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The Science of Sales Development- Part 1

Posted by Carole Mahoney on 3/15/17 7:59 AM

I have been talking a lot about the book ‘The Science of Selling’ lately because it begins to tell us- according to objective science- how buyers buy and the behaviors needed by salespeople to align to that.

It’s about time that sales leaders and experts turned to proven science. Rather than the bias of our own individual experience and success, proven science is a concept that has been verified through vigorous, scholarly research. It has been tested and verified through multiple sources. It goes through a peer review.

Behavioral scientist David G. Myers wrote, “A scientific theory explains through an integrated set of principles that organizes observations and predicts behaviors or events.” Scientists do not debate core scientific principles. (Cold calling is dead! Social selling is a scam! Sound familiar?) Is it any wonder why sales leaders and salespeople are confused and overwhelmed? How can they possibly know what is real, tested, and true? There needs to be a consensus as to what is known (according to science) and what is not known.

And while science answers many things, it raises even more questions in my mind. Now that we know what we should be doing, the next question is- will we do it and how well? How does our own psychology play into this formula? Can we truly change our own psychology?

And given this science-how does training and coaching need to change and work together? How can we help leaders develop their people and how can salespeople quickly adapt and change- not just once but continuously? And not just according to the latest fad, tech, methodology, or an expert’s “special sauce” but according to scientific principles?

“Companies that use a scientific approach to sales force effectiveness have found that reps in the lower quartiles show dramatic improvement, with productivity jumps of 200%.” ~ HBR “The New Science of Sales Force Productivity.”

What does the science of sales development tell us?

After reading, highlighting, and adding my sticky notes to David Hoffeld’s book, I was inspired to share what I have found in my research. How else can we start to gain consensus as an industry if we don’t share what we have found? How can we begin to set and raise the standard of sales training and coaching if we are still debating the strategy, tactics, and outcomes? How can we use science and apply it to proactively develop salespeople? (rather than reacting to a poor result that has already happened…)

Over the next few weeks I will be sharing what I have found through science and tested with the salespeople we have worked with.

Here we go.

Goal setting

The majority of sales managers, VPs, and CROs that I talk to wish they had motivated salespeople who were ‘hungry’. (This comes up a lot when we talk about millennial's) . Almost every salesperson or entrepreneur we assess does not have either a written goal, plan, or deadline. According to Dave Kurlan, 83% of the hundreds of thousands of salespeople that have taken his assessment don’t either.

We’ve all had a case of procrastination. According to Timothy Pychyl, Ph.D, an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University, there are several factors that influence goal setting, motivation, and procrastination.

There is a real cost in time and resources to make a goal and commit to reaching it. It’s work, and you know it. Maybe what you want, the goal, isn’t worth all that? Sometimes the things we think we want, we really don’t.

Most sales leaders believe that money motivates salespeople, but does it? A meta-analysis by Tim Judge and his colleagues of 120 years of research synthesized the findings from 92 quantitative studies. What they found is that the association between salary and job satisfaction is very weak. The results show that there is less than 2% overlap between pay and job satisfaction levels.

Intrinsic motivation is a stronger predictor of job performance than extrinsic motivation. The more people focus on money, the less they focus on satisfying their curiosity, learning new skills, or having fun, and those are the very things that make people perform best.

These findings align with what we have seen with the salespeople who have come to us for 1-1 training and coaching- they are intrinsically motivated. However, that doesn’t make goal setting any less important.

Gail Matthews at the Dominican University did a study of 149 participants who were randomly placed into 5 groups and asked to rate their goals based on “Difficulty, Importance, the extent to which they had the Skills & Resources to accomplish the goal, their Commitment and Motivation to the goal, whether or not they had Pursued this goal before and if so their Prior Success.”

Each group was asked to do their goal setting differently.

Group 1- needed to only think about their goals.

Group 2- needed to think about and write their goals.

Group 3- needed to think about, write, and create action commitments.

Group 4- needed to think about, write, create action commitments, and share it with a supportive person.

Group 5- needed to think about, write, create action commitments, share it with a supportive person, and make weekly reports to that person.

Would you be surprised if I told you that those in group 5 accomplished significantly more than any other group? Or that groups 2-5 did significantly better than those in group 1?

How could you incorporate these scientific findings into your sales development program? Make goal setting (as described above) part of the interview and on-boarding process. Do it regularly with your teams. Align your salesperson’s ‘why’ with your company’s and the issue of driven and motivated salespeople won’t be a complaint by sales managers. 

For more on the science of sales development, including how beliefs (mindsets) impact sales behaviors and what to do about them, listen to the on-demand session "Mindset Matters" on the Sales Experts Channel.

Topics: sales coaching, sales development, sales training, sales science