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The sweet science that leads to sales success

A Q&A with Nancy Martini, author of "Scientific Selling"

SMM: Your new book takes an in-depth at applying a scientific analysis to sales. Is that truly a new concept?

Martini: Our company is 57 years old and has been working with behavioral assessments since from the beginning. What’s new is applying behavioral science with skills analytics and combining those two to drive sales performance.

SMM: You talk about demystifying sales analytics. What do you mean by that?

Martini: We all know that companies spend big money on training and big money on development, and yet most of sales assessment is hindsight. At the end of the month you ask, “How did we do?” Analytics is used to genuinely understand what you have. I call it the three levels of analytics — your people, your team and as an organization. Analytics can demystify what you have on all three of those levels.

SMM: Does that tie into your concept of needing to get “upstream” measurements rather than downstream measurements?

Martini: Exactly. Downstream measurements are sales results, closing ratio and other historical data. You need those because actual sales results give you an indicator of what your organization is doing. But it’s not enough. When you’re a manager trying to drive sales performance with a future focus, you want to look at three things: Behavioral assessment (what motivates a person); skills (if you’re planning professional development, what one or two things can actually impact sales?); and third is sales results. That’s the trifecta for a sales manager.

SMM: You believe strongly that learning what motivates each person on your team will increase retention, right?

Martini: Absolutely. And one of the most important things today for a business is retention. You invest so much money in people that you want your best and brightest to stay, be motivated, challenged and engaged. There’s an old saying, hire for drive and teach skills. You can’t inject drive, that’s fairly hardwired. Skills you can teach, coach and enable. The science side of behavior tells you how these various folks are motivated.

SMM: The first chapter of your new book paints a rather bleak picture of sales today. You talk about training that doesn’t impact performance, managers making poor hiring decisions based on bad tactics, the problems posed by talented salespeople jumping ship for better opportunities, widespread presence of poor sales processes…Is anyone doing anything right?

Martini: Rather than bleak I would say it’s an awesome opportunity if you’re aware. If you’re business as usual, a lot of the methodologies and training that worked in sales 10 years ago just aren’t enough today. The position of sales is more demanding, you need to be more sophisticated, and analytics can help drive that. But this is an incredible time to be in sales. The leverage point for companies today is taking scientific data and applying it to the business of selling. That is so accessible, incredibly efficient and people don’t even know it’s available.