In 1869, Russell Conwell, an American Baptist minister, was traveling in the Middle East, and his Arab guide shared a story: A man wanted to become rich so badly that he sold all his property and traveled the world in search of diamonds, only to find none. Alas, the new owner of the land discovered a diamond mine on the property and became rich. Cromwell turned this experience into the lecture “Acres of Diamonds,” considered a classic in oratory. His message: “Dig in your own backyard!”
In our experience, all the best practices you need to create a winning sales method are in your own backyard – in other words, they’re residing in your sales team today.
Think about it – if you took the best qualities and competencies of each of your salespeople, and added a dash of your experience working with other successful sellers, how close would you be to the ideal salesperson?
If your answer is “Less than 80% of the way there,” then we’re glad you’re reading this – you’ve got some work to do. What we’ve found is most sales managers believe, and rightly so, that they’ve got the vast majority of the competencies of a high-performing seller scattered among today’s team. With a little outside expertise and benchmarking you can close the remaining gap – you don’t need to outsource it all.
Why Mine Your Own Best Practices?
If you want to buy someone a diamond ring, you don’t grab your shovel, you go to the jewelry store. Historically, it’s been the same way with sales best practices – management goes to the sales training store and selects the program they think will it best.
But while the store-bought approach works just fine sometimes, more often than not it’s not quite right – something is missing, or it’s not quite right in some facet. In sales, these missing links and misfits cost you a lot of money, because they’re the things that help sales happen.
We could name a dozen or more reasons it makes more sense for sales managers to mine their own best practices, three main ones stand out:
- Construct Validity: Your salespeople buy into training if your training is based on them and not an outsider’s view. Even research-supported external sales training programs result in much lower adoption rates than BYO sales training because of the construct validity factor.
- Cost-Effectiveness: With today’s technology, you can do your own best practice mining and turn it into sales development. All our clients need from us is an experienced practitioner to guide you through an initial process – they own and curate the method from there without paying license or subscription fees.
- Causality – or the probability thereof: In all but the simplest sales (and maybe not even then), it’s impossible to prove that when salesperson does Thing A better, they close more business. (Notice we didn’t say more of Thing A, although quantity metrics often paint a false picture of causality, especially when taken out of context.) Trying to prove that certain skill differences or the use of a specific behavior causes sales to rise? You can’t justify the level of rigor and cost required to establish causality.
That’s why we prefer to speak in terms of probability of causality: When you observe, codify, and replicate what your best people do best, you’re most likely to be hitting on causal relationships that matter in your sale today. The last part of that sentence is important – it really is the case that all sales are unique, and successful selling is a function of leveraging your unique competitive position at this particular moment in time. In our experience, this is what makes mining your own best practices a much better, more educated guess than the “research” that certain companies and authors are, ah, challenging you to believe will apply to your sale.
Mining Requires Modern Tools
The mining process used to be a lot harder and time-consuming than it is today. Just a hundred years ago, miners relied on hand tools to do their job. The people-hours required to mine a ton of ore were quite high, and productivity was fairly low relative to today – for example, miners in the early 1900s spend as much time getting to their worksite underground as they did actually mining. Oh, and a lot more people used to die in mining accidents.
Same thing for sales managers (except for the fatalities part): Even a few years ago, most sales managers’ choices for capturing best practices involved spending a lot of time either on the road or Y-corded in on the phone. And it was much harder to capture actual “game tape” of sellers in action – it was take good notes and/or try to remember what happened that was awesome. Even then, confirmation bias clouded judgement on what happened in the call, especially in hindsight. In other words, we were working in the dark with hand tools and spending a lot of time getting to and from the actual mining. No wonder we relied on sales training vendors!
(Note that in both mining and ride-alongs, the potential exists that things will suddenly blow up.)
Today, it’s a different story altogether for both real miners and miners of sales best practices. Technology has changed the game for sales managers in several important ways:
- Mapping the terrain: CRM data (if used properly!) tells you where to focus your efforts – where the development diamonds are hiding.
- Getting to the worksite: Remote meeting technology allows you to make the meeting from your desk
- Mining Best Practices: Call recording and conversation intelligence have massively increased efficiency and the ability to scale.
- Transporting: Adaptive learning and smart use of remote meeting technology have shrunk both the cost and the time required to disseminate best practices among your team.
If you saw a miner using hand tools and a burro today, you would possibly scoff at them or think you’d come upon a band of Amish miners. And just like the Amish are generally excellent at making small batches of great furniture and farming small patches of land, so too can a sales manager function without today’s technology – you just can’t do it very fast or at scale. And with your span of control the way it is, you’ve got a lot of ground to cover – you can’t afford not to scale.
