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SPIF Tip #30: How you can help sales leaders become more critical thinkers

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Problems are the

undesirable result or effect of the work or a job. Solving them is fundamental to everything in business. Unfortunately, most people in sales and marketing have not been taught the finer arts of problem solving. This article describes one method for defining sales and marketing problems in a manner that makes them easier to solve.

If you have grown up in sales, it can feel normal to have almost no data about your problems. Engineers and scientists are used to thinking scientifically, where precision of meaning (i.e., operational definitions), is crucial. In sales, it is typical for even a company president to say something like this: "The problem with my sales team is that they need time and territory management training."

Do you see the mistake? Instead of naming a problem, they named a solution.

Or how about this example: A Sales VP says, “My salespeople spend too much time on the wrong accounts.” Can you spot their mistake?

What, exactly, is "too much time?" What does "wrong account" mean? Unfortunately, those words are neither observable, nor measurable. This means the person who said them has unwittingly allowed their words to "float" out of contact with reality. They think they have named a problem, but they have done no such thing.

Perhaps they are unaware of the importance of defining terms like “too much time” and “wrong” accounts ways that are observable and measurable. Why is this so important? Because failure to do it causes you to jump to conclusions instead of diagnosing data and evidence. And that can be disastrous.

This is the purpose of the term “Undesirable Result”

An Undesirable Result (UDR) is evidence or data you do not like. It can be an effect, an outcome, or a condition, but it must be measurable/observable. This term is used specifically to distinguish the facts and evidence of results from interpretations of their potential causes. Defining UDRs is a powerful way to clarify one's thinking about a situation.

How do you ensure your "problem statements" are actually UDRs?

Simple. First ask yourself, "Is this statement observable or measurable?" If it isn't work on it to try to make it observable or measurable.

Continuing the example above, after thoroughly processing the statement “My salespeople spend too much time on the wrong accounts,” an executive might conclude that what they really mean is “My salespeople are not using the same criteria to prioritize their accounts.”

This is both observable, and measurable. It makes for a much more actionable and fruitful formulation. The idea is to focus on problems in a positive way. No one should "get in trouble" for bringing these to the surface. To the contrary, getting your team to bring forward more issues and deeper issues is crucial to being able to solve them. Your attitude should be, "Problems are treasures."

The second step in generating UDRs is to ask whether data exists for this statement, or could be gathered. Some examples of strong UDRs from our client files include:

  • not enough high quality opportunities to meet our revenue objectives
  • no common standard for prioritizing sales opportunities
  • wide variability in what customers value - we do not understand
  • no way to know if a sale is really going to happen
  • our average close ratio is less than 25%
  • no way to determine what methods are working/not working with salespeople
  • no standard for determining of salespeople are doing a good job

Gathering the data around topics like these usually produces useful insights, and even surprises. It is the means of ensuring the minds of your salespeople and marketers stays in contact with reality. So they can solve the real problems they (and you) are facing.

Once executives learn how powerful it is to process such terms as “too much time” and “wrong accounts” in order to identify data around what is really going on, they won’t go back!

For more on UDRs, check out "How to Diagnose What is Going Right - And Wrong - In Your Sales Production System."

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