The military strategist Clausewitz described the fog of war as friction. For Clausewitz, war was different in practice than on paper. You can have a strategy, a plan, and well-rehearsed tactics, but as soon as you come into contact with the enemy, there are so many variables that much of your best laid plans go out the window. The opposing force is pursuing its own outcomes, outcomes diametrically opposed to yours.
Your prospective client isn’t your enemy (and you should never think of them as such). And you never engage with your competitors in anything that resembles the kind of direct conflict that defines a military competitor (you’re both competing to win hearts and minds, you do this without ever engaging with each other as “enemies.”).
But the metaphor still works. In sales, there is friction.
Friction Inside Your Client’s Company
You encounter friction within your client’s company. The status quo (and it’s many defenders) produce friction by opposing change. The stakeholders that prefer a different solution or a different provider produce friction by opposing your efforts.
Sometimes you encounter friction when another project pops up and takes precedence over a deal you’ve been working on. Or maybe the stakeholder that was sponsoring your initiative leaves the company, a loss that sinks your project (or at least sets it back).
Your competitors also produce friction. They create value in a way that is different from the way you create value. The attractive parts of the value they create can cause your client to change their minds about what they want. It can also make them prefer something different, something you don’t offer.
Your competitor’s pricing model can produce all kinds of friction, especially when you have very different business models.
Your competitors are good at what they do, too; they are also winning hearts and minds–maybe some of the very hearts and minds that you need. This is another list that could continue on for pages.
Dealing with Friction
Friction is inevitable. To combat friction, you need to follow the rules of this disruptive age.
As a salesperson, you need to develop yourself so that you are better prepared to deal with friction. You need to observe what’s happening, orient yourself, decide what you need to do, and act (The OODA Loop). You need to think about what needs to change in order for you to win. You also need to study your wins and your losses so that you can duplicate what works and eliminate what doesn’t.
As a sales leader, you need to spend your time preparing your sales force to think for themselves, to exercise their initiative, and to be resourceful. Effectively dealing with friction requires creative solutions. Mostly it requires creative solutions on the spot. A lot of the answers aren’t going to be found within the confines of your sales process (although the creative solutions should be captured and codified so they can be shared).
What are the challenges that occur as you pursue an opportunity where your sales strategy and sales process provide no guidance?
How do you deal with obstacles to an opportunity when you’ve never before experienced that obstacle?
How do you prepare for problems, challenges, and opportunities that haven’t yet occurred?
How do you lead people in a way that allows them to successfully deal with new, unique, and difficult obstacles?