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Sales: Science or Art?

By: Dave Brock


Sales Science or Art

Recently, I read an article about sales being more science than art. Perhaps I was a little unfair in my comments, but the author’s premises were flawed.

I think we want to see sales being more like science because of what we perceive as the predictability and certainty that seems to exist in science. We want to be able to say, “If this…then that…” applying rigorous formulas that drive our success.

Books and thousands of articles focus on creating rigid structures and formulas that create predictable success.

For example, in the referenced article, the author used the example, “Water always boils at 100 C.” His premise was that we could apply scientific principles in selling to 100 customers discovering the secret formula for success. By rigorously applying these formulas, we could be perfectly predictable in our success with customers.

But there’s a huge flaw in the example, and in the thinking of how we apply science in selling. Water doesn’t always boil at 100 C. If you are on a mountain, about 2.3 KM (7500 feet), water will boil at 92C, of if you add a little salt to water, the boiling point is raised slightly.

A scientist when responding to the question, “At what temperature does water boil,” will always answer, “It depends…..”

What we miss in these discussions is the essence of science and the inherent beauty, or art, that underlies all scientific query.

Science is about incessant, sometimes obsessive, curiosity. Scientists are consumed with questions like, “Why does matter behave in this way…?” or, “If we did these things, what changes in the behavior might result?” or, “What happens if…?” or, “How might we change that…?”

Scientists are consumed with the why’s, what’s, how’s, what if’s.

Isn’t this what great salespeople do? Aren’t great salespeople inherently curious about their customers and their businesses? Aren’t great salespeople consumed by the why’s what’s, how’s, what if’s?

Scientists aren’t satisfied with just the questions; they are driven to find answers to those questions—to seek solutions.

As scientist pursue the answers to those questions, they do so in a very structured manner. They conduct experiments—less to prove what they think the answers might be, but more to see if anything might disprove their theories. They know that 1000 successful experiments are meaningless if they find just one failure.

Scientists recognize the answers they get will vary, so they seek to understand, “What causes these behaviors in these specific situations?” They seek to understand these and to develop solutions based on those situations. They seek to understand what changes in those situations might cause different results/outcomes. They learn from their experiments and refine both their theories and approaches based on the results of their experiments.

Isn’t that what great salespeople do? They don’t blindly apply formulaic approaches, instead understanding the specific situation and what solutions best fit those situations. Don’t great sales people constantly learn from their experience, refining their approaches based on those experiences?

Great science is inherently collaborative. Scientists realize they don’t have all the answers; they understand the great complexity in the things they seek to understand. As a result, they recognize they need to work with others—both to generate the questions and to discover answers.

Isn’t this what we have to do in being successful working with our customers? Our success is less about giving our customers the answers, but more about helping them discover the issues/opportunities, and collaboratively developing the best answers in moving forward.

There is great beauty and art in science. We can learn a lot from what scientists do and how they work.

Published: July 15, 2019

Source: Partners in Excellence

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Dave Brock

Dave Brock is the founder of Partners in EXCELLENCE, a consulting and services company helping to improve the effectiveness of business professionals with strategy development, organizational planning, and implementation. Dave has spent his career working for and with high performance organizations, ranging from the Fortune 25 to startups, including companies such as IBM, HP, Nokia, AT&T, Microsoft, General Electric, and many, many more. The work Dave does with business strategies is closely tied to personal effectiveness of the people in the organization. As a result, Dave is deeply involved in the development of a number of training and coaching programs.

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