“Why” is the most important word and concept in sales.  We have a habit of overcomplicating sales. I know that I’m certainly guilty of this at times! But if you strip away all of the selling methodologies, frameworks and strategies that are often bandied about when talking about sales best practices…you’re left with the pure essence of sales, or the “why”.

I was talking with an esteemed sales colleague and friend of mine last week and we touched upon this very subject.  We’ve both been in B2B enterprise technology sales for 20+ years, in other words we’re old salty sales dogs:-) The gist of our conversation was why so many sales people and sales organizations have lost the simple notion of why “why” is so important in sales. When was the last time you read a sentence with the word “why” in it three times?

But I digress in my attempts to amuse myself… I recall back when I was a VP of Sales with a very senior team of outside sales reps and sales engineers. Our focus was working the enterprise deals, forecasting accurately, growing the deal size and the frenetically exhausting quarter and fiscal year end close cadence. Lather, rinse, repeat and “what have you done for me lately” every new quarter or fiscal year start.

Last year’s top sales performer always starts at exactly the same place as everyone else on the sales team. This holds true regardless of the size of your sales organization from 2 to 20,000 sales reps, at the start of the new fiscal sales year…because the great sales equalizer affectionately referred to as zero dollars in closed revenue/bookings is the starting line for everyone.

Back to the why… After many years of exclusively managing the aforementioned senior outside sales teams, I was given the added responsibility of managing an orphan team of sales development reps (SDRs) and inside sales reps. In many ways it was refreshing and daunting all at the same time. I felt like a college professor who had been teaching graduate and post graduate level classes all my life that was just handed a class of elementary school aged students. What was I supposed to do differently?

It was refreshing due to the fact that many of these SDRs and inside sales reps were either brand new to sales or just had 1-2 years of sales experience. Expressed differently, they didn’t have bad sales habits that needed to be broken. They represented a blank canvas brimming with optimism and open to learning. They were veritable sponges which was a blast for my sales coaