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Putting One Bigfoot in Front of the Other

A new series called Finding Bigfoot is coming soon to Animal Planet, and I can’t help but think that sometimes sales leaders resemble the team on this show. They believe in their hearts that there is an optimal way for salespeople to operate (be it methodology or process). But as they stumble around the metaphorical woodlands of their sales organization, they find little evidence that the methodologies or processes were ever there.

The problem often lies with sales leaders getting too caught up in  finding one big transformational initiative that will forever change the way their people sell—a noble goal  akin to expecting to find Bigfoot sitting on a rock at the edge of the woods waiting for you. While it’s important to have an end goal in mind, it’s more important to understand that, even for Bigfoot, every journey begins with just one step.

Therefore, sales leaders should take an incremental approach and focus on the small pieces of evidence that, when taken in the aggregate, demonstrate that there’s something stirring in the woods. Sales leaders need to identify and track leading indicators of change. For example, are your salespeople completing call planners before they engage with a buyer? Not doing so is like heading off into the woods without any idea of where you’re going or what you’re looking for. You might find something, but it most likely won’t be Bigfoot. You’re more likely to find an unseen object(ion) that results in a broken ankle (in other words, a lost sale).

So what’s the plan? What outcomes are your salespeople targeting? Obviously, they would like a sale, but that rarely happens before multiple engagements (remember, Bigfoot isn’t sitting on that rock waiting for you). And what’s a good outcome? Is it an agreement for another meeting? An agreement for another meeting is like searching through the same wooded area even though you came out of it the first time with absolutely no evidence that Bigfoot was there. A buyer agreeing to another meeting means absolutely nothing. They could just take the meeting to get a free lunch, or they could use it to get rid of you and then cancel the meeting before it happens. There’s no commitment and no evidence that you’re in a sales cycle. But if they agree to another meeting and identify who else needs to be there, as well as commit to introducing you to them in advance and suggest the agenda, you have action on behalf of the buyer. This is a sign of forward momentum, or in our parlance, an advance. It’s the equivalent of finding something that resembles a large footprint or an unidentified animal hair. It’s early days, but at least there’s something worth investing more time in.

Although business sometimes feels slow-going and that great transformation is as out of sight as the Sasquatch itself, you have to continue to hunt for evidence that you’re getting closer and not lose confidence. Many sales transformation initiatives fail because sales leaders want to see outsize results early in the process (think: Squatchy bolting across the hillside) and they don’t realize the importance of the smaller, seemingly insignificant incremental changes, such as planning and advances versus continuations. The successful initiatives are the ones that focus on such fundamentals, embed them, reinforce them, and celebrate them with as much enthusiasm as the Finding BigFoot guys would if they ever found that illusive chap.

  John Golden is president and CEO of sales performance improvement organization Huthwaite where he is responsible for the company’s global financial and operational performance and long-term strategy for success.
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