Sales has institutionalized many tenets since the time it became an organized profession in the late 1800’s.  Don’t sell features, sell benefits. The listen to talk ratio should be 70/30. People buy from people they like. Qualify for budget, authority, need, and timing (B.A.N.T). And the list goes on.  The art and science of selling has gotten progressively more complex. A number of factors are affecting change on the sales process on both the buyer and the seller side. Perhaps it’s time we take a look at a few tenets and decide whether they still apply?

Myth #1: Sales is a Numbers Game.

When today’s Sales Managers came of age, we were taught that making more calls is what leads to more sales. It was the smartest way to approach sales at the time and it was so drilled into our heads that we keep preaching it to today’s generation of salespeople. The only problem is, we live in a completely different world now. The number’s game is not only not helpful, it actually hurts our ability to maximize revenue.

This is true for a number of reasons. First, we reach voicemail a lot more than we used to. Around 90% of phone calls go right into voicemail. Decision makers listen to only 9 seconds of a cold-call voicemail before they hang-up. Email boxes are flooded with requests for meetings from salespeople they’ve never met. But the main reason that the numbers game doesn’t work has to do with the very nature of the game. If we’re doing it right, we expect for a high percentage of activities to be a complete waste of effort. Is that not crazy?

Sales is not a numbers game. It’s a game of outcomes—think Moneyball and how the Oakland A’s signed players who knew how to get on-base (regardless of whether they get to base on a walk or a hit). Our goal should be to get meetings, which is the sales equivalent of on-base. The sales numbers game measures the wrong thing.  It counts how many phone calls we make, or at-bats. Why focus on at-bats when what we really want is on-bases?

Here’s an example of why the numbers game is counter-productive. A sales friend of mine sells industrial furnishings. He’s required to make five sales calls each day, every day, period. No excuses. He’s not asked why he picked those five facilities. He’s not asked what the outcomes were. He’s not asked how often he’s visited those people in the past or whether he’s favoring certain facilities at the expense of others with higher odds of better outcomes. Make 5 sales calls a day and we’re happy. Make less, and you’ll be on probation. Well that’s preposterous. The outcomes of the meetings are what matters and whether they’re meeting with the right people at the right time to maximize the revenue from their territory.

The numbers game is extremely wasteful of precious sales resources. In the game of sales, we manufacture revenue. The number one rule of manufacturing is to eliminate waste; and that’s what we need to do in sales as well.

Myth #2: Digital Body Language is the Holy Grail for Lead Qualification.

Digital Body Language is a matter of tracking customers’ online movements in order to predict buying behavior or interest level. What a customer does on your site, how often they visit, the pages they clicked on, the number of forms they submit, these are all elements of Digital Body Language.

When you’ve got tens of thousands of website visitors, you’ve got to have an automated way to score leads and route the qualified ones onto sales. And digital body language is a great way to do that.

It’s been a super-hot topic for the past few years. But it’s not the Holy Grail, because of one critical fact. Digital Body language tracking only works when you have an identified contact i.e. they’ve completed a webform or you have their details from some other marketing activity.

When you consider that of all your website visitors, only 2-4% will complete a webform you can do the math. If you have 10,000 monthly website visitors, your marketing automation system will be able to read the digital body language of only 200-400 of them. What happens to the other 9600-9800?

The problem with digital body language is that it only works on a small sub-set of web visitors. The majority of visitors remain anonymous. Digital body language will alert you to buyers early in the buying cycle if and only if they’ve completed a web form or you already have their contact information. The majority of buyers remain anonymous to you until at least 57% of the buying process is completed and that’s the all-important due-diligence stage. You’ve got to figure out how to connect with them before they’re largely decided.

Myth #3: Quota Attainment is the most important sales Metric.

By constantly watching where you’re at in terms of quota attainment you’re doing what magician’s refer to as following the other hand. Magician’s get you to follow one hand so they can use the other hand to conceal the quarter (no pun intended).  In sales, focusing on quota keeps us from seeing where the real magic takes place which is in understanding sales productivity and how reps spend their limited sales capacity.

Quota attainment tells you ‘how reps are doing compared to what’s expected of them.’ It tells you what reps should be selling. It doesn’t tell you what they could be selling.

What if… in addition to asking the question “what should we expect this year for revenue” you asked “what’s keeping us from doubling revenue?” The only way to answer that question is to understand how salespeople spend their limited sales capacity. And that’s a matter of sales efficiency and productivity.

In addition to asking these types of questions throughout the year: “What’s in the pipeline, what are we forecasting and what is the likelihood those deals will close?” you asked, “What’s keeping our salespeople from talking with more customers, what’s holding them back from having better conversations, in what ways can we reduce time spent on non-selling activities?”

Quota attainment is important. But it’s only one measurement. To radically grow revenue, you have to shake it up. Figure out where productivity improvements can be made to free up more time for selling to the right kinds of prospects. Don’t focus only on what you should be selling at the expense of figuring out what’ you could be selling.

I’ve identified three tenets that I believe should now be considered as myth. Do you agree or disagree? Which sales tenets do you think need to be tossed aside?