Sales—Science Or Art?


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Recently, I read an article about sales being more science than art.  Perhaps, I was a little unfair in my comments, but the author’s premises were flawed.

I think we want to see sales being more like science because
of what we perceive as the predictability and certainty that seems to exist in
science.  We want to be able to say, “If
this……then that…..,” applying rigorous formulas that drive our success.

Books and thousands of articles focus on creating rigid
structures and formulas that create predictable success. 

For example, in the referenced article, the author used the
example, “Water always boils at 100 C.” 
His premise was that we could apply scientific principles in selling to
100 customers discovering the secret formula for success.  By rigorously applying these formulas, we
could be perfectly predictable in our success with customers.

But there’s a huge flaw in the example, and in the thinking
of how we apply science in selling. 
Water doesn’t always boil at 100 C. 
If you are on a mountain, about 2.3 KM (7500 feet), water will boil at
92C, of if you add a little salt to water, the boiling point is raised

A scientist when responding to the question, “At what
temperature does water boil,” will always answer, “It depends…..”

What we miss in these discussions is the essence of science
and the inherent beauty, or art, that underlies all scientific query.

Science is about incessant, sometimes obsessive, curiosity.  Scientists are consumed with questions like, “Why
does matter behave in this way…..?”  or, “If
we did these things, what changes in the behavior might result?” or, “What
happens if….?” or, “How might we change that….?”

Scientists are consumed with the why’s, what’s, how’s, what

Isn’t this what great salespeople do?  Aren’t great salespeople inherently curious
about their customers and their businesses? 
Aren’t great salespeople consumed by the why’s what’s, how’s, what if’s?

Scientists aren’t satisfied with just the questions; they
are driven to find answers to those questions—to seek solutions.

As scientist pursue the answers to those questions, they do
so in a very structured manner.  They
conduct experiments—less to prove what they think the answers might be, but
more to see if anything might disprove their theories.  They know that 1000 successful experiments
are meaningless if they find just one failure.

Scientists recognize the answers they get will vary, so they
seek to understand, “What causes these behaviors in these specific situations?”  They seek to understand these and to develop
solutions based on those situations.   They seek to understand what changes in those
situations might cause different results/outcomes.  They learn from their experiments and refine
both their theories and approaches based on the results of their experiments.

Isn’t that what great salespeople do?  They don’t blindly apply formulaic approaches,
instead understanding the specific situation and what solutions best fit those
situations.  Don’t great sales people constantly
learn from their experience, refining their approaches based on those

Great science is inherently collaborative.  Scientists realize they don’t have all the answers;
they understand the great complexity in the things they seek to
understand.  As a result, they recognize they
need to work with others—both to generate the questions and to discover answers. 

Isn’t this what we have to do in being successful working with
our customers?  Our success is less about
giving our customers the answers, but more about helping them discover the
issues/opportunities, and collaboratively developing the best answers in moving

There is great beauty and art in science.  We can learn a lot from what scientists do
and how they work.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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