Our lives are dominated by patterns–some of them are habits. Patterns are the results of things we do or that are happening around us. For example, there may be certain things we do in certain circumstances, with certain people that create an outcome or result. Every time those things coincide in time, similar results happen. They could be great results, they could be bad results.
Patterns are a part of everything we do, though we may not be conscious of them. Sometimes we talk about patterns as habits–good or bad. When we do certain things, they produce certain results. Great sales people recognize patterns that help improve their results. When they prospect, they recognize the patterns from the past: The types of individuals, the types of companies, the types of issues they may be facing, the way they should be contacted, what to talk about. They know what’s been successful in the past, they know what hasn’t worked. They try to optimize their success focusing on the positive patterns and avoiding the negative patterns.
A sales process is a type of pattern. It’s based on our individual or organization’s past successes and failure in selling. In the sales process, we try to identify all the things that help improve our success in selling, we also try to eliminate those things that are not effective or hurt us.
When we fail to recognize patterns, we are at our least productive. We act aimlessly, wasting time and resources, not paying attention to what we are doing and the results they produce. It’s important to recognize patterns and to leverage them. If you’re struggling with something–maybe it’s prospecting, maybe it’s connecting with your customers, maybe it’s closing; take some time to reflect on what you are doing and what you’ve done in the past. Keep it simple, for example, if you want to improve your prospecting:
1. Look back over the past 12-18 months, identify the things that caused you to be successful. It may be the actions you took. It could be the types of customers you targeted, it may be when you sought to reach them, or the means by which you did it. Make a list of the 5 things you did that caused you to be successful and the 5 characteristics of the customers you were most successful with. If there was anything else (up to a maximum of 5), identify those.
2. Look back over the same period of time, do the same thing about what didn’t work. You’ll have a list of up to 15 things that caused you to be ineffective.
3. As you look to the future, use these two lists as your guide—the things that make you successful and the things that you should avoid.
You should notice a very positive impact on your success. If you want to turn the crank on this, extending this even more, sit down with your colleagues, maybe it’s the sales people on your team. If you are a manager, do this with your people. Brainstorm the items above, choose the 15 criteria that contribute to the team’s success, and the 15 criteria that are time wasters. Now you leverage the experience and the power of the whole group to maximize the success each of you may have.
Do this in each area where you want to improve your results. Maybe it’s prospecting, maybe it’s qualifying, it might be making high impact sales calls, it might be some aspect of or the entire sales process. You can apply this to things like objection handling, or even building winning proposals. Make a simple two column checklist of not more than 15 items each–things that work, things to avoid. Use these to help guide what you do.
If you are a sales manager or executive, you can leverage this concept of pattern recognition tremendously. There are analytic tools that help you understand patterns with your customers, your people and organizations. The core of a lot of the business intelligence and analytic tools is to recognize these patterns and to help predict areas, situations, or customers you might be most successful with. Analytic to0ls like these help identify customers that may be more likely to buy now, rather than later, even what they might be likely to buy. They can identify customers that are likely to defect. They can help you identify how to improve the performance of your sales people.
There are lots of organizations with really cool tools coming to the market. Many of these are the tools provided by the marketing analytics companies. There are some focused primarily on sales. Watch for these, look at how you might incorporate them into improving the effectiveness of your teams. A couple that I’ve seen recently that have interesting approaches are Lattice-Engines and Foretuit. Most of the CRM tools include some level of analytics, look at those capabilities.
If you aren’t leveraging patterns, if you aren’t leveraging analytics of some sort, then you’re probably not being as effective as you can be.