SPIF Tip #57: Converting Maps Into Action

When my joyride in the lake collided with an underwater stump, I realized I needed a better map, “a mental map.”

Last time we described a method that enables getting this kind of information, called a “research meeting”.  When times are challenging, changing, or both, skillfully conducted business-oriented conversations with customers and prospects is not just a huge advantage, it is a necessity.

For many of us, the answers we’re hearing are all over the place.  We’ve heard themes like:

  • Suspended or reduced operations
  • Shifting to serve different market segments
  • Unexpected demand (or lack of it) for specific types of products
  • Lots of uncertainty about customer plans
  • Changed decision-making patterns
  • More time for Zoom-type meetings, especially among engineers and technical peoples
  • Emphasizing retention over prospecting

At times, it may have seemed that planning a few weeks out was harder than planning for all of 2021 would have been 4 months ago.

Being in sales, we keep churning.  It really does not matter whether we understand everything we’re seeing, or even if we like it.  We keep looking for opportunities and try to move them forward.  It is in our DNA.

This is an important foundation for improvement, whether we know it or not. Being open to learning is the first step in a method for improving.

At the same time we are human, so we are biased to what is most familiar.  We want things to go back to “normal”.  We want deals to restart where they were on March 10th.

Imagine how hard it is for the folks in manufacturing, distribution, finance, or IT to not know the future. At least we’re in close contact with customers and prospects.  We hear about their challenges and how they are making things work for their business.  We can bring the customer’s perspective into our organization and hopefully find wins for everyone.

Improve by Design

We don’t know which of the changes our customers are making will be short-term or lasting, because they don’t know themselves. Edwards Deming described a business as a series of experiments. It applies even more so today.

Having this mindset about your business is a  powerful tool for putting what we have heard into action. It opens the eyes of the sales team to what is possible.  It is also a way to frame things to the rest of the organization:

“This is an experiment we are targeting to specific situations for a specific period of time.  If it works, I’ll come back to talk about how we can expand it. If it doesn’t produce results, we will stop it.”

In our conversations, we’ve heard of sales teams coming up with experiments things like these:

  • Observing that capital is constrained in some industries …
    a firm integrated maintenance and replacement parts in their equipment lease so it can be funded from operating budgets instead.
  • Observing that engineers in building trades seem more available for Zoom technical sessions …
    a firm increased the frequency of training and case example webinars.
  • Observing that some executives responded positively to skillful cold calls …
    a sales VP decided to train more of his sales reps on the approach.
  • Observing court officers conducting simple courtroom proceedings via the phone …
    some lawyers are attempting to broaden the practice.
  • Observing that some of his salespeople had time on their hands …
    a sales VP decided to engage them to define a prospecting problem and develop a process to solve it.

All these examples start from seeing what exists, developing a theory of causes and potential changes that might create improvement.

Deming described this approach as a PDSA cycle – Plan, Do, Study, Act.  Sales and marketing organizations are uniquely suited to rapid iterations of PDSA cycles because they live with and around customers. (For a description of PDSA from a sales and marketing perspective, see the article linked below.)

Hopefully, your sales team is doing this as well. If so, tell us what you’re seeing and what you’re learning. Whether the news is good, or bad, we can all learn from this if we pay attention.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Michael Webb

(770) 410-1601

Mentioned in this article:

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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