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The art and science of high-performance sales

The art and science of high-performance sales

I grew up in a small town in East Tennessee called Oak Ridge.  Nicknamed “The Secret City” for its instrumental role during the Manhattan Project, the city boasts one of the country’s highest PhD-per-capita rates.  Many of those PHDs work at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, internationally recognized as the home for one of the world’s fastest supercomputers.  All this to say, science is a pretty big deal in Oak Ridge.

Suppose you’re in 6th or 7th grade at an Oak Ridge middle school. In that case, this national reputation is never more evident than it is once every year when teachers across the country hand down an all too familiar homework assignment:  the science fair project.

“Science fair project” is just a subtle cover for a stress-inducing, confidence obliterating helicopter parent showcase to establish the whos-who of Oak Ridge middle school elite.  But regardless of my personal opinion on the assignment, it was an assignment and one I was required to complete.

Suppose you fell victim to this assignment as well. In that case, you probably remember a straightforward framework, given to you by your teacher, that you would ultimately be measured against to score your understanding and execution of the assignment:  the scientific method.

The Scientific Method has a clear set of steps that even me, a 6th grader, and unashamedly  rocking out to Creed and Backstreet Boys through my Walkman on the daily, could understand:

  1.  Ask a Question
  2.  Research
  3.  Construct a Hypothesis
  4.  Test Your Hypothesis with an Experiment
  5.  Analyze Results and Draw a Conclusion
  6.  Report Your Results

Bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and puka shell necklaced, I confidently began work on what I only assumed would win me the Nobel Peace Prize in Science: “Which Golf Ball Brand Bounces the Highest?”.

Okay, I’ll admit it, not the most provocative idea in the world (the winner was Callaway, for you golf vultures), but the topic isn’t the point.  The Scientific Method introduced a framework that has direct applications to the sales world I now call home.  More on this later.

If you’re still reading, wondering why this sounds more like a memoir than a business blog, prepare yourself to be disappointed again.

Many years after being the laughing stock of the Oak Ridge Science Fairs, I ventured as far away as possible to escape my youth’s shame and attend film school in Los Angeles. 

My film program was conservatory style, which means you get to try every major role involved with filmmaking, from directing, writing, editing, to cinematography, to stocking the snacks table for the upperclassmen.

When you’re a young film school student with no work experience whatsoever, you instead have to rely on your crazy ideas and creativity, free from the constraints of process, structure, or guidelines.  If you wanted to shoot a movie entirely in one shot from beginning to end or score heavy metal music to a movie about fly fishing, you just did it.  Filmmaking, ultimately, is art, a means of expression through the medium of film.  When writing a screenplay, however, there is a general three-act storytelling structure you have to follow:

Act 1 – The Setup

Act 2 – The Confrontation

Act 3 – The Resolution

If you stop to think about any of your favorite movies, you’ll quickly realize that they follow this exact framework.

“Well, hey now, Jarron, aren’t you in sales?  How does your backstory have anything to do with that?”

It wasn’t long into my sales career that I started to notice how these two elements, science, and art, are overwhelmingly present even more than they ever were before.  It wasn’t much longer after that when I adopted both elements as JumpCrew’s sales methodology’s fundamental principles.

Here’s how we connect the dots:

SCIENCE

Ask a Question

  • Should I lead my outbound sequence with an email or a phone call?
  • Are Sales VPs better prospects than the Chief Operating Officer?
  • Will a hyper-personalized email yield higher responses than a meticulously crafted templated email?

 Research

  • Searches Google for good outbound sequences
  • Checks Closed Won data to find that the decision-maker for 53% of deals was the VP of Sales
  • Asks senior leadership colleagues at the current company about what types of emails they respond to

 Construct a Hypothesis

  • “I believe that a hyper-personalized email to VP Sales as the first touch of the sequence will yield the highest response rates.”

 Test Your Hypothesis with an Experiment

  • Builds one outbound sequence that leads with a hyper-personalized email to VP of Sales
  • Builds other outbound sequences to change the variables of title, activity type, and personalized vs. generic
  • Runs sequences concurrently with a similar volume of data sets

 Analyze Results and Draw a Conclusion

  • After a month of testing, reviews the reporting to determine results.
  • Concludes that highly personalized emails to VP of Sales yield a higher rate of responses than any of the other sequences during the testing period

 Report Your Results

  • Discusses these findings with their sales team, their manager, and their client

There is an infinite number of variations to test, regardless of your role, department, or company growth stage.  Using the Scientific Method as an objectivity compass (maybe we could make Sales-entific Method a thing? No, that sounds awful) takes the guesswork out of what could otherwise be a very guess-heavy job.

If the scientific method is the left side of the sales brain, then the 3-act screenplay structure, or art, is the right side.

Art

Act 1 – The Setup

  • You’ve been prospecting that dream whale client for weeks now without success.  Sick and tired of them never responding to you, you decide instead to write them a poem that incorporates rhymes with their company name, references to their alma mater, and the devastating acknowledgment that they’ve ignored all of your previous emails before.  With a bead of sweat running down your forehead, you press “send.”

Act 2 – The Confrontation

  • The next day, while sipping on your morning coffee, you behold the most beautiful three characters a salesperson will ever lay eye upon in their inbox: “RE:”
  • They responded and want to set up a call!
  • You set up the meeting
  • You run through your qualification call, they ask questions, raise objections, then agree to see a proposal
  • You send the proposal and wait

Act 3 – The Resolution

  • They reply a few days later and tell you the exciting news: they’re going to pass.

Heard this story before?

There has never been, or will there ever be a singular sales solution that works for every product, every team, or every prospect.  

It is neither entirely a science nor altogether an art form. High-performance selling relies on a continually evolving combination of the two, taking creative risks within a structured experiment framework.

While I may never show my face in Oak Ridge again (remember, tiny town, people don’t forget), I encourage those of you who toughed it out reading this far to give this approach a try within your team, sales or otherwise.

Jarron Vosburg

Jarron Vosburg

Jarron is the Vice President of Sales at JumpCrew, where he is responsible for new business and partnerships. His professional background includes film production, talent representation, building startups from scratch, and developing high-performing sales teams for technology and media brands big and small. In his free time, he loves to travel, DJ, and spend time with his wife, dog, and cat.

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