One of the challenges that one of my clients and I are working through in his sales process training is the seemingly random and overly-responsive, reflexive approach that they have to selling in a lot of their business. My advocacy with my clients is always for a very structured and analytical approach to selling wherein pretty much every activity we do is associated with and aligned with the potential outcome of that activity and, more importantly, the potential for that account, customer, and even more important than that, the contribution to the overall goal.
It’s pretty common that I come across a client where people seem to be running around doing a lot of random things, and one of the manifestations of this that’s really evident is when I work with a client and always hear that the salesperson is on a plane. They just headed out of town for a sales trip, they had to go see a customer or prospect, they had to deliver a proposal, what have you. So it got me wondering why this is and why it’s so hard to break that habit because over time it’s glaringly obvious that a measured and analytical approach to selling, meaning alignment of effort to output, is what gets you the win over time. Everything else may be fun, but it’s really hard to manage.
As I worked on sales process training with my client this morning, I explained to him that it is like what happens in Vegas—there are professional gamblers, and there are recreational gamblers. I personally am a recreational gambler (if I gamble at all) because it’s fun to blow some money. If I win some it’s fun, if not, I am not going to be too terribly upset because it’s not like I bet the mortgage or payroll on it. I had a past partner who was actually a professional gambler at one point (among other professional gamblers I’ve known), and it’s a completely different experience—very measured, very structured, very process-oriented. They also almost exclusively play games of probability like blackjack or Texas Hold ‘Em. Blackjack is a great metaphor for professional selling in that people that choose to pursue blackjack have a process system and, generally speaking, can make good money if they work that system. My past partner would go to Vegas and play for eight, ten, and twelve hours. After three or four days he would come back with a bunch of money, but it was grueling work.
Recreational gamblers, on the other hand, might play some blackjack, roulette, baccarat, or craps, and he would win some and lose some. Far and away the most addictive form of gambling, though, if you look at the place where casinos invest the most real estate, is slot machines because they mean excitement. They represent what, in the gambling world, can be referred to as “random rewards” because there’s zero way to predict what’s going to happen in a slot machine. Playing more does not guarantee winning more. In fact, it probably guarantees losing more, so winning is both a statistical anomaly as well as something that is incredibly exciting with a high payoff. It’s what keeps people coming back more and more, keep putting one more dollar in, keep playing by using the hundred they just won. You never know when you’re going to win, and when you win it is high stakes with lots of bells and whistles and coins clanking.
The same forces exist in organizations in terms of motivation for the sales team, and both types of gambling can be a positive force…if used appropriately under the right circumstances. However, if they’re misused, they end up wasting time and money, and this includes those organizations that get on a plane to respond to proposals and mentally pull out all the stops. What happens is there are always a few big deals, and sometimes even a meaningful number, that have happened under extraordinary circumstances, and they become folklore in these companies. They become the reason to keep doing these behaviors that are in no way tied to an analytical approach to measuring outcome against activity. So when I am doing sales process training in an organization and trying to get them to stop this erratic, heroic and high energy consumption behavior chasing “The Big Deal” that may come in, I meet with a lot of resistance because everybody has got the stories of the deal that came in, the big one they landed, which they never would have gotten if they hadn’t flown there. However, there’s no analysis of that deal and the energy spent to win it, nor is there an analysis of that deal versus all the deals that they did not win and only burned time on. It becomes the anchor for decision making around that behavior, and with gamblers it’s frankly the same way. Everybody can tell you in great detail about the jackpots they won and the big payoffs. Ask them to calculate and show you how much time or money they wasted sitting in front of a slot machine, however, and they will never come up with the information.
The random, high payoff reward is incredibly powerful at driving behavior in both a positive and negative way. Years ago when I ran my company, we’d occasionally throw a lead generation outsourcing contest. We’d have 50-80 people at a time on the phone, for which we had to create incentive plans to keep the excitement level high because phone work is really grueling. We basically spent some time trying to implement some very calculated rewards programs for number of calls, number of appointments, etc. What we found was that those reward systems ended up consolidated to a couple of individuals who figured out how to manage their time and process, but it didn’t do a lot to motivate behavior as a whole across the entire team. When we switched to “Las Vegas gaming style rewards,” productivity went through the roof. Rather than giving the daily prize to the person with the most appointments, wherein there would be a few front-runners and everybody else would give up, we basically gave everyone a ticket (ie. a place on the roulette wheel) when they set an appointment so that anybody could get into the pot, so to speak. Certainly others had a greater probability, but when you spin the roulette wheel, do a drawing or reach into a hat to pull out a winner, the person with the least amount of points could still win. We celebrated with balloons and whistles, and people loved it! We’d run this kind of contest that was much more random in nature, and performance would go through the roof.
So, the two types of gambling incentivize people at different levels. The roulette-style, random rewards are great for motivating transactional behavior (like cold calling) where outcomes are simple and binary (either they set a meeting or not). However, for real complex selling, the same force serves as an addiction for the salespeople but won’t work in the long term because the solution selling environment is far more complex/nuanced/subtle. For these salespeople, the real key to winning is in the blackjack, systematic process. If you run a complex organization with high value products/services, I want you to think about what kind of sales organization you are. Are you a blackjack organization with professional gamblers who have a systematic process and discipline around their practice or are you a roulette wheel player or slot machine player as a sales organization basically doing whatever and hoping for the big payoff without really looking whether or not that’s making you money or costing money over the long-term? If you find that you are not playing the game the right way, do what you need to in order to make that change or call me to help you out with some sales process training.
By Townsend Wardlaw