopher, and Man Portrayed Through His Own Words” or Isaacson’s biography on him.

Leonardo da Vinci’s scientific investigations was driven by his curiosity on phenomena and their impact on people.  Read Isaacson’s bio on him.

Even things as basic as Heisenberg’s work show us that things are not completely deterministic, and the we impact and interact with the science, impacting the results.

Yes, science is disciplined, process oriented, fact based, data driven, analytic, logical.  Yes, all scientific theories are tested by their repeatability and predictability in producing the same results every  time we apply the same inputs.  But to really understand science, we have to look underneath the formulas and data to what science really is and does.

The scientific literature is filled with people, relationship centric, humanistic views underlying all our major discoveries.

Many have written about the mechanization of sales, focusing more on the mechanization, losing people in the process.  Advocates of these approaches view people as widgets to be moved through the process.  Yet when you study the Toyota Production Process–which underlies all modern manufacturing processes, you find it’s core principles are built around people and continuous learning. (Send me an email for my eBook on applying the Toyota Production Process to selling).

The problem I see with much of the effort around the Science of Selling, is they are driven by people that don’t understand Science.  They think science is not about people, who we are, what drives, us, how we work, why we achieve.  They think relationships aren’t important.  They focus on the actions, but not the underlying meaning.

We learn these things when we really understand science.  Perhaps in understanding what great science is, we can develop a more meaningful understanding of what it means to more impactfully look at Selling As A Science.

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  1. Martin Schmalenbach permalink

    Interesting… I hadn’t thought about this for some time, though we do often talk about the science AND the art of selling within my group, as we actively seek to use both.

    For example, as you know our sales team are engineers – very logical people, rooted in the physical sciences. They appreciate structure and process, and they like to understand more beyond the ‘what and the how’ – they want ti understand the ‘why’ too – why are they better off bringing too much tension in to a conversation rather than too little at the start – what’s the neuroscience, where’s the evidence etc – all great challenges.

    AND – sometimes these challenges are framed around a desire for understanding but can actually be a coded pushback – “I’m not doing no stinking new selling trickery – I’ve been great for 20 years, no need to change” – and they’re looking for the 1 outlier data point to prove the validity of their tacit rejection!

    However, the vast majority are genuinely interested.

    We believed, and our experience is in line with this, that by having some(!) focus on the science aspect, we create the environment and space that enables the sales person to bring much more of the humanity and art in to the interaction with the client.

    You know Dave from the time you spent with us at one of our boot camps that we have a big focus on the “2 way conversation” with the client. Conversation is, moment to moment, an art… but the science can help you with the preparation, the ‘after action review’ and also give you some options and possibilities in the midst of the conversation itself, for you never know where the client might really take the conversation – other than to somewhere that is important to them…

    Too much art, and you run the risk of being ill-prepared, even irrelevant.
    Too much science and you just don’t connect at the emotional level, and as recent advances in neuroscientific knowledge suggest, human decision making is ALL emotion, and logic is used to rationalise it after the fact.

    You need a balance, and perhaps on occasion, but only on occasion, a touch of the Jackson Pollock!!

    Merry Christmas.



    • Martin: Thanks for the great comment. In reality, we find “art” and “science” in everything we do. I could re-write this post from the point of view of great artists and we could explore the discipline, structure, process, rigor that is involved in the “creative” process. And there is great creativity/art in science.

      Largely, I think the people that focus on sales as a Science OR Art discussion, actually don’t know much about either. Instead, I think they are applying labels in rather naive manner.

      Stated differently, there was a method to Jackson Pollock’s madness 😉

      Two days in a row…….. We must jump on the phone 😉 Happy Holidays! Dave

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