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Thinking Is Mandatory

by David Brock on May 15th, 2014

I talk to all sorts of sales people and sometimes notice an “impatience.”  When I ask, I get responses like:

“Would you just give us the formula to  [insert whatever you want–prospect, get meetings with execs, close, handle this/that objection, fill my pipeline…..]?”

“What’s the script?”

“If I just had a killer pitch!”

They seem to want the answer to universal sales success.   They want a formula or recipe for success.  As if I could say, “Take a cup of this, a pint of that, a pinch or this, 2 tablespoons of something else, stir well, and bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees.”

Too often, they aren’t seeking to understand, but they simply want the answers, “Do this, then that……”  Many times, they think it’s like the tests they may have taken in school, they are asking for the “right answer.”

A lot of what I see going on in the sales training, tools, and sales enablement community, perhaps inadvertently, seems to reinforce the notion there is a magic formula.  We talk about playbooks, battlecards, we use checklists, templates we fill in the blanks, pitch decks, content scoring, and all sorts of other things (I’m as guilty in many of these areas as others).  We standardize the approach, train, rehearse, train again until everyone can give “The Pitch.”  I’ve seen scripted discussions, elegantly flow charted, covering every possible response a customer might give you (except for the one they actually give you), so that all the person does is blindly follow the chart.

In our quest to simplify, standardize, make more effective, make more efficient, we have had the unintended effect of removing thinking, analyzing, and just plain “figuring it out.” from the skill set of too many sales people.  In our attempts to provide automated tools to help the sales person, we are actually automating the sales person.  Just wind them up, point them in the right direction, turn them loose.

In the end, we forget, that for sales success, thinking is mandatory!

The ability to listen, probe, understand, analyze, then figure out a response–in microseconds.  The ability to set a goal to close a deal in 12 months, visualize the path to achieving it, executing it, adapting it as obstacles appear.  The ability to deal, simultaneously, with ambiguity and paradox, and to develop a plan of action.  All these things are critical for sales success, all require the ability to think and reason.

It’s amazing to look at the sales training programs organizations put in place, not to find any programs on critical thinking, problem solving, or analysis.

It’s amazing as you look at the most heavily weighted competencies in recruiting sales people, closing skills, objection handling, prospecting, presentation and other skills often are more important than critical thinking or problem solving.

People come to me for answers about how to handle specific situations.  My answer is always the same, “It depends…..”  In truth, there are no right answers or many right answers — depending on your point of view.

It’s up to the sales person to sort through all of this and figure out, “what’s the right answer for me in this situation?”

If you want to be successful in engaging your customers.  If you want to be successful in selling.  If you want to be successful in virtually anything; thinking is mandatory.

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  1. The desire to have a reply to every possible response is what turned the NCR sales manual from 25 pages to over 400.

    • Great comment Michael! It seems too many organizations don’t really want their sales people to think!

  2. Natalie Brown permalink

    Brilliant post Dave!
    So many companies want to distill it all to a script. Perhaps to make the sales team more efficient. I think that is the intent. Sometimes it is to be able to hire low cost inexperienced sales people and “save money”. But I think those organizations are in the minority. I like Michael’s comment about the blooming sales manual. So many good intentions turn into disastrous regulations because the people implementing and executing forget to think and ask along the way does this make sense?

    • Natalie, always great to see you here! Yes, so much of it seems to be common sense—yet it isn’t so common.

  3. Ray permalink

    Very often as well, companies want consistency from one rep to another. And for that, you need a script. However some companies take it too far that not only the greeting is a script, but the entire sales pitch as well..

  4. Doug Schmdit permalink

    Dave, great post again on the ability to think. Interesting to point out that there are no easy answers in sales/marketing. Thinking both dynamically and with agility are attributes we need to encourage in all sales people. A great resource I like to reference is the book Smart Thinking by Dr. Art Markman. Dr. Markman encourages a culture of “Smart Thinking” in today’s company’s cultures and maps out “Smart Habits” to develop “Smart Thinking”.

  5. I so agree. I’m in the trenches right now for a client and there is no question that selling requires deep thought – and a lot of research. That’s what our customers are doing; the least we can do, when they finally raise their hands, is to join them in their thinking process! Thanks Dave.

    Kristin Z

    • Thanks for adding to the discussion Kristin. I think it’s something managers really need to reassess–both in hiring and training. Developing critical thinking/problem solving skills is critical–particularly if we are going to engage customers with Insight/Challenging. Thanks again for commenting!

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