I recently read a LinkedIn post, one of the statements was, “Sales are math.” For a moment I scratched my head, then I realized the author was absolutely correct. The noun form of the word, Sales, is about accounting for a transaction. When I was EVP of Sales, every day I would call my sales ops VP, asking her, “What did we book in sales today?” She would provide the total of POs we had gotten. She might say something like, “Dave, we got 12 POs in the US, totalling $2.75 M, EMEA had 15 @ $2.2M, and APAC had 8 @ $750K.” As a result, I knew what we had achieved in orders or sales.
If you are in retail, every day you close out the register looking at total receipts or sales. At the end of each month we record what we get in total sales. We sometimes need to distinguish between sales and revenue–if we don’t immediately get paid for a sale, the revenue will follow based on payment terms. So sales, sometimes called orders, may precede revenue.
But “Selling” is different. The verb form of the word is the set of activities that, when successfully executed, culminate in a Sale.
The problem is, too often we don’t understand the distinction. We think of selling as a math equation–to hit a goal we have to simply do more. If we want to double sales, we have to double selling—which, often is the wrong answer.
What is selling?
There are, possibly, a lot of answers to this question. But, to me, selling is all about helping a customer recognize they may have an opportunity to change, improve, grow. Once they have committed to the change, it is helping them learn all about the issues, the impact on the organization, and establish a goal for what they want to achieve and when. It involves understanding and defining the issues, helping them agree on the problem, assemble the buying team, learn about the problem, understand what others are doing, understand alternatives for addressing the problem. It is helping them navigate the buying process, keeping team members aligned, building the case for change, making a decision, gaining agreement and approval for that decision, then moving into implementation.
Selling is a set of collaborative activities and learning we do with people who are buying. It is the process of helping customer manage change. In executing this process, we need to create value in every interaction. When we and the customer successfully navigate the process, hopefully, they make a decision for us, resulting in a sale.
For sellers, if we are not helping our customers navigate their buying process successfully, we will not make a sale. But we have to make sure we are engaging enough customers and pursuing sufficient opportunities to achieve our sales goals. The math on selling is not straightforward, like the math on sales.
Sellers can make a huge number of choices that influence the math. Things like focusing on the right customers, their ICP, tightening the disqualification criteria, how they execute the process. Commonly we look at things like average deal value, win rate, sales cycle as part of the math sellers use. As they consider their sales goal, they can look at chasing higher value deals, increasing their win rate, reducing their sales cycle. There are other things that impact seller math, leveraging channels/partners, leveraging experts. A key part of the math is reducing customer no decision made–building buyer confidence, helping them make sense, personally and as a group of what they face.
Sellers, also, have another set of choices on the math of selling. How do they find the right opportunities, how, where, how many prospects to we have to engage? Again, this is not a deterministic number, there are a lot of variables the seller has to consider to find the right number of opportunities–and of course the right number of opportunities depends on things like goals, win rates, deal size, etc.
The math of selling is never predictable. Each situation, each individual, each opportunity is different. And it changes over time. Some of the variables in selling are manageable by sellers, some of the things are totally in control, though not necessarily understood, by buyers.
And, at least to me, managing these complex equations is both the challenge and fun of selling. Successful sellers are constantly assessing these variables, learning what they can do to help drive the process, shifting the odds in their favor.
Selling well, enables us to do the math of Sales.