Sales and Sales Management Blog

June 30, 2010

Guest Article: “What Do Formula 1 Drivers and Great Sales Professionals Have In Common?

Filed under: career development,Sales Process,Uncategorized — Paul McCord @ 9:16 am
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What Do Formula 1 Drivers and Great Sales Professionals Have In Common?
David Brock

For sometime,  I’ve been haranguing readers about the importance of the selling process.  Even in a recent post, I considered use of the sales process as a condition of continued employment.  I’m not softening my position on this, the sales process is the cornerstone to personal and organizational performance excellence in selling. 

However, the posts have generated a good amount of discussion and emails.   Some have suggested the process removes creativity and innovation.  Some have said the highly scripted nature of a sales process is not conducive to the highly customer focused/responsive approach to selling we need to be executing.  My colleague, Andy Rudin, has made some outstanding arguments about the need for sale professionals to be able to “call audibles, deviating from the game plan” in order to be responsive to the situation.  I tend to agree with Andy’s concept.

It seems much of the discussion is about the level of precision and prescriptiveness of the selling process.  I thought it would be useful to provide some clarification.

In the past, I’ve used the analogy of a road map.  A sales process is a lot like a road map.  A map offers directions to get from Point A to Point B, in fact it may offer several options based on different criteria (e.g. Freeways, Surface Streets, Scenic, etc.).  A road map doesn’t describe everything one encounters on the journey.  It won’t describe every pothole, twist or turn.  It doesn’t describe road conditions or hazards that might be encountered along the way, nor does it describe what to do when those hazards are encountered. 

While the road map offers directions to get from Point A to B, it still requires a skilled driver to execute it.  The driver’s skill needs to be much higher, if you want to get between points very quickly.  Then you add traffic, it takes even more skill to navigate, while going very fast, with dynamic and changing traffic conditions.

Let me extend the example, I like watching Formula 1 racing.  Anyone that can drive, can drive a Formula 1 race course.  But to drive a Formula 1 course at 200mph, dealing with other skilled drivers, dealing with changing road, car conditions, accidents, and winning at the end requires the highest level of skill and performance.  Formula 1 drivers, think and analyze—very fast, they adapt and improvise quickly.  They change to meet changing conditions.  Above all, they stay on course, that is if they want to finish the race and win.

The sales process is a lot like a map.  It provides general directions, and may even provide options.  But executing the sales process, in the face of changing conditions, while moving at full speed, and beating competition requires the highest levels of skill, performance, ability to “read the conditions,” and adaptability by the sales professional.  The best sales professionals, like Formula 1 drivers, don’t seek to “drive on their own course,”  but learn how to exploit the course/process, adapt it to the current situation and conditions and go on to win.

Formula 1 drivers never blame the course if they fail to achieve goals.  Likewise, great sales people never blame the sales process for failing to achieve their goals.  Great sales professionals know that the sales process positions them to be as effective as possible, but that in the end, it’s all about execution—better, faster, more effectively than anyone else.  They know the execution is not blind, but requires thoughtfulness, adaptation and nimbleness on their part—if they are going to win.

I have a problem with sales processes that try to be overly prescriptive.  Those that try to anticipate everything that can happen on the journey.  Those that try to describe every twist and turn, every possible road condition, every possible situation that can happen in traffic.  It’s impossible.  Those that try to do this usually fail.  They create a process that is overly complex, too cumbersome, unresponsive, and slow.

At the risk of alienating some of my audience, I think overly prescriptive, highly scripted sales processes demean the sales professional.  The script the sales person has to follow without any deviation or adaptation to the system removes the real time thinking, analysis, and adaptation that is critical to winning fast, efficiently, effectively.  I tend to think that organizations that put this type of process into place do it because they either do not trust their sales people, they do not want to invest the time to train sales people, or they are looking for the lowest level of skills.  These jobs will disappear—they are better executed through the internet or through robots.

Selling is complex.  To be effective, we have to have a road map or a course.  To win, we have to think, analyze, adapt, and execute at full speed.  Great sales processes enable great sales professionals to execute and win like Formula 1 drivers.

Dave Brock is President of Partners In EXCELLENCE, a global consulting company. Partners In EXCELLENCE helps its client achieve the highest levels of performance in developing and executing business, sales, marketing, and leadership strategies. Follow Dave on his blog at http://partnersinexcellenceblog.com, on twitter @davidabrock, or contact Dave directly at dabrock@excellenc.com

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6 Comments »

  1. Dave, what you are saying is accurate. I believe as sales professionals, we need to learn how to think,
    not follow a script. We need to respond not react. The mark of a professional is one who learns the strategies and techniques and then is able to apply what he or she knows in a way that fits the sales situation. The challenge for most organizations is to learn how to reframe their approach to training their sales people. They need to stop looking for a quick fix and invest in a system that gets results over the long haul.

    Comment by Tom Borg — June 30, 2010 @ 10:17 am | Reply

  2. […] the original:  Guest Article: “What Do Formula 1 Drivers and Great Sales … By admin | category: contact management sales | tags: crm, directly-at-dabrock, […]

    Pingback by Guest Article: “What Do Formula 1 Drivers and Great Sales … California on me — June 30, 2010 @ 6:12 pm | Reply

  3. Tom, thanks for the great perspective. Too often we all look for the quick fixes and easy solutions rather than mastery. Extending the F1 example, think of all the practice, analysis, preparation and training the driver and team go through to be in a position to respond as conditions change. How often do we see this in the sales world? Thanks for the great comment! Regards, Dave

    Comment by Dave Brock — June 30, 2010 @ 11:09 pm | Reply

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