Last night I participated in a fascinating discussion on engaging sales people. The conversation was one of our bimonthly Sales Smack’s. If you are interested in vigorous discussion, you ought to join these, I always learn a lot, both from what’s said, and how the discussion stimulates my thinking. All the information can be found at our LinkedIn Group.
The conversation started with the topic, how do we get sales people more engaged? There was discussion about sales people being lazy, discussion about Sales Process and how it restricts creativity and innovation. One of the most interesting parts of the conversation was a discussion of military strategy and how teams focused on a mission, but given the freedom to innovate and adapt to conditions on the ground create great results.
The example of high performance military teams adapting to conditions on the ground is a really interesting example–there are countless stories about how teams accomplish tremendous things, seemingly inventing what should be done on the fly . What is overlooked, is how did they get to this level of performance? It certainly isn’t random–in fact it’s the furthest thing from being random.
My experience in looking at the military, is a tremendous process focus. There are defined methodologies (at times overy defined and rigid–but this is changing), there are ways to act, react, and perform. They are carefully thought out, continuously revised and improved based on actual field performance and results. But ask a soldier about their process, they might not be able to respond. They are more likely to say, “We just do it!” (Thank you Nike).
“Just Doing It,” is the trick to process, and I think it’s what we miss in looking at selling processes. What we forget about the military is they constantly train–rehearse, so as not to confuse this use of training with training classes. They rehearse the process dozens to hundreds of times. They rehearse variants of the process constantly. They rehearse the process so much that it becomes a natural, unconscious act. It becomes “just doing it.” It is the framework for them to quickly analyze, assess, and act.
Internalizing the process so it becomes natural is critical to adapting and innovating in the field. You adapt and innovate, based on a framework of success. Adaptation and innovation in this context is more likely to achieve success than random creativity. Whenever I interview high performing sales people, I see the same thing. They have an internalized framework or process based on their past experience. They apply that process, adapting and innovating within it, using the process as a foundation to improve their liklihood of success.
We see this in every area that demands “mastery.” Whether it is the high performing athlete that spends days and months in practicing and drills, just for that hour performance in the Super Bowl. It could be the jazz musician that spends hundreds of hours practicing in order to be free to improvise–making great music rather than just noise.
I have to admit I have little patience with the anti-process crowd (I still get lot’s of comments in my blog posts on this). I think it’s an excuse. There is too much evidence that process drives performance. Process, effectively internalized becomes natural. Process, effectively internalized frees you up to innovate, create, and adapt. Process, continually updated and revised based on actual results maximizes performance.
When will we start looking at high performers in other areas, and learn what drives mastery? When will we stop finding excuses not to use process, but instead learn how to master process, tune it, adapt it, and free ourselves for responding to conditions in the field in a way that is likely to produce success rather than being random? None of this is easy, initially, it seems unnatural and difficult. With practice and experience it seems easier. With practice and experience, it frees us up to be creative.
Sometimes, we make it too complicated, soemtimes we let our excuses deter us from execution. I’ve written before, Sales Process: Elegant In It’s Simplicity, Natural In It’s Execution. Additionally, a must read on this topic is Geoff Colvin’s: Talent Is Overrated!