Fool’s Gold: Searching for the Most Important Step Will Ruin Your Sales Process

What’s the most important system in your car?

a. Engine
b. Steering
c. Braking
d. Drive train
e. Lubrication

Assuming you want to drive, “all of these” is the right answer. Subtract any choice, and your car won’t go around the block, let alone get out of the driveway.

Segue to sales processes. For reasons I don’t fully understand, people worship the Holy Grail of Most Importance. A question on LinkedIn asks “What is the most important step in the sales process?” Hundreds of people were moved to answer, contributing 508 responses (and counting). I read the comments until they began repeating like billboards on a highway. “Building trust. Establishing credibility. Pre-call planning. Determining need. The close. Collecting payment. Building a long-term relationship. Qualifying. Listen. Building rapport. Understanding requirements. Opening statement.” All are important.

But some, like determining need and building trust, aren’t in fact steps (do they stop or are they ongoing?), and none are “most important”—and never will be. Finding a “most important” step for selling is illusory, and can only lead to poor decisions.

A few people who responded to the LinkedIn question dismissed the most-important step ideal, and suggested that combinations of steps matter. They’re on to something. Like cars, sales processes must synchronously combine supporting processes, systems, and technologies, or they’ll fail to achieve their purpose. Not a new epiphany. One hundred years ago, Joseph Schumpter, an economist, said “to produce means to combine materials and forces within our reach . . . to produce other things, or the same things by a different method, means to combine these materials and forces differently.” In his book, The Nature of Technology, author W. Brian Arthur writes, “Schumpter had come to this idea because he had been asking a seemingly simple question: “how does an economy develop?” In 1910, had he asked “what’s the most important industry?” he would gained a less valuable, and more temporary insight.

Maybe the journey to effective sales processes would be better facilitated by asking “what enables a sales transaction to develop?” The journey begins with finding the right concept, and building processes to achieve it. The concept of a car is to move a person—or people—between two points. That takes more than an engine. The concept of a sales process is to generate revenue from discovered needs. That’s complicated—even for a vendor selling hot dogs from a cart in Manhattan.

According to Arthur, a process or technology “derives from a central principle and has a central assembly—an overall backbone of the device or method that executes this—plus other assemblies hung off this to make this workable and regulate its function. Each of these assemblies is itself a technology and therefore itself has a central backbone and other subassemblies attached to this.”

Although it took me a while to get my head around this explanation, he’s exactly right when it comes to selling. Combinations of technologies and processes are required. But there’s more. Describing how energy efficiency services are provided, technology expert James Newcomb said, “doing it well entails knowledge of literally thousands of individual technologies, together with the capability to assimilate and optimally combine these technologies in particular applications, taking into consideration interactive effects, control systems, process implications . . . it’s the skill of a master chef, not a grocer’s buyer.”

Seeking the “most important step” won’t help companies sell more effectively. According to Arthur, “the beauty in good process design is that of appropriateness, of least effort for what is achieved. It derives from a feeling that all that is in place is properly in place, that not a piece can be rearranged, and that nothing is to excess.”


Facebook: Strong Growth In India, Brazil & Mexico

The United States has fully bounced back from a period of slow growth in June. Following fairly strong July numbers, we’re now seeing a big gain of five million new monthly active users in August for Facebook’s home country.

Seasonality can serve to explain some of what’s happening in the US — early summer has traditionally been a slow period for social networks and other youth-dominated sites, as high school and college kids take a break from school. But there appears to be more to the story.

The overall penetration level of the US has continued to creep up through monthly volatility, now standing at 43.8 percent overall. The common wisdom has held that US growth would likely level out at around 40 percent penetration. That hasn’t happened yet, with the US continuing to provide the strongest gains for Facebook more often than not. More>>

Marrying Social Marketing & Media Buying

With every passing day, it seems social media becomes more engrained in the media strategist’s daily work life. Whereas not long ago our interest in social sites was limited to the advertising options these sites afforded our clients, they are now garnering consideration on a deeper level. Buyers are collaborating closely with social media strategists to create campaigns that cover all key online touch points, and to ensure that the campaign concepts they help to devise and the placements they negotiate extend to consumers on social media sites. More>>

Social Traffic Soars But Digg Continues To Die

Digg is dying just when traffic from social media to web sites increases. Social traffic is becoming as important, or more so, than search traffic from the likes of Google (GOOG) and Yahoo (YHOO).

