Selling with House Money: Do You Make More Sales by Focusing on Overall Process or Individual Outcomes?

Would you rather be the casino or the gambler?

Do you win more sales by focusing on the overall process? Or, the result of individual calls and pitches?

In poker, there is a theory that when you make a bet with the odds in your favor, you have won something regardless as to whether you win or lose that specific bet. And, when you make a bet with the odds against you, something is lost, regardless as to whether you win or lose with that specific choice.

Can you be using good sales techniques if someone says “no?” Yup. Big time. 

When you do the right things, you are going to be successful. It doesn’t matter whether, on an individual play your script works, people agree, or you close a deal. When you are working a true system, and you have the big picture in mind, your bottom line results will be multiples of trying to beat the odds pitch by pitch, proposal by proposal. You are not going to win every play, but you are guaranteed to win overall. You are the casino, you are selling with a system, and you are playing with house money.

On the flip side, if you are not selling with a system, you are much like a gambler. You think way too much about the outcome of each call, each meeting, each proposal. You are focused on the outcomes of individual plays rather than focusing on executing on an overall winning system. You tend to change direction and strategies frequently. Your plan has far more exceptions than rules.

If your sales methodology resembles a gambler, you don’t stand a chance. You are going to win some; you may even win some big ones, but overall you will never be better than mediocre.

You can break the rules of your system at times, but break them too often, and you don’t have a system.

Having a winning system doesn’t mean that you are a robot. At times, it is strategically wise to vary from your system. Let me relate an extreme example. In my early days, I was working for a client that sold employee relocation services. I called very big companies that moved employees all over the world. The white whale of the industry was GE at the time. They made more than 2,000 moves a year, and it was “impossible” to get a meeting with them I heard again and again. Bottom line, I booked that meeting with GE. I did it by varying significantly from my winning process. I actually, purposely said swear words on the phone. I made a bet, and I won.

However far more results have been earned by sticking with the system when times are tough. I could relate many more examples of reps getting consistent results by sticking with their system even though there were stretches of failure. For a personal example, I had a client a few years ago who targeted very large oil companies for a very specialized environmental service. The top 30-50 oil companies were by far the best targets. We had tried a few callers, and things weren’t working so, even though my calling days had long been over, I offered to jump in. Bottom line, Troy got about eight meetings within top levels of the largest oil companies in the US for projects worth many millions. In that case, what got results was sticking with the system. When I was bored, didn’t want to make the next call, heard “no” multiple times, believed it useless to keep going, I just kept saying to myself “Scott, work the system.” I did, and the results came in.

In the oil company example, it would not have been a winning system to swear at the decision-makers when they picked up the phone, as I did to get the GE meeting. And if I had succumbed to boredom, frustration or panic and varied my process I would not have booked eight meetings for Troy; I would have been lucky to book two or three.

In the GE example, I gambled and won taking a chance on strategies for that one target that would have been disastrous if used consistently on others.

Remember, if your “sales system” has too many exceptions, you don’t have a sales system.

Do what this guy says, or you can’t work here

Having your team working a system, having a company culture ingrained with the right way to prospect, handle a discovery call, move a prospect through a sales pipeline and ultimately close the deal means that your team is working in the high probability zone. It is your duty as a company owner, VP sales or manager to know the difference between a system that works best overall versus gambling, guessing and winging it.

I had a client that flew me into company headquarters every month for three years to train new hires. They went from $30 million to $100 million in sales during that period, not necessarily because I was so special, but because they were working a system.

Every month before I started the training session for the new hires, the VP of sales would start the meeting by giving a speech about how well the company was doing, how quickly they were growing and that there was a method to their success. It always made me uncomfortable, but he would end by saying “If you don’t do what Scott is going to teach you, you can’t work here. Do things your way, and you won’t be working here long.”

He didn’t say that because I was so special. They were growing rapidly long before I came into the picture. But their system, their beliefs about how to sell their products, their beliefs about what to do at each step of the sale to get the best results from their efforts, was remarkably similar to what I teach. What that VP of sales was saying is “we have a system and ways of doing things that are working for us.  If you are not willing to learn and work our system, you can’t work here.” They hired good people and paid them very well. They plugged their reps into a system and provided support for those that needed help in learning it. If the reps wanted to play outside the system, if they wanted to gamble, the company wasn’t going to let them gamble with their money.

How to tell if you are too focused on sales outcomes, and doomed to mediocrity as a result

You over-react to individual calls or meetings.

My favorite extreme examples: Trainee does all the prep work and is ready to start working the system first thing in the morning and promises to let me know how it goes. Get a call, and the trainee says “Scott, it just isn’t working, most people aren’t picking up and the two people I  spoke to cut me off. It just isn’t going to work.” Hmm, this call came in at 10 am on the first day. They had been calling for less than an hour and were ready to abandon all that they had prepared.

Another example which happens a lot when people try new things and exasperates me. “Scott, I had a call, and they shut me right down. It won’t work. It is _______________. “ Pick any of these to complete the statement. “Too long,” Too much info” “too salesy” “Isn’t conversational enough.”This one exasperates me as it is a pretty clear indicator that someone that takes the result of one call as indicative of what will work overall does not have things in perspective and is doomed to overreact to individual outcomes.

You focus on “one thing” that will turn everything around

It is human nature to want to hit the easy button. And often sales reps will believe that if only they had the right script, got better at objections, had a better story, could improve their elevator pitch (shoot me) or had a better list, all would be different. But the reality is that the answer is never “one thing.” Never. It is always a combination of things that create a system that delivers superior results over time.

If you are bopping from one new idea or strategy to another, thinking it will make the difference,  you are not tweaking a system; you are placing losing bets. You are selling like a gambler.

