It’s an age-old argument that still persists today: is sales an art or a science?
The old timers will firmly argue the former, and the modern-day salesperson armed with the latest iPhone and steeped in technology will often argue the latter.
It will be found that both are true for a sales force—but only in the right combination. Let me explain…
Dang It, Sales is an Art!
Well of course it is. Simply examine what a salesperson must do: with a total stranger, a sales rep must establish an instant rapport and a good measure of trust. The rep sounds out the prospect and listens, for only by listening can the rep catch the opening for the pitch. The salesperson then persistently works—sometimes in the same conversation, often in subsequent conversations—to bring that prospect nearer and nearer to the close. And then, of course, the triumph and the piéce de resistance: the close itself.
In the past sales was indeed viewed strictly as an art, and the sales rep viewed as somewhat of a magician (or an evil sorcerer, depending on who you talked to). Salespeople rarely shared their secrets such as their sales processes, and it was therefor tough for a new sales rep to get up and running. Few really made it, and those that did carried on the same “close to the vest” tradition.
Sales management was conducted solely through consultation with sales reps, as were sales forecasts and analyses. Therefor accuracy of these completely depended on the ability of the sales reps to accurately predict.
Dude, It’s a Science!
Welcome to the twenty-first century. On the way to a meeting or prior to calling a prospect, the sales rep can pick up his smartphone or tablet computer and rapidly access a cloud CRM solution. He or she can find out all about the company and prospect about to be spoken to. If there isn’t quite enough data in CRM, a quick trip around the web will reveal much about the prospect or prospect company.
After the sales rep has initiated the conversation, the proven sales process is employed. Instant marketing collateral can be utilized through the web to answer a prospect’s specific questions or concerns. Once concluded, notes on that initial meeting or conversation—or, with the prospect’s permission, audio and/or video of the actual conversation itself—can be saved into CRM so that the same or another salesperson can pick up the ball and smoothly carry it along into the next meeting or phone call. Since the CRM application mirrors the sales process, it is quite easy for anyone to discover the exact status of a sale in progress and move it forward.
Sales management can readily conduct an analysis or create a forecast based in real data—with many times more accuracy than before and in a fraction of the time it once took.
Okay Wait…It’s Both
A good non-sales analogy for describing the combination of art and science might be that of a fighter jet. Today such planes are equipped with cutting-edge automated technology that allows precision flight at dizzying speeds, and an array of computerized weaponry that spells instant destruction with the slightest movement of the pilot’s finger.
But the art enters in with pilot skills.
- When do you stay in formation and when do you roll away?
- When do you engage the enemy, and how do you know when to break off?
- When can you ignore the instruments and proceed on instinct?
- How do you come close to an enemy craft undetected?
Confident answers to such questions only come with training and experience.
It could be said that the fighter jet’s incredible technology is the sales process and tools, and that the pilot’s skill is what makes it all work.
So, is sales an art or a science?
Certainly a sales rep today is armed with plentiful technological assistance. But he or she still must be able to rapidly relate to a prospect and engender trust, know when to pitch and when to hold back, and be able to read the prospect well to ascertain when to go in for that close or when to address other issues. The job is made far easier with the pattern of an agreed-upon sales process, an intuitive CRM solution and instant access to an infinite amount of data through the web—but in the end it is still ability and skill that will bring the sale finally to its close.
So in the end it can be seen that a sales force is operating with both art and science. A skillful combining of the two will mean steadily increasing sales for your company.
See our other articles on sales force skill and sales analytics.