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On Science and Sales

When something is a science it comports with the scientific method. This means that you can prove that something is always true and, no matter how many times you try, you can’t prove it false. Gravity is a good example of something scientific. If you drop something, it falls towards earth with a Newtonian precision and certainty. You can never drop something and have it not fall towards Earth.

Just because you are measuring something doesn’t make it scientific. You can survey sales managers, sales people, and buyers, and you can capture some interesting and useful insights, but this isn’t science and the information shouldn’t be treated like it is. I use one cup of spinach, one cup of frozen berries, and two level scoops of Iso-Pure protein powder in the smoothie I make each morning. I measure carefully, but I am not doing science; I’m just making breakfast.

Why isn’t the kind of research you read on sales, selling, and business scientific proof? Why do we have conflicting views on what works and what doesn’t work?

One, because nothing that we capture is always true and often proven to be false. Gravity will never be proven to be false (unless you want to get into a discussion about mass traveling at the speed of light).

Two, we are dealing with human beings and human psychology. Human interests and motivations are unpredictable.

Gravity doesn’t ever have low blood sugar, it isn’t under stress at home, it doesn’t have financial problems, it isn’t concerned about its teenage daughter driving, it doesn’t fret that Jones might get the promotion it wants, and it doesn’t continually change it’s mind because it’s afraid of making the wrong decision and embarrassing itself. Gravity doesn’t have mood swings.

Gravity doesn’t prefer salespeople it knows, likes, and trusts over salespeople it doesn’t know. Gravity doesn’t play politics. Gravity doesn’t have personality conflicts, and it isn’t easily swayed by someone with excellent rapport-building skills. It doesn’t have preferences, motivations, and a history of experiences upon which it is drawing.

Gravity doesn’t like big companies over small companies, it doesn’t care about price, it hasn’t been lied to in the past, and it doesn’t care one way or another about the difference between price and cost.

All of the factors are sometimes true about your buyers. And they’re sometimes true about salespeople, too. Gravity doesn’t forget to prepare. It doesn’t stick its foot in its mouth in a big important meeting and blow a deal.

But this doesn’t mean that information and research isn’t valuable or that it doesn’t prove useful. To the contrary, what we capture are patterns and generalizations that are worth observing and worth our attention.

Right now, for example, you’re being told that the research tells you to lead with insight to challenge your clients. This is a sometimes useful pattern. It’s worth knowing when this approach is useful. It’s useful for developing latent dissatisfaction. It’s also useful for creating value after you’ve won a client to prevent becoming the status quo and exposing yourself to a competitive displacement. But it isn’t always useful, nor is it always the right approach.

Your also being told to expect that your buyers are 67% into their buying process before you ever speak with them. This is probably a useful generalization for sales organizations that sell B2C, but it is often proven false in B2B sales where buyers don’t even have a process they repeat (outside of purchasing, maybe). I have started touting the made up statistic that buyers are now 117% through their buying process before they engage you. The generalization is that buyers now have access to more basic information. Because this is generally true, you need to create a higher level of value to be useful as a salesperson.

So what should you do with the research you read that pretends towards science? You should read it. You should spend time thinking about it. You should talk with other smart people about the patterns and generalizations it represents. And then you should play with it and see where and when it is useful.

There is a certain confidence that comes with knowing something is true with an absolute scientific certainty. But in sales and business, especially in this Disruptive Age, you are better off being skeptical, being agnostic, being open to new ideas, and learning the patterns so you know when they are useful and when they are not.


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Filed under: Psychology, Sales 3.0, Sales Leadership, The Disruptive Age

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