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SPIF Tip #34: What Sales and Marketing Can Learn From "The Martian"

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I'm sure you've heard about "The Martian," Ridley Scott’s thrilling movie about Mark Watney, an astronaut left behind on Mars when a mission to the red planet went horribly wrong. 
 
Watney's statement, "I'm going to have to science the shit out of this" struck a chord around the world. The only way Mark could save himself was relentless use of a single tool: reason.

 
Businesses face intimidating obstacles too. The movie motivates people because they know reason is required, and reason is not easy.
 
So, what can sales and marketing leaders learn from "The Martian?"      
 
Watney's Predicament

Imagine yourself in Watney's space suit, emerging from unconsciousness, realizing that you are hurt. The instruments in your suit merely display pressure and other readings. Your mind, however, has to do far more than just detect the pain of your injury and interpret what your eyes reveal. Your mind has to be aware of itself as it does these things. You have to manage how you focus your attention. You have to follow a careful method designed to keep your mind in contact with the harsh realities around you. 

 The first three questions on your mind would be:

  • Where am I? 
    You turn to look at the sky. You are alone and in grave danger. The possibility of getting back to earth vanished when your crew left you for dead. To survive, you'll need to know every detail about your surroundings. 
  • How can I discover it? 
    Supplies to keep you alive for a while are at your base a short distance away. If you can get there. Perhaps then you can figure out what to do.
  • What should I do?
    The base also has tools and instruments, although they may be damaged. It is your only shot. Refusing to be distracted by your peril, you begin to drag yourself toward the base.  
Your Sales and Marketing Predicament

Likewise, business leaders must apprehend the harsh realities they face. This requires following a careful method. The first questions on sales and marketing leader's minds should be: 

  • Where am I (in relation to my goals)? 
    If too few of your customers buy, or if they buy what you can't provide, you could be in grave danger. You must learn what stages these companies go through, and find a method that gives them what they want at each stage (now, and in the future).   
  • How can I discover it (the method to achieve my goals)? 
    You have at least some Voice of Customer now. If you can learn more, perhaps then you can figure out what to do. Your sales and service people have information, though it might be biased or incomplete. You'll have to figure out what to do about that.
  • What should I do (to create improvement)?
    Improving requires working with what you have. Refusing to be distracted by your perilous condition, you begin at the beginning: engaging your team in defining their terms, identify the customer's journey and observable deal characteristics. Together you work to identify the biggest bottleneck in your deal flow and develop a process to improve it.   
Mark Watney did not make assumptions. Every cycle of his brain was riveted on distinguishing what he knew from what he needed to know.
 
In sales and marketing this means ignoring old adages like "If you through enough proposals out there, some of them will stick," or "If the sales department isn't making its numbers, there must be something wrong in the sales department," or "If our competitors go to trade shows, we should too."  
 
Instead, the Watney's of sales and marketing carefully analyze variations among prospects and customers. They look for potential causes and effects that might enable learning experiments (in the form of conversations, questions, value propositions, and offers). 
 
These leaders leverage an explicit method for learning: the scientific method. Most importantly, they expect everyone on their team to participate and contribute to improvement. 
 
This leads their team out of the tribal mindset, and enables them to overcome intimidating obstacles. It is powerful because people know reason works. It is motivating, because it makes it makes improvement visible to everyone, so it can be respected, and celebrated. 
 
In sales and marketing, as in "The Martian," the only path to big victories is through small ones.    

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