Battles, Statistics, and Order Getting All Have Something in Common


Who is your favorite heroic historical figure?

I never thought I would be this way, but in recent years I’ve found biographies of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Isaac Newton, and others to be fascinating. Once you’ve been out of school for a while, I guess you develop more of an appreciation of what it took to accomplish what they did.

For example, I’m reading a biography of Richard Feynman right now (Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman, by James Gleick, Vintage Press, 1992)

Feynman’s experience in WWII as part of the team that developed the atom bomb at Los Alamos, New Mexico, was dramatically different than that of Freeman Dyson, a British subject and another math whiz. Check this out:

Dyson’s war could hardly have been more different from Feynman’s. The British … assigned him to the Royal Air Force bomber command in a Buckinghamshire forest, where he researched statistical studies that were doomed, when they countered the official wisdom, to be ignored. … He and others in the operational research section learned—contrary to the essential bomber command dogma—that the safety of bomber crews did not increase with experience, that escape hatches were too narrow for airmen to use in emergencies; that gun turrets slowed the aircraft and bloated the crew sizes without increasing the chances of surviving enemy fighters, and that the entire British strategic bombing campaign was a failure.

Imagine not just struggling to help your company succeed, but fighting battles where people died instead of being laid off. Then, imagine that your work proves that many of the cherished beliefs of your superiors were not just mistaken, but they were continuing to kill people on a daily basis!

This reminded me of three things:

First was the great example in Peter R. Scholte’s “The Leader’s Handbook: Making Things Happen, Getting Things Done”, where the generals in the Israeli army punished the pilots when they did badly and rewarded them when they did well. The generals were not surprised that when they punished people their performance went up. But they were amazed that when they rewarded
people, their performance was worse. Naturally, they decided to stop rewarding people! Makes perfect sense, right? (Unbeknownst to the generals, the pilots were in the clutches of normal variation; systemic variables beyond their control. Reward them, punish them, it really didn’t matter. … Sound like any salespeople you know? It does to me!)

Second, it reminded me of Ian Ayre’s book “Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart” Ayre provides numerous examples, especially in compelling fields like medicine, where strangely, the scientific method still, to this day, is barely starting to take hold. He shows how time and again the measurement of actual events and outcomes in
organizations reveals things that run counter to the leader’s awareness and beliefs.

Taking pains with your business to measure what actually happens with customers is a huge source of profit and competitive advantage in companies today. Marketing and lead generation provide enormous opportunities to start uncovering what customers want, what they react to, and what they don’t react to. For example, Flint McLaughlin at is a big believer in measurements, as marketers should be. He is conducting a webinar this week on the topic, as a matter of fact, and I highly recommend his materials.

Most marketers suffer from a lack of systems thinking, although it is often not their fault. As I have written previously, their organizations force them into a sort of functional view, where they are evaluated on the quantity of “leads” they produce rather than the quality of them. (A guaranteed way to waste money.)

The approach required for systems thinking in marketing and selling is to carefully define the qualities that make up highly qualified opportunities. As I have also written before in this space, my clients routinely learn powerful things when they take a scientific approach to their qualification criteria (see Chapter 5 of “Sales and Marketing the Six Sigma Way,” for example). Think you are better at closing technically sophisticated prospects as opposed to unsophisticated ones? More often than not, what you think you know is not so at all. Better check your facts: I’ve never had a client who didn’t learn something huge when they tested theories such as these.

Measuring the observable characteristics of opportunities in the field and correlating them to whether the deals are won or lost is like getting Freeman Dyson’s British bosses to listen up to the facts about their lousy bombing strategies!

Those kinds of things can really change the outcome of a war.

Until next week,

Michael J. Webb
April 15, 2008
How to Turn Your Sales and Marketing Into a Lean Six Sigma Production Machine That Runs Like Clockwork (And Do It in a Way Your Salespeople Will Love!)


Michael Webb

Michael Webb founded Sales Performance Consultants to create a data-driven alternative to the slogans and shallow impact offered by typical sales training, sales consulting, and CRM companies. Michael helped organize and delivered the keynote speeches for the first conferences ever held on applying Six Sigma to marketing and sales. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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