In this article, I explain why and how the widely accepted thinking about sales being a “numbers game” is actually not valid. I also provide practical actions to significantly improve your sales performance. Your comments and questions are very welcome.
Is sales a game? Of numbers?
In “Game of Thrones”, the very popular TV and video game series, there is a lot of activity that relies on large numbers of people. Although there might appear to be this and other parallels between the fantasy drama and the conventional wisdom about sales being a “Game of Numbers”, many experienced sales professionals have always suspected or known that:
- There is no amusement in the strenuous and never-ending exertion to increase sales and ultimately save an enterprise from defeat and extinction; so ‘game’ this is not!
- The pool of easily convertible prospects is, in the end, finite; certainly more finite than an army of foot soldiers called up to defend a giant kingdom against its enemies (many of them self-created).
- Not only is the pool of prospects in any given market limited, the possibilities of conversion to customers are also limited.
- Trying to lord it over, brow-beat, manipulate or coerce prospects and customers is always ill-advised and never ends well.
- There is at least one more point for consideration: the number of hours, days, or years that the sales professional or team has at their disposal to gather enough paying customers so that the enterprise turns a profit is finite and more or less “coded into the DNA” of the enterprise. By this I mean that the underlying or founding ethos of an enterprise determines the investment, staffing and many other important decisions which in turn establish the time-frame for profitability. This relatively fixed time-scale hinges on the mathematical result of the following “simple” calculation:
- R – I = P *
- R = Revenue generated in a period
- I = Investment (cash and non-cash required, including capital + operational expenditure + reserves, etc.) in the same period
- P = Profitability within that period
- R – I = P *
Particularly in a young privately-owned enterprise, P is inversely related to RSAQ. (Profitability is inversely related to the Required Sales Activity Quotient. i.e. The less profitable the enterprise, the greater is the requirement for effective and successful sales activity.)
This dynamic changes somewhat as the enterprise becomes an established brand or comes onto the stock market: in that scenario as P increases, RSAQ also increases, not least because the enterprise now has deeper pockets with which the required sales activity can be funded.
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The myth perpetuated by the majority of sales trainers that sales is a numbers game (“you must get a lot of people telling you ‘no’ before you can get one of them to respond ‘yes’ to your proposition”) is unfortunate and could even be dangerous to the health and survivability of the enterprise, because it is inherently inefficient, helps to entrench waste, and is ultimately unsustainable. Could this be part of why the vast majority of start-up businesses around the world never make it past their teenage years?
Clearly, the experienced sales professionals’ suspicions mentioned above are quite justified and there is much that can be done to remedy them. For example:
“The difference between a pebble and a mountain lies in whom you ask to move it.”
- Sales activity can be made more fun, not only for the sales person but also for the prospect or customer. This will go a long way to significantly reducing the tension and stress associated with the process.
- While the pool of prospects is always going to be limited, it can be dramatically expanded by enlisting the help of the initial members of that pool (the first prospects) to spread the fun experience to their own contacts.
- By properly understanding the prospect or customer, the possibilities of repeated conversion can be increased dramatically.
- By learning how to create larger deals and close sales faster, time within which survival and prosperity can be assured is substantially increased.
The solution to the poor conversion rate encapsulated by the “sales is a numbers game” saying is to invest in properly understanding your prospects and customers’ buying behaviour, realising that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work and is ultimately self-defeating.
The science and methodology of accurately and consistently determining the prospect and customer’s buying behaviour is now well established and every ambitious enterprise would do well to incorporate it into their overall culture, not just their sales and marketing operations.
* Others (e.g. accountants, venture capitalists, etc.) may have other representations of this formula (and the implied “DNA code”), which essentially have the same effect and importance as what I am stating here.
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