A brain surgeon, an astrophysicist, and a salesperson walk into a bar. The brain surgeon says, “Man, I’ve had such a long day in the operating room. That last surgery was so complex I had to have three nurses, two anaesthesiologists, and an orderly help me.”
The astrophysicist says, “If you think that’s complex, you should try getting a probe to Saturn and back again. We needed twelve scientists and three super computers to run today’s calculations.”
The salesperson says, “Oh, my job’s not complex at all. I don’t need a lot of people or technology. It’s not like it’s rocket science.”
In all seriousness, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say, “It’s not like it’s rocket science,” about sales. And it’s true that sales is not, in fact, rocket science. But it’s not true that it’s not complex. In fact, in some ways, parts of rocket science is simple compared to sales.
Why rocket science might be easier
No disrespect to rocket scientists, but in some ways their job is actually fairly straightforward. Yes, there are a lot of numbers to grapple with, and many constraints to overcome. They need to understand the properties of available fuels and materials, the impact of gravity and inertia, and many other physical principles. Then they have to be able to convert that information to numbers and manipulate it in meaningful ways.
But there is one thing they don’t have to worry about as much: The human element. Unless they’re designing spacecraft for human occupation, rocket scientists operate in a world of pure numbers and immutable physical laws.
Three ways sales is more complex than rocket science
While the numbers and calculations are not as complex as rocket science, effective salespeople and their managers understand and manipulate constraints just like rocket scientists do. But, unlike rocket scientists, for salespeople most of those constraints are human. Here are three ways humans make sales more complex than rocket science.
Number of stakeholdersAccording to a recent interview with CEB, the number of stakeholders in an average B2B sale continues to increase. In 2015, the number was 5.4, and in 2016 it was 6.8. Unlike a rocket scientist, who only needs the consensus of the sun, moon, and planets to determine which direction the rocket will go, a salesperson must get everyone on the prospect’s buying team aligned with everyone on their own team, which can sometimes feel like herding cats.
Changing expectationsWhile we humans may not be able to decide whether Pluto is a planet or not, Pluto itself is in no confusion about the matter. From the beginning of the study of science to the present day, Pluto has never once significantly changed its mass, velocity, or the direction of its orbit. Buyers are a different kind of gravitational force altogether. Buyer expectations have shifted more in the age of the Internet than in the previous 100 years combined, and they continue to shift.
Human variabilityWhile the calculations to launch a man into space and bring him back again are definitely complex and we applaud the women and men who ever accomplished this amazing feat, one thing those calculations didn’t have to account for was whether the man wanted to be launched into space. On the contrary, salespeople must deal with multiple variables involved with every single person on the buying team, plus the complex differences in how each separate organization buys. And they must make these calculations on the fly, many times daily, and convince dozens of people to want to make the decision.
On top of all of that, every sale has the potential to change midstream in ways that gravity and velocity never do. Short of an unexpected meteor interference (and even meteor impacts can be predicted up to a point), rocket scientists rarely have to deal with changes coming out of left field (or left solar system). Salespeople, however, deal with these mid-launch shifts daily.
Despite all this complexity, sales leaders persist in the bad habit of throwing new salespeople into the job and expecting them to sink or swim. This is akin to throwing a graduate of a college mathematics program into a room and expecting them to launch a rocket without help.
Highly effective sales teams understand the complexity of the job, and the need not only for effective onboarding, but also for ongoing training, reinforcement, coaching, and optimization of the sales process. Only with a highly effective sales system that supports salespeople in their complex jobs can salespeople be freed to soar.
Feel free to contact me to discuss how Membrain can help your complex selling efforts simpler and more effective.