Over the past few years there’s been a huge rush to “predictability” in sales and marketing. Marketing and sales automation tools strive to increase our ability to predict interest and propensity to buy. Inbound and outbound sales development reps are scripted to qualify and move prospects through a series of steps that have very predictable outcomes.
As people have broken the code to Predictable Revenue, they ramp up the volume and velocity to drive more and more. The process and metrics become very formularized. We know how to drive results just by following the formula and minimizing deviation from the formula.
We can script the processes, we can understand the critical behaviors, capabilities, attitudes for success, hiring and onboarding those that fit the mold. We can train them, provide them rigorous systems and processes—IFTTT (If This Then That). Over time we can automate much of this, reducing the scope of what we need people to do. (Particularly appealing for those of you predicting the death of sales.)
It’s a great model and works until it doesn’t.
These models work very well with relatively simple phenomena–for example, dealing with individuals as customers or single decisionmakers. They work will when we model them against sufficiently large numbers, knowing for a certain percentage of that population, they will follow a very predictable path.
But what happens in the complex sale or decisionmaking process? The tenets of predictability become much more difficult. We know CEB’s famous 5.4 decisonmakers for complex B2B decisions. Math tells us there are 10-15 communications paths just between those 5.4 people (The formula to figure this out is N*(N-1)/2).
Each one of those is talking to and influencing each other. As they learn and progress through the buying process, their needs and priorities change.
Each of them may be relying on advice from several people indirectly involved in the decisionmaking process. If we look at 3 per decisionmaker, all of a sudden the communications channels ramp up to 40-51.
Layer on this the group may be considering 3 alternatives, perhaps dealing with several people from each potential supplier.
In just a simple model of the complex decisionmaking process, we see how the number of potential communication channels skyrockets. Overlay this with rapidly shifting priorities, challenges, pressures, time compression, accelerating change, increased ambiguity and contradiction, compounded with overload and overwhelm.
This is the reality our customers face in driving change in their own businesses, and the reality sales and marketing professionals face in engaging their customers in complex business decisions.
The only thing we can say with certainty is it is predictably unpredictable.
Having painted such a dire picture, it’s tempting to throw up one’s hands or give up.
The reality is complexity is increasing in everything we do in business. Understanding, managing, and simplifying how we cope with these very complex environments is the only way our customers and we can hope to survive or even thrive.
Where do we start? Much of this will be covered in the upcoming Sales Executive Survival Guide, but here are some thoughts:
- Our predictable, high volume/velocity approaches in marketing and sales have limited utility complex environments.
- We and our customer need to develop models and frameworks to help understand the complexity, make better sense of the pieces/parts.
- We have to recognize the models aren’t perfect, but they provide a starting point from which to test ideas, engage in deeper learning, and make progress.
- No model is “forever,” they will change, morph, even be shattered. The degree to which we stick rigidly to a model, decreases our ability to respond to or exploit changes and new opportunities.
- We and our customers will have contradictory and conflicting models. There is no single right or ideal answer. Finding the best becomes meaningless, looking for what works (at least for right now and this situation) will become the future of making progress.
- Success will increasingly involve “just in time” collaborations both within our customers, in our own companies, with our customers, and with other “partners.” Teaming becomes critical in helping deal with and manage complexity.
- We and our customers will need to distinguish between the complex and complicated, between simplifying and simplistic. They are very different and require different approaches.
- It will demand new skills and capabilities from sales people. Critical thinking, problem solving, facilitation, nimbleness/agility, adaptability, continuous improvement and constant learning become critical. The ability to figure things out becomes one of the most critical skills.
- It will demand new management and leadership approaches. We can no longer prescribe what should be done. Directive approaches, classic command and control organizational hierarchies become unresponsive. Leaders will be more focused on creating the right cultures, values, attracting/retaining the right talent, providing adaptable processes/systems/tools/training. Pushing decisionmaking down into the organization becomes critical to responsiveness. Developing and empowering teams, encouraging fluidity with those teams, trusting the people on the teams and supporting their work will be where managers spend much of their time.
- Many of our traditional metrics for success will no longer be applicable. We have to determine how we track and measure progress in this complex environment. Of course, good models and frameworks help us understand what can and should be measured.
- Organizationally, leaders will have to be concerned about overload and overwhelm. Constant simplification of work, processes, communication, and how we engage our customers become the focus of top leaders.
- The degree to which we help our customers deal with and manage complexity within their own organizations becomes a critical differentiator. Helping our customers simplify, cope, and make progress will set us apart from everyone else.
- We will actually have mixed environments which require mixed strategies. Some complicated situations, problems and products can be addressed with the very structured, disciplined and predictable ways we address the markets today (Again complex and complicated are entirely different things). Some of our teams may focus on these, where others will focus on helping our customers with the complex.
I’ll be drilling down into these in the coming weeks and in the Sales Executive Survival Guide.
How are you helping your customers deal with complexity? What are the key things you are doing to deal with complexity in your own organizations?