Finding the Diamonds – where to find best practices
Now we realize we’re mixing in an adjacent metaphor, but stay with us:
In the 1930’s, prospectors flocked by the thousands to California, stoked by tales of “rivers running with gold.” Alas, of the thousands of would-be gold miners, only a few dozen actually found enough gold to make a living, let alone get rich. Globally, diamond exploration expenditures peaked at over $1 Billion in 2008, but have fallen off considerably due to the stunningly low success rate. As has always been the case, the hardest part of mining is knowing where to look.
(Note: There are a lot of Levi Strausses out there selling you the tools you could use to mine best practices – CRM, conversational intelligence, LMS, etc. – and charging a lot of money. Remember that in situations like this, it’s usually not the miners that get rich, it’s the people supplying the jeans.)
It’s the same thing in sales management, of course: You can spend all day every day in the field and still not encounter more than a few nuggets of greatness. We see it all the time in our work evaluating and coaching sales managers. In fact, most sales managers, if they had to live off the gold they found riding with salespeople, would end up having to get a job in town at the general store.
So where is the gold in sales best practices? To keep stretching the mining analogy: In diamond exploration, miners use a simple strategy: They take samples. Let’s look at how this concept applies in sales method development.
What Do We Mean, “Sample”?
Diamond miners drill to the depth where diamonds reside (known as the diamond stability zone, about 150 kilometers below the earth’s surface), then extract just a few bucketfuls of rock, which they then examine closely for “micro-diamonds” – tiny, millimeter-wide fragments that represent a larger find.
Sales managers have the same opportunity: If you can get to the right level – actual sales call execution – where best practices are likely to occur, you can find the small instances of behavior that indicate best practices in play.
For example: On a recent project we observed a distinct difference between how top performers and average performers handled a very small part of sales presentations: Validating the agenda with the customer. Further investigation showed us that top performers validated the agenda for every sales meeting, in fact using this behavior to gain more and earlier engagement from the broader buying organism. In this case, finding the “micro-diamond” validating behavior helped us uncover the broader opportunity to help underachievers step up their game.
To get there, though, you have to get to the right depth: Actual “game tape” of sellers in action.
We did not say, “You have to watch sellers in action”! That’s true too, but if we said just that, you might think it’s okay to just watch sellers in action, and it’s not. You actually have to capture evidence of sellers in action.
The Three Best Sampling Strategies We Know Of
Sampling method 1: Recordings of actual sales calls. Best case: Sellers in their natural habitat, free of interference or intervention. Of course this is easiest to do in a telesales environment. It’s definitely a no-brainer for virtual meetings – people are very used to those being recorded. More than ever, it’s also easy to do in face-to-face sales calls – unless you’re still rocking the mighty flip phone, you have all the recording device you need right in your hand.
We don’t buy into the notion that it’s awkward or uncomfortable to record sales calls, even face-to-face. First of all, it’s all in how you set it up – when we ask if it’s okay to hit record so we don’t have to scribble notes while we talk, customers are generally okay with it.
Also, recording is so unobtrusive and commonplace now that customers almost immediately forget you’re recording, especially if the sales dialogue is at all interesting. Tell your salespeople to tell customers they’re gonna record, then press the record and forget about it.
Sampling method 2: Simulated sales calls. Best case: Sellers selling to real (or at least realistic) customers using real customer scenarios and data. Put your best salespeople in a room or on the phone, pit them against a real sales situation, say, “Go,” and watch – and record! – the results.
We think this is a completely underrated mining environment – we love the efficiency and ability to focus in on specific competencies. Especially useful is the ability to benchmark and compare how a variety of top performers handle identical scenarios. Plus, recording is no longer an issue – in fact, now you can blatantly record and capture examples of greatness for later use. We edit Zoom simulations into “highlight” videos that form the backbone of training “lecture.”
Sampling method 3: Self-recorded rehearsals. This strategy is, in our opinion, completely underrated! Every seller who records themselves in Allego rehearsing part of a sales meeting will watch the recording they just made. And your best sellers will typically do two things: They will take the will self-assess ruthlessly, and they’ll retake the video…and get better just by going through the exercise.
While the best case is actual footage of actual sales calls with real customers, if you conduct simulations the right way, you can approximate conditions in the lab so as to get the samples you need. And if you strategically apply self-recording to specific skills, you’re now mining diamonds using a set of modern, efficient tools.
Turning Diamonds into Revenue
How you curate, deliver, and reinforce sales method based on your diamonds (best practices) is a much longer story, and what we do for a living. But regardless of your learning and development strategy, you can use these sampling strategies to elicit – and capture – best practices from top performers. These are the diamonds you need to validate any method or training you do – mine your own!