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The Devil is in the Details

By: Dave Brock


I  suppose it’s human nature not to look at details. If I look at the pace of business and life, the workloads each of us have, it’s easy to gloss over things.

We look at reports, only looking at the summary data, not looking at or understanding the data itself.

There are countless examples:

Sales people are making the right number of outbound calls, activity levels are right—but if the quality of the calls is garbage, then we are wasting our time. We don’t know that unless we drill down into the details of the calls themselves. For example, listening to a few, having measures that give us some view of the results they produce.

Or our pipeline numbers look right, we have the right coverage, there appears to be velocity. But we don’t look at the details. We don’t pay attention to the 30% (or choose your number) of deals in the pipeline that have close dates of last year, last quarter, even last month. We don’t pay attention to those deals that have been in cycle 3-5 times longer than most, we don’t pay attention to close date/sales cycle anomalies, we mistake churn for velocity.

Or we look at deal strategies, the sales person talks about where they are, who the competition is, and what we’ve done. But we fail to understand the underlying issues on what’s driving the customer need to buy, are we dealing with who we’re dealing with or the decision makers, what are the business consequences to the customer, and so on. Or worse, we just focus on the outcome, “When are you getting the order,” without even focusing on the details of what we are doing, not doing, or need to be doing.

Or we make a sales call, without knowing the right people to accomplish our goals will be participating, or if the customer will be prepared to accomplish what we want to accomplish, or…….

We fail to perform, we fail to perform at the highest levels possible, because of the details.

We make excuses because we are busy, we don’t have the time. But we always have the time for rework and recovering.

We don’t train ourselves to drill down and understand the data. Am I looking at the right data? Am I looking at it in the right way? Am I understanding what it’s really saying? Or even, is it accurate? Summaries, aggregations, totals, subtotals don’t tell us this stuff or they may be telling us the wrong stuff. We don’t know until we drill down and understand.

I’ve used this example before, but there are the clients who have said, “100 customers make up 80% of our revenue, we just have to focus on those 100 customers.” While the data is true, they miss that every year, 60 of those customers are different. So they don’t really understand they have a churn/customer loyalty problem.

Or as sales people, we hear what we want to hear. We don’t probe, we don’t drill down, we don’t question skeptically, we don’t try to make sense out of things that don’t make sense. So we miss the opportunity to really help the customer, to create/build real value, to set ourselves apart, to create/build real insight.

We have to take the time to search for the meaning of the data.

So the devil is in the details. We have to train ourselves to look beneath the summary data, we have to train ourselves to question, analyze, probe, and understand.

Someone much smarter than I said, “Focus on the details and the big things will take care of themselves.” There’s a lot of validity in that.

This article was originally published by Partners in Excellence

Published: October 10, 2014

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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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