When Europe emerged from the Dark Ages around the 14th century, humanity slowly crawled forward toward a new era—what we know now as the Renaissance. This was a celebrated time of enlightenment and discovery; a means of casting aside fear and superstition, not to mention the more mundane aspects of life for the pursuit of higher ideals. When thinking of this period, artists like Michelangelo, writers like Shakespeare, philosophers like Sir Francis Bacon, and inventors such as Leonardo da Vinci often come to mind.
But beyond art, literature, and philosophy, there came a great awakening in the world of science. The reliance on beliefs that humankind was at the mercy of supernatural powers that toyed with our lives—creating events like earthquakes, meteor showers, physical ailments, and mental illness—was replaced by more closely examining the natural world and the creation of the scientific method. Great minds like Galileo relied on hypotheses, conducting experiments, testing results, measuring data, then proving a theory… or not. Other scientists like Sir Isaac Newton made the process better, more streamlined, more thorough.
Today, a scientific approach can mean the difference between success and failure in business. Data analysts measure everything from stock performance to real estate markets to fuel costs for suppliers to waste ratios. When it really matters, the best and brightest companies lean on science to succeed.
So why is the sales industry still emerging from the dark ages?
STUCK IN THE PAST
How many sales leaders and managers are interviewing sales talent and relying on a “gut feeling”? How many are leaning on simple stats like “years as a salesperson” or “monetary value of deals closed each year”? While these are important statistics to consider, isn’t consistency more critical? Isn’t a high average of setting more appointments and the percentage of getting to the second meeting with a prospect a better indicator of follow-through and sales effectiveness?
Savvy sales leaders could learn a lesson or two from the book or film Moneyball. If you’re not familiar with the story, it basically covers the season in the not too distant past where the Oakland A’s—a baseball franchise that lacked the resources to recruit expensive talent—relied on the lesser-appreciated statistics in player performance to build a winning team.
As advanced data analytics were applied to baseball, the ability to get on base (on-base average) highly correlated to successful performance. With the success of the A’s, the industry took notice and baseball crawled out of the Dark Ages. Scouting departments of professional baseball organizations now rely less on gut feel and apply a data-driven approach to identify players to whom they wish to offer contracts.
SCIENCE IS THE FUTURE
Recruiting strategies can just as easily leverage data in a similar manner when hiring candidates for sales positions. Too often in sales, we see leaders and managers relying on gut feelings about a candidate. The interviewee had a winning smile, the gift of gab, a firm handshake. These sales leaders might as well study their tea leaves or host a tarot card reading, because handshakes and smiles do not an effective salesperson make.
And like baseball, oftentimes the sales managers who did use data measured the wrong data. A personality assessment might give an indication of how outgoing the applicant is or provide a window into their competitiveness. But how in the world does that give any insight into their close rate or the viability of their prospecting cadence?
And like in baseball, sales talent has to be developed. A science-based approach to training and coaching are key drivers of highly effective organizations. The statistics guru, Peter Brand, in the Moneyball film said it best:
“There is an epidemic failure within the game to understand what is really happening. And this leads people who run Major League Baseball teams to misjudge their players and mismanage their teams.”
Replace “Major League Baseball” with sales teams and my point is clear. Our industry needs to emerge from the dark ages. Sales leaders and managers need to start tracking patterns that predict success.
Success in sales begins with talent—from recruiting and hiring to aligning and coaching. The best sales leaders realize that although the “gut feeling” of recruiting talent will always be around, nothing competes with science.
President/CEO of Tyson Group, #1 WSJ and USA Today bestselling author, expert sales negotiator and consultant for the world’s biggest brands