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The Wrong Way To Get Sales People to Listen

Those of us who choose to work in sales ops love data. We’re awesome at creating reports and charts, and if someone has a question about how to use Excel, we’re the ones you want to talk to.

So when we’re trying to convince the sales team to do something, our natural tendency is to start throwing fistfuls of data at them. Maybe even buckets of data. Heck, some of you are showing up with huge semi-trailers full of data that you’re dumping in their laps.

And then the sales team ignores all of it.

This phenomenon can be truly exasperating if you’re not expecting it. After all, we’re taught from our earliest days in school that a longer paper is better than a shorter one. Teachers handed out writing assignments with minimum length requirements, and only the worst students failed to reach those minimums. More data, more words, more well-reasoned arguments should be more persuasive, right?

Unfortunately, that early training doesn’t set us up for success in the business world. More words aren’t always better. In fact, a lot of the time, fewer words are more effective.

This simple picture helps illustrate why:

The warning label on the left is the kind you were likely to see on gym equipment in the 1980s. If you saw this, you would read it, and understand that you might get hurt if you were dumb enough to stick your fingers too close to the machine.

The warning label on the right is the kind companies are required to put on gym equipment today. You probably didn’t read the whole thing. To tell the truth, I’m writing this blog post, and I didn’t even read the whole thing. This kind of warning is good for protecting companies from lawsuits, but not so great at getting people to take action.

But these two pictures also illustrate another point that isn’t quite as obvious: crafting a message that is both simple and comprehensive is really hard.

The lefthand picture conveys one point really well. But it skips over a lot of important information — like the need to make sure the weight pin is fully inserted. Conveying that information quickly and effectively would require a lot more work. Specifically, it would require us to put ourselves in the place of the person working out. To consider their needs. Their attention span. Their fears. And then communicate effectively in a way that takes that information into account.

The same principle is at work when the sales ops team is interacting with the sales team.

  • If we’re providing sales guidance, we need to think about how the salespeople currently make decisions. Then we need to determine what information they need and how that information should be delivered to get them to make better decisions.
  • If we’re trying to explain how to win against a competitor, we need to focus on the decision-making process of the potential customer — not on all the details and descriptions of the various competitive options.
  • If we’re trying to get salespeople to grow their accounts, we need to figure out how to point them at the accounts that have growth potential with specific product lines — not just expect them to boost sales by a certain percentage.

We cover these ideas in a lot more detail in a trio of resources:

In short, dumping data on the sales team isn’t going to get them to change their behavior. It is possible to get them to change — but it’s going to require a lot of time and effort. And in the end, that effort is worth it because it will ultimately help your team — and your entire organization — accomplish its goals.

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