Gawker Media, one of the biggest publisher on the internet has seen it traffic from social sites increase from 10 million visits a month from social sites to 20 million year over year – of which Facebook accounts for 7.7 million visits or a third of the visits.

Less than a year ago, Digg was the single most important social site for Gawker. Now it has been eclipsed by the likes of Facebook. Reddit, Condé Nast’s “Digg clone,” is catching up as well.

Apple Launches Music Social Network

Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled its first foray into social media, Ping.

Included in iTunes 10, Ping is a music-themed social network, and because it’s built right into iTunes, there’s a potential 160 million users already on the network.

Ping will allow users to follow their friends and find out what they’re listening to and follow artists as well.

The Future Of Sports Marketing Could Be Online When you think sports marketing, many names come to mind like Nike, AT&T, and Budweiser, however it is Ralph Lauren that is changing the rules of the game with its Legends Clinic, featuring Venus Williams. Big time sports events marketing are usually outdoors not on the web. However Ralph Lauren filled their home page with a high quality one-hour production that had Williams essentially giving anyone who was watching a clinic. Those viewing online could ask Williams questions. Continue reading "The Future Of Sports Marketing Could Be Online"

Social To Increase Online Ad Spending 14%

Online ad spending is expected to grow almost 14%, from $45.6 billion, in 2010, to $51.9 billion, in 2011 according to a new report by Borrell Associates. The total U.S. ad spending for 2010 is about $238.6 billion. The fastest-growing segments of online advertising are the local sector, anything targeted, and everything involving social media. Here is more from the report. Continue reading "Social To Increase Online Ad Spending 14%"

Apple’s Social Network Is Coming — Look Out, Facebook! (AAPL)

Steve Jobs one more thing In addition to new iPods and a new TV-watching device, Apple could introduce a new social network tomorrow. Look out, Facebook! Okay, it’s not a big, elaborate Facebook killer, so Mark Zuckerberg and company don’t actually have much to worry about. But Apple’s “Game Center” might take some of Facebook’s juice away in iPhone gaming, which could be a drag. Apple has been preparing a social gaming network for iOS apps for months. The company gave a preview of Game Center at an event in April, and we expect to hear more about it at Apple’s iPod event tomorrow. The iPod touch — arguably Apple’s flagship gaming device — is due for an upgrade, and now seems like a good time to launch Game Center. The basic features Apple announced in April include the ability to invite friends to play a game against you; have the servers match you up with a random person of the same skill level for a game; leaderboards; and achievements. We assume you’ll have a basic profile, and will be able to add friends in various ways, as other social gaming networks function. Apple isn’t the first to launch a social gaming network for the iPhone: Several already exist, such as Ngmoco’s Plus+, OpenFeint, and others. Presumably, Facebook would want to have a play here, given how successful its gaming platform has become on Facebook itself. But the idea is that an Apple-made social network, built right into the OS, could be more universally adopted, and not under the control of a single studio. (Who knows, those third-party systems may even link into Game Center at some point.) Bigger picture, better social gaming on the iPhone could make it a stronger competitor not just to other phone platforms, such as Android and Microsoft’s forthcoming Windows Phone 7, but also to handheld consoles like the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP. And if Apple’s new living-room gadget has gaming elements, Game Center could be useful there, too. So what’s coming tomorrow?
  • It’ll be interesting to see if Apple got any of the big studios, such as EA or Gameloft, to adopt Game Center. It’s easy to implement, we hear.
  • It’ll be interesting to see if Facebook login and social graph integration is ever part of the Game Center roadmap. It’s not part of the first version, we’re told by someone who has played around with it.
Does Apple have any social mojo? Or is it too uptight? Will it flop like all the social stuff Google has tried over the years? Or will Game Center be the next Xbox Live? We’ll find out more tomorrow. Don’t miss: The iPod’s Amazing Evolution Join the conversation about this story » See Also: