An Interview with Andy Paul

Andy Paul is an old friend, and a true expert in the field of sales. His books include Zero-Time Selling: 10 Essential Steps to Accelerate Every Company’s Sales, and Amp Up Your Sales: Powerful Strategies that Move Customers to Make Fast, Favorable Decisions.  As you can see by the title, one of his subjects is the power of speed in sales.

Today’s interview was triggered by one of his over-600 podcasts from Accelerate!, his ongoing podcast.

CHG: Andy, welcome back to Trust Matters! It’s been awhile. Let me start by noting – 600 podcasts? Holy cow. Not everyone can think of 600 things to say, but I know you can.

AP: Well, it’s maybe 100 things repeated six times. Or 50 twelve times. There are some eternal verities.

CHG: True enough, and there are endless ways to communicate them. Well, let’s talk about some those verities.

Let’s start with the old bit about change. Which is true: things are changing more than ever? Or the more things change, the more they stay the same?  What’s the state of change in sales?

AP: Well, despite all the new buzzwords and technology that are flooding into sales, selling really hasn’t changed that much. Effective B2B selling primarily is still about what happens in those critical person-to-person moments when the seller communicates with and delivers value to the buyer. Those moments can’t be outsourced to technology today no matter what vendors may promise you.

CHG: Music to my ears. Meaning, of course, I agree with you.

AP: I’ve spoken with some very clever marketers that are attempting to repackage and relabel sales strategies that have been around since the Pleistocene Era of B2B selling. Some of these are fads and shall pass. In the meantime, my guests have been nearly unanimous is believing that sellers need to remain focused on mastering the fundamental principles of sales. Sellers will always be able to depend on these.

CHG: What’s the biggest fake-change fad? And what’s an example of one of those fundamental principles?

AP: I’d start with Account-based Marketing/Selling. The idea of selling to targeted accounts instead of relying on random lead generation to sell into the enterprise hardly qualifies as revealed wisdom. Using marketing automation tools to reach out to (i.e. spam) a broader spectrum of potential points of contact within the enterprise is new. But, I doubt that there are many potential buyers within enterprise accounts out there that are excited about that.

However, there are some vendors doing interesting work in this space with tools designed to manage account orchestration. It’s another new buzzword but if they really can facilitate the process of the complex sale then it’s promising.

CHG: Let’s talk about another Big Topic: what about technology? Is it here yet?

AP: Despite the massive infusion of technology into sales, there’s no data that exists to prove that it’s contributing to higher levels of sales or elevated levels of true sales productivity. In other words, are the companies that are investing heavily in sales technologies generating more revenue dollars per employee than they did without the technology? Entire business models have been created around the assumption that the answer to that question is “yes.” However, it’s not evident that is the case. It should be. And, it will be. But, we’re not there yet.

CHG: So, is it all just snake oil? Will it always be thus?

AP: It’s important to keep in mind Amara’s Law. Roy Amara was a leading futurist. His succinct formulation about the impact of technology is very relevant here. “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.” This is what is happening in sales with sales technologies.

CHG: So, in the short term, what are the negative effects of over-estimating technology?

AP: The influx of sales technology has created in many sales leaders a blind conformity to their sales process rather than blind devotion to serving the needs of their buyers. For many sales teams this has resulted in an unwieldy sales process and an out of control sales tech stack that creates a burden on their sellers. Salespeople are overwhelmed and distracted. It’s a problem sales leaders have largely created. And one they need to take responsibility for solving.

CHG: Amen. This is closely related to another pathology I see – the mistaking of metrics for the things they were supposed to measure. We fall in love with the process, and forget the process was supposed to be a means, not an end in itself.

AP: Which is related to the problem that sales leaders generally don’t know how to use data. This is a bigger problem than just in sales. Technology enables more data to be captured and made available in every facet of life and, as John H Johnson points out in his wonderful book “Everydata: The Misinformation Hidden in the Little Data You Consume Every Day,”  most of us woefully unprepared to accurately interpret it.

CHG: Isn’t the promise of tech supposed to be about productivity?

AP: Here’s the problem: we confuse performance with productivity. They aren’t the same. Productivity is a rate of output based on the investment of a unit of input. That’s how we should measure productivity in sales. Instead we are still aiming at the fixed target of a quota. As long as sales leaders are fixated on quota attainment, instead of being focused on improving the dollar amount of sales produced per hour of sales time by an individual seller, sales productivity won’t improve.

CHG: Fair enough. But isn’t ‘productivity’ still just a measure of efficiency? I find that focus on ROI in sales ends up too often focusing on reducing the I, and not in increasing the R.

AP: Well, I find it interesting that while supposed experts are busy touting the “modern sales” process, they are still using an obsolete method, a arbitrarily assigned quota,  to quantify and measure the productive capacity of a sales rep.

CHG: What about training and development? What have your multiple guests taught you about the need for, or the appropriate type of, sales training?

AP: It has been a consensus among my guests that the sales training model is broken. A new model for sales education is required. Again, the right solution hasn’t been developed. Yet. However, until that happens, sellers at all levels have to assume greater responsibility for their own professional development.

Guest after guest on Accelerate! has lamented the lack of curiosity among professional sellers to learn more about their craft. I’m at one extreme. I’ve read approximately 150 books on sales, marketing and leadership in the past two years. Unfortunately, the other extreme is zero. However, can zero be considered an extreme if that is the typical number of sales books read by the average sales leader and sales professional each year? Changing this even slightly (one book per month?) would have a profound impact on overall performance in the sales profession.

CHG: Well, as a fellow author, I can certainly get behind that recommendation.

Andy, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you, as always.

AP: Charlie, it is always a pleasure. Thanks!