Serendipity is a wonderful thing- you never know what chance conversations can lead to. Many years ago, on my way out of a large multidisciplinary team meeting, I bumped into the head of national sales, a 20+year sales veteran. As we were walking side by side, I shared — “I am interested in knowing more about sales”. He looked at me- I was leading data analytics (quantitative modeling) team then. “Why don’t you walk with me to my office?” We ended up chatting for a while in his office. At the tail end of the conversation, he reached out for a book on his shelf- “This should be a good read on Business to Business (B2B) sales”. I read it over that weekend. As I dropped it back the following Monday, he asked — “What is your takeaway?”
I said- “Thanks for sharing the book, it opened up vistas for me- I did not realize that mathematicians and sales folks have lots in common. Both are problem solvers. The subtlety of difference is in problem framing”. He leaned forward, “You piqued my interest. Can you elaborate more?”
Thinking in other person’s shoes and being eternally curious are key characteristics of sales and the smart man across the desk was not going to let go of an opportunity to hear a different perspective that contrasts his style and that of technical folks. In sales, especially complex sales, internal (within the company approval) sale could be harder than the external sale and many gatekeepers have a technical background!
Problem Framing: Sales Framework vs. Math Optimization Problem
The book I read over that weekend was SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham. SPIN stands for:
Now, let us look at the order of presentation of a math optimization framework:
It is very similar except that the constraints come in at the end. In other words, item 2 and 4 switched places — SNIP rather than SPIN. If a mathematician/ scientist/ technical person present the constraints first and the objective at the end, communication synchronization between them and sales people would be better. When sales people need to communicate with technical folks, the reverse is true as well.
Connecting the dots, after the fact, the following Albert Einstein’s quote gives us insights into how he framed his thinking about problems. –”If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” There was a salesman like thinking within this great scientist that distinguished him further!
At my end, this nuanced ah-ha moment of reordering the sequence within problem framing enhanced my interactions with a broader spectrum of folks. In the long term, it opened up doors for me in revenue generation. I ended up working in sales with the man who shared his personal copy of SPIN selling.
Overall, serendipity is a wonderful thing and in combination with curiosity can lead to new possibilities. This new year, wishing you the very best for new possibilities- whether it is in sales, analytics or whatever area who choose to excel in.
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I enjoy writing at the intersection of analytics and human relationships