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[SDS] Systems thinking

[Reading Time: 2m 18s]

I was chatting with my friend Jason the other day on his podcast to continue our pain v. gain discussion thread. I won’t rehash the discussion here, but you can read my thoughts on it in this article from last week. During the podcast episode (which isn’t out quite yet), he asked about my background. I talked about how I got a grad degree in environmental science, with the specific goal of going into consulting. I know, it’s what every 3-year-old wants to be when they grow up.

I talked about running biz dev and marketing for a consulting firm. About how I ran my own marketing firm, and eventually transitioned to sales. How I’ve worked directly with hundreds of business owners. He was curious what it all had in common.

I got to talking about my obsession with systems. In grad school, I studied environmental science and management. If you look at a sufficiently big system – say, the climate of the planet – systems thinking becomes the only way to possibly understand how it all works. At risk of sounding overly simplistic, the planet has a few major components: the surface area of Earth, the land and water masses, the sun adding energy, the atmosphere, and of course animal activity (most of all human activity). Within the atmosphere things get a bit more complicated: ice reflects light, water absorbs heat, moisture is cycled through phases of solid, gas, and liquid, the amount and density of ice, and on. Even with all the complication we can add to climate models, they’re still models: incomplete pictures of what’s actually happen.

Since that conversation, I’ve been embracing my secret obsession with systems thinking. It’s how I think about almost everything in my life – it’s just how my brain works.

But there’s something valuable in there for sales: it too is a system. Luckily for us, it’s a relatively simple system. And when done right, your sales system should increase trust, decrease risk, and facilitate a faster, more informed decision for your client.

Ultimately one of the greatest variables in the sales process is your client. You can’t control what they do, only influence it. So focusing on what you do is the only logical approach to sales improvement.

I’m not prepared to model the entire system that leads to buying decisions but I can model for you the basic sales process that works for most professional services sales, and accounts for all parts of the total system at play.

It goes like this:

Now it may not look like much, but there’s a whole lot going on in each of the different sections. Just know this: anytime you sell, you’re participating in a system. Understanding that system, and the control you have to influence the outcome, is the best way to improve your selling.

As an example, each step within the system is designed to give you clarity, and make a yes or no decision about whether you want to move forward to the next step. You should prompt your client to do the same.

This alone will have a dramatic effect on your sales outcomes.

I’ll leave you with this single thought: you can be a single variable in the system, or create the system and have much more control over the outcomes. Which would you rather?