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Why We Need the Science of Sales Development

Posted by Carole Mahoney on 3/13/17 1:22 PM

One of the problems with sales today

I had read Dan Tyre’s article on the HubSpot blog, “6 Phrases Sales Managers Use That Always Backfire”. The article and some of the comments highlighted what I see as one of the major problems happening with inside sales today.

As I said in my comment on the post, a lot of the phrases commonly said by sales managers undermine the development of sales teams who can think critically with the buyer. It is just one example of how companies create their own sales problems. Problems like salespeople being emotionally involved in the outcome of the conversation and getting pushy and aggressive with buyers. It's toxic to scalable growth. It goes completely against the science of how people buy and how to develop salespeople.

There are plenty of studies and research that talk about how nearly 80% of skills are lost in the first week after training. Or the nearly 50% or more of salespeople who don’t make quota. And even though research shows that coaching 3 hours or more a month leads to 17% over quota attainment, few do it. It’s too time consuming, it’s too fluffy and intrinsic, it’s hard to measure ROI, it's hard to find someone who can do it...

It is one of the reasons that over the past few years I have been researching the behavioral, psychological, and educational sciences and applying them to the development of salespeople. How do you make it scalable, repeatable, and most importantly teachable inside a company?

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Late last year, Mark Roberge and I had a conversation about the science of how people buy and how that impacts the development of salespeople. He recommended I read David Hoffeld’s book “The Science of Selling” and I have been telling nearly everyone I talk to since then that they need to read it too.

Last week I spoke with David- it was only supposed to be a 30 minute call, but 90 minutes later we both kept thinking of research to share and questions to ask one another. When he shared with me that he spent a decade researching one thousand studies, I had to stop and think about the number of studies I had read and realized- this is a much bigger job than any one or two should have to handle.

And we both wondered-how do we get the sales community around this? How can we share and collaborate on research to bring us into the renaissance of sales before we become obsolete?

It’s Not Entirely the Fault of the Sales Manager

Unfortunately, sales managers are being put between a rock and a hard place, just as the salespeople are. They are told things like, “Sales managers should manage sales, not people,” and “A players won’t work for B managers.” I don’t know of any managers that want to be a B manager, or not have a team of A players, do you? But they manage the way they were managed, they are pulled into too many directions with unrealistic expectations, and they don’t typically get the training and coaching they need to know how to develop their salespeople and be the A manager they need. But the ones I talk to want to.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve talked one to one with several sales leaders tasked with developing and managing sales people to put the research and experiences over the past few years into present day context. Here are a few of the challenges they shared:

  • Motivating reps- especially seasoned reps and millennial's. How do we uncover what drives them to learn and improve?
  • Who can improve now? Where is my time best spent? One leader had 35 reps he needed to train and coach. And while he had a good format and process to do so, how does he decide where to spend the time and on what with which reps?
  • How do we improve customer success and reduce churn during the sales process? One manager had a rep that could be tied to the majority of customer success and churn issues, but even though he knew what was happening, he didn’t know why or what could be done about it. It seemed like they were following the same process as everyone else...
  • Getting the fundamentals to stick, how do we get them to learn how to qualify better, manage their time, be proactive with buyers, and do it faster?

We need the science of sales development to effectively and efficiently manage and improve performance to predictably grow revenue. According to a HBR article The New Science of sales Force Productivity, "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%.’

For startup or small companies looking to scale and who need customer success metrics, it doesn’t have to be a matter of trial and error, or educated guesswork. For sales managers who want to learn how to best develop self-sufficient sales rock stars, it doesn’t mean they are left on their own to figure it out. And for salespeople who are driven to do what is right for the buyer, they no longer have to fight against their company’s sales process and policies to do so.

In order to have sales be recognized as the noble and world changing profession that I believe it is, it’s time to look to what data and science tells us and come to consensus about how best to teach sales and develop salespeople.

I have shared my preliminary research and applied science here on The Sales Experts Channel. You can also read more about the science of sales development in these posts:

I will continue to write about what we and others have learned. If you are a sales professional, I encourage you to do the same in the comments below.

Topics: sales coaching, sales training, sales science