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What You Worried About?

I find the following fact really thought provoking – the chances of you dying from mad cow disease are staggeringly smaller than from dying of heart disease caused by ingesting the cholesterol lurking in the meat of healthy cows. But think about it, how many people worried about the recent mad cow outbreak versus how many worry about consuming the regular intake of burgers and ribs? As a culture we have a propensity to worry about the wrong things.

Check out the December 4 issue of Time Magazine, which offers a great exploration of this phenomenon of misguided concern that pushes us down the wrong avenues of worry. After that, consider all the wrong things you worry about at work. There are a few of other interesting observations in this issue of this news magazine that I think are very relevant to those who worry about sales.

For example, consider the following: the average person is over ten times more likely to die from falling out of bed than to die from a lightening strike. But what does the average person believe is more dangerous? We will take all kinds of precautions and experience all kinds of fears regarding lightening, but never give a thought to the vertical dangers between the bedspread and the floor tiles.

You might find that people who manage sales organizations fall into this worry trap, spending too much time focused on the lightening, but killed by that drop out of bed. Most of the time the lightening is something like sales tools or sales technology and that last slip off the covers onto the hard floor is something like ignoring the mundane changes required to improve sales process and policy. Technology gets all the attention while bad process quietly kills you.
WTC Nightmare 1
Another observation from these authors at Time is the illusion of control, a similar dynamic as the wrong worry. The common example is the belief that driving an automobile is safer than flying in a commercial airplane because you are in control of the wheel rather than a pilot who may have been out to late at the hotel bar the night before. We all know the statistics do not support this misguided perception, but the illusion of control remains prevalent. Driving deaths escalated dramatically after 9/11 as plane seats went empty. This phenomenon is also something that manifests itself in the world of sales management.

Many of my clients measure sales resuults to know how they are doing against goals. Once a week everyone scrambles to provide figures on what has been booked in an effort to know if the monthly and quarterly targets will be achieved. But, I think that it is very much worth asking the question if this is one of those situations of illusion of control. Please don’t get me wrong on this. You have to do forecasting.

But, are we measuring the right things? It is useful to know if we are going to make our numbers, and necessary for public companies to disclose progress against forecast. However, it is more effective with regard to actual control if we measure what is being done to achieve the forecast. I am a proponent of measuring sales activity. Now, I know what you are thinking – you have tried this before and it was a miserable failure. It takes the right tools, processes, and incentives to do this well, but in the end it will help provide more honest to goodness control. More will be offered up in future entries on activity based sales management. For now, let’s end with a very old joke related to the topic of proper measurement – searching for the keys to success.

A bar patron is searching along the curb when a second bar patron comes outside and asks what the first is looking for. The slurred reply indicates that a set of car keys have been lost. Trying to be encouraging and helpful the second bar patron asks if the victim is certain that this is where the keys were lost. The reply goes something like this, “No, I am pretty sure I lost them on the other side of the street by my car, but the light is better over here.”

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