There is a never-ending search for the "magic bullet" in sales: something sales organizations and salespeople can buy, practice, or even say to bypass all the hard work of earning their client’s business. The market continually dangles shiny objects in front of us, all 110% guaranteed to answer the challenges of acquiring clients and growing revenue. But history shows us that there is no magic bullet, and no substitute for hard work and good strategy.
A Short History of 4 "Magic Bullets" in Sales
- The Sales Process. The sales process promised to ensure that every salesperson could hit their targets by following a linear path through every deal—going from target to qualified to discovery to solution to presentation to negotiation to won deal. Any problems or challenges along the way were evidence that the salesperson had strayed from their prescribed yellow brick road. The problem with best practices is that they become worst practices when there is an inflection point, an event that causes things to change direction. And so the promise of the sales process was never realized, as sales quickly became both complex and dynamic around change.
- The CRM. CRMs promised to win sales by sheer force of data: to organize the sales force and provide visibility into every salesperson’s activity, recognize the deals and their progression, and, in the worst of all promises, create a culture of accountability. But while tracking data is fine, accountability isn't created by technological tools, even one that provides visibility. When every sales organization has a CRM yet less than half of the sales force reaches their goals, it’s easy to conclude that the CRM, while critically important for some tasks, is not the answer to the challenges of selling effectively.
- Social Selling. As social media exploded, social sellers promised to end the need to prospect and eliminate cold outreach altogether. Instead, they insisted that connecting with your prospective clients on Facebook, LinkedIn, and the like would generate more sales opportunities with less effort, all while being much more fun and engaging. We now understand how important content marketing is, but you never hear a serious person talk about social selling. If social selling was a magic bullet, it was fired directly at sales results, killing them by eliminating a focus on opportunity creation.
- Automation. Recently, automation has become the must-have sales technology, ostensibly allowing salespeople to double, triple, or 10X their results—all while reducing their work loads and allowing technology to do the heavy lifting. The Technology Industrial Complex, including the insight-based organizations that sing the praises and manufacture tech-friendly claims about sales results, insist that technology and automation are the answer. But no algorithm can replace human expertise and care, especially when it relies so heavily on asynchronous communication.
Soon enough, there will be another "magic bullet" promising better results with less effort than ever. Even though some of these ideas can create some value, such as organizing data in a CRM, they inevitably over-promise and under-deliver, failing to live up to their initial hype.
Replacing Your “Magic Bullet” with Real Strategies
As a profession, we love buying into these gimmicks because we want results without having to do the heavy lifting required to reach our goals. The promise that something external can produce results that require leadership, engagement, culture, and effectiveness is false. If you want real improvement, you can only find them in a set of disciplines that produce the results you want over time, provided that you do the work necessary to create and sustain positive outcomes.
Better sales results start with strong and engaged leaders, the kind who set goals, raise standards, create a positive culture of accountability, and live and breathe sales. Every great sales organization is built on good leadership and a positive culture of accountability. The first and easiest evidence of both factors is the number and quality of the opportunities in their pipeline—without the sales leaders having to count phone calls and emails.
Second, work to create value in your clients’ environment. The legacy approaches were designed for a certain time and a specific environment. But our complex and rapidly changing world requires an agile, modern sales approach. What makes this effective is that you are selling so it serves your prospective client. While the legacy approaches cause your clients to shrug their shoulders, not finding your textbook conversation compelling, the modern approach finds your client leaning in because your insightful approach makes you highly relevant.
The third strategy is something we might call "sales conversation fluency." This is a measurement of a salesperson’s effectiveness. Traditional metrics don’t do much to recognize this fluency, as it shows up in creating new opportunities, progressing deals, and winning at a high percentage. The large majority of sales problems and challenges are solved by these three seemingly magic bullets, but all of them come down to putting in the work.