One of the tired old debates in our field is whether sales is an art or a science.

For those who know me, you know that I’m not a fan of overly simple and binary questions, and this one is as silly as any other.

That said, I think it’s important to be clear about one thing – sales isn’t a science.

Period.

I’m not saying it’s an art, just that it’s not a science. I’ll elaborate here, or if you’re a hothead go ahead and just react to that….

Still here? Cool…

….a more “scientific” approach to this topic might be to ask what does “is sales a science” mean, and is it a valuable thing to ask.

Let’s explore that here – and see what value we can get out of this bad question by looking at it in a different way.

 

WHO AM I TO ASK

Before we begin, let me offer some credentials for asking this question in the first place.

My dad was a scientist – but not only that, a true philosopher of science. He was always fascinated by the question and the path to the answer as much as the answer itself.

 

IT ISN’T THE ANSWER, IT’S HOW YOU GOT THERE

Seems strange? It isn’t. In science, an answer doesn’t mean much unless the path to get there is complete and correct – and this brings us to the definition of science, and the reason sales doesn’t fit.

 

WHAT IS SCIENCE

As my dad often said, science is agreement – but a very specific kind of agreement.

Replicated experiments.

You may have heard the term “Peer Reviewed” in reference to scientific experiments. This is what that’s all about. Some other scientist took the same steps as the original scientist making the claim and was able to replicate the conclusion by replicating the experiment.

In other words – in science – something is worthy of being called a scientific fact (what my dad called agreement) if someone else can follow the same steps and get the same results.

You can do that in physics, biology, chemistry and other physical sciences – in tightly controlled laboratory conditions where each variable is exactly the same as in the original experiment.

But people don’t work that way.

 

SALES IS ABOUT PEOPLE, AND NO TWO PEOPLE OR INTERACTIONS ARE THE SAME

Imagine if you had ten salespeople and ten prospects and mixed them together for ten efforts to sell the same thing. Even if you scripted the salespersons part of the interaction down to the smallest detail, can you really imagine that the ten interactions would be exactly the same and would all lead to the exact same result?

Of course not – there are people involved, and people just don’t work that way.

So sorry gang – sales isn’t science.

But – the scientific method can be very valuable is sales.

Let’s look at that.

 

SALES AND THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD

We have defined science as agreement – agreement based on replicated experiments and results – and have agreed that sales doesn’t meet that standard because of the human element.

But, there is something called the scientific method that can be very useful for sales – here is the gist of it:

– Step 1: Wonder about what might happen if… (in science, this is called a hypothesis)

– Step 2: Try something (the subject of your “if” in your hypothesis)

– Step 3: Analyse the results

– Step 4: Adjust and proceed accordingly, as needed

This can be done in sales, and while results can’t be precisely duplicated with every effort, that doesn’t mean they are not without value.

For example,

– Wonder if cold calling works? Then try some – different ways – and measure the results, then decide for yourself.

– Wonder if you can generate leads on a social platform? Then do some tests to see.

Don’t confuse this with science, but be scientific and you’ll be much further ahead than if you are random.

 

ONE WORD OF WARNING

You will hear a lot of people using scientific-sounding words and numbers to convince you that their approach to selling is scientifically proven, or that sales is indeed a science. I hope you know better now. Whatever conditions they had that lead to results will be different than yours, so try their “suggestions” for yourself in a small experiment before you bet the farm on their supposedly scientific sales formula.

 

AND WHILE YOU’RE AT IT… (being skeptical that is)

When thinking about scientific sounding claims about sales related activities, you might also consider the idea of causation versus correlation – like did sales go up because of the thing someone is selling or telling you or because of something else? That can be hard to prove.

For a random example of causation versus correlation, try this on for size: It has been said that people who eat chips tend to be overweight, so does eating chips cause people to be overweight? Maybe it’s not the chips – maybe it’s that people who eat chips are less active, or eat other bad things too. Don’t be too quick to say that one thing causes another just because they happen at the same time.

In sales, maybe two groups of salespeople had results measured, and one group got something (like a training or a tool) that the other didn’t. The results will certainly be a very specific set of numbers – but was the training or the tool or the thing being tested the only difference? Skillset, territory, market conditions, random deal that came to one group and not to other?

This stuff is hard to prove. Neal Rackham – considered by many to be a founding father of a scientific approach to sales – goes to great lengths in the appendix of his wildly successful book SPIN Selling to make just that point.

Sales is not a science. You can try to be scientific about it, but please don’t get carried away by claims from someone who took the concept too far to be believed.

I know this was a long post – but if you are reading this, chances are good that you are a consumer of sales information.

Let the buyer beware.

Sales is not a science, and correlation is not causation.

Now you know. Consume sales information accordingly, and if you really want to be scientific about it, use the scientific method yourself, and do your own experiments!

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Authors note (AKA shameless plugs)

So, this 7-step sales process and associated topics…. Yup, I write about that a lot. I’ve been working with it since I developed it about 25 years ago – in my own diverse work experiences, with my teams when I had them, and with clients ever since.

If you would like to develop you own personalized and customized, highly effective and efficient B2B selling system, here are some further steps you can take:

The Salesman’s Guide to Dating is a free or very cheap (depending on Amazon) Kindle book that walks you through the sales process using the familiar analogy of dating. It’s a good, fun and quick way to get your mind around the whole process and how the pieces fit together.

Building Your Sales Process (BYSP) is a free and very thorough exploration of the same 7-step process that will walk you through the development of your own customized, personal B2B selling system. When you are done, you will know exactly what to do to get new business.

The Momentum Selling System® is an inexpensive but very robust online sales training course that is similar to BYSP, but goes deeper into the concepts behind each of the steps, and also helps you develop a plan not only for the 7-step process but also addresses mindset, repeat business and client base management.

If none of that sounds right, I do personal coaching and offer a free 30-minute intake session so that we can both learn if it makes sense to work together 1-on-1. If this sounds interesting, click over to the coaching page on this site and sign up for the free session.

Here’s to your success!

-David