You believe the “everything has changed” crap 

Please excuse me if I go into rant mode for a moment. Whenever I hear someone say “Everything in sales has changed.” I sigh. I sigh because that person has stacked the odds against them. Those who believe that are typically shutting themselves off from learning something that will help them right now. Rather than learn from sales success, and that success might have occurred last year, last decade, they shut off opening their minds to examples that might help them by saying “everything has changed.”

Now certainly some things have changed; Technology, our prospects access to information, competitive environments, and more. But the drivers of sales success have not changed. You still have to target the right prospects, interact with them effectively, have good messaging, yada yada yada.

Don’t let someone sell you the wonder strategy of the month by trying to convince you that “everything has changed” and you can’t learn something from prior successful producers or even other industries. Be willing to learn from all sources and tweak the component parts of your system to win.

You think making more calls will save you

First, let me say this. If you are a salesperson and work for a sales manager whose direction and coaching starts and stops with “make more calls,” leave that job. You will never make any real money. If you or your manager are “activity focused” and really believe that more dials, more doors knocked on, more pitches or more proposals will turn things around, you are in denial and deluding yourselves. Assuming you are making a reasonable effort, “more” will never save you. You are not only selling like a gambler but you are making really poor bets.

Your results and income hasn’t changed much recently

This one is a tough one. Bottom line. You might think you are doing the right things and working hard enough in the right places, but if your results, your income hasn’t changed much recently, it is a big fat clue that you are not working a winning system. If you think you are working a system, it’s a pretty poor one.

Certainly, if you can look back two or three years and you are getting average results or less, you need to step up to the plate and acknowledge that what you have been doing isn’t working. If the needle isn’t moving, put aside your rationalizations and excuses as to why. Admit that you are not working a winning system and have been selling in the gamblers zone. Be willing, be determined, to change.

The probability and payoff of the wins delivered also matter

When you focus on implementing an overall effective process your probability of sales success goes way up.

But the success of a sales process is not just about the probability of wins and losses. It is also about the payoff of the wins delivered.

Everybody is familiar with the law of the vital few, aka the Pareto Principle. 80% of success comes from 20% of our effort. The 80/20 rule. 80% of outcomes come from 20% of the causes. 80% of the revenue & profit comes from 20% of the clients. 80% of sales are closed by the top 20% of the salespeople.

The 80/20 rule is a rough guide to the common distribution of cause and effect. Your number may not be “20” and “80.” Your number might be 90/10 or 95/5. The point is that for most things in life, and in sales, not all efforts and inputs affect results equally.

When you work a winning system, you put more emphasis on the things that matter most to outcomes as a matter of process and habit.

The 80/20 Rule Also Applies to Screwing Up

You should also be thinking about the 80/20 rule regarding what actions/mistakes have a disproportionate impact on achieving a bad sales result. What things can you stop doing or saying that is heavily contributing to your bad results? Rip those things out of your process.

If you stop doing stupid stuff, you can have an 80/20 impact on sales

Sometimes it is not what you do, but what you stop doing, that contributes disproportionately to achieving superior results. If 80% of sales come from a small segment of your list, stop calling the low-return no-return parts of the list to get a big boost. Ex: I do a lot of work in an industry where 50% of what is considered a “great” account comes from just 3% of target lists. If you don’t know the profile of that 3%, you spend the vast majority of your time in knucklehead land. Just stop doing that, and you will immediately see a big impact on results. Very common.

You greatly improve your sales process when you make a habit of identifying and not doing stupid stuff as a matter of habit and process.

Why does a casino – “the house” always make money over time? Probabilities.

If you are a casino, you are working a system with the odds stacked in your favor. Overall, a casino has created a process that delivers good outcomes for them again and again and again. They do the things that most impact results as a matter of habit and have ripped out the stupid stuff that drags down results.

If you are a casino, you will have some bad results. Gamblers are going to win some bets. Some gamblers will “beat” the superior casino process fighting against them on individual bets.

Individual decisions can be based upon bad thinking and wrong assumptions yet be successful.

Decisions based upon sound reasoning can be complete failures.

But over time actions based on more thorough and reasoned decision-making, a winning process, will lead to overall better results.

Sales leaders make a strategic mistake by assuming that a “good outcome” must be the result of solid thinking and doing the right things. Not even close to being true.

Those that rack up the most wins and do so consistently all emphasize implementation of a superior process over prioritizing outcomes.

Gamble, and you will win here and there.

Work an effective overall system and you will win consistently. Ka-ching, Ka-ching. You will be piling fat stacks.

Even basic sales systems can beat the competition soundly

Everybody wants the quantum leap in sales results. I have seen far more quantum leaps in sales productivity from companies or individuals that get their basics in order. Getting the basics organized and implemented consistently is far more likely to vault your sales productivity forward than embracing again the latest strategy of the month cure-all or new technical innovation. And once you get your basics in order, you have a strong foundation upon which to layer all the more advanced strategies that will help you.

Even basic systems, implemented consistently, are usually good enough to run circles around 90% of the competition. Not kidding.

If you are a sales leader would you rather be “the house,” working a system that will deliver a consistently superior result over time? Or would you rather be the gambler trying to win a bet?

When you are in sales, the only certainty is that there is no certainty. We deal in risk. We take a chance with every effort not knowing what the outcome will be. But when we are working a well thought out sales process, we can have a high degree of confidence in what the distribution of outcomes will be. We can have a high degree of confidence knowing what the overall probability of winning will be but also the payoff of those wins.

So if you are a company owner, VP of sales or account executive, are you playing with house money or are you a gambler?