How Variability in Your Inputs Creates Variability in Your Sales Results

The Gist:

  • Different salespeople have different character traits, competencies, and vulnerabilities.
  • Variability in your inputs drives variability in your sales results.
  • A critical input with enormous variability is their approach to consultative sales.

The craft of selling is different than a lot of other roles you find in business. One of the differences is the large variability of inputs, whether from an individual salesperson or their approach to creating and winning new opportunities. Were you to look at, say, the accounting department, you would see a lot less variability between two bookkeepers (hopefully the numbers add up, regardless of who is doing the books).

The variability of these inputs account for the variability of outcomes, even when multiple salespeople sell the same solution, for the same company, and to the same types of clients in very similar territories—all sharing the same manager, the same pricing, and competing against the same competitors.

To put up the best possible results, sales leaders need to work on reducing the variability in their team’s inputs. An individual contributor who recognizes that they are lagging behind others on their team might identify and try to adopt the best performers’ practices, at least in terms of their tangible skills and approaches.

A group of salespeople with variability in their competency at different layers

Variability in Competencies

All things being equal, all things are unequal. Imagine a salesperson who is capable of making very few calls but still produces the number of meetings they need to successfully reach their goals. This salesperson has a very high competency in cold calling. Another salesperson might spend many hours making outbound phone calls without being able to schedule a meeting. Both reps are good and talented people, but one of them lacks a competency that the other has mastered.

One salesperson may be incredibly well-developed in asking for and gaining commitments. What they do looks like magic, acquiring the client’s commitment to take the next step without any real resistance. This salesperson has developed a competency, perhaps through training and certainly through disciplined practice. Another salesperson in the same company finds it painfully difficult to “control the process,” struggling to help their clients engage in all the conversations necessary to making a good decision and improving their results. Both prospecting and commitment-gaining are skills, even though there are underlying character traits that enrich or impoverish each skill.

One salesperson in a consultative sales role is supremely confident, a factor that builds their clients’ trust because it is clear they have the experience and the conviction to recommend what the client should do to improve their results. This salesperson looks and feels a like a peer to each client’s leadership team. Rather than being conflict-averse, they are incredibly diplomatic, making the tough conversations look easier than they might be for another salesperson.

Another salesperson may lack that same level of confidence, reducing clients’ willingness to accept their recommendations—even when they make the same recommendation as their more confident peer. The nature of sales seems to surface the need for a couple dozen character traits—things like resourcefulness, persistence, and a positive attitude—to complement any technical abilities.

A group of sales people where the successful sales person reduces the variability in the sales approach

Variability in the Sales Approach

For sure, the sales conversation is nonlinear, so agility is vital to improving your sales results, especially in a world of constant, accelerating, disruptive change. That said, your sales approach increasingly influences more of your sales output.

Imagine the salesperson as one input and their approach as another. Two salespeople might have different attributes and skills, and they may also have two very different approaches to the sales conversation.

A salesperson may score very high on a competency model that tracks the character traits and skills they need to be successful, but may also prefer a legacy approach to sales, treating what is a complex and strategic client decision as little more than a transaction. The salesperson’s preferred approach is to answer the question “why us” and “why our solution,” even when the client still doesn’t understand how to make the decision and what factors they need to consider. Despite all of their positive attributes, this sales rep’s approach causes their prospective client to disengage because it doesn’t create the value the client needs at this point in their exploration of change.

A competing salesperson may have far fewer success-oriented attributes and skills, looking far worse than their counterpart on paper. But you don’t win deals on paper; you win them sitting across from your prospective clients. The second salesperson is incredibly comfortable with an approach that is focused on helping the client with the tangible intangibles, providing them with the context they need to make a good decision for the business, asking them powerful questions, and helping them learn what they need to know to achieve better results. Their genuinely engaged and helpful approach creates a preference to buy from them.

A group of sales people work on development as they have the willingness to change

Development and a Willingness to Change

One of the more critical attributes for a modern salesperson is their willingness to change. We all have strengths, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. Drucker strongly suggested that we spend our time on our strengths, while working to minimize the impact of our weaknesses.

But the weaknesses should not be your primary concern, as it’s your vulnerabilities that lead directly to poor results. You can improve your results and reduce some of the variability by using a competency model that helps you recognize any vulnerabilities, so you can eliminate them or at least minimize their impact. For this and may other reasons, development should dominate your priorities. Development requires a conscious willingness to change, especially to make your approach more consistent and effective. To improve any output, improve the input.

Do Good Work:

  • If you are a leader, work to improve your team’s inputs and reduce the variability of their results.
  • If you are an individual salesperson, notice the areas where your results fall behind and explore what traits or competencies you might need to improve.
  • Recognize that, as it pertains to your results, you are the single input over which you have complete control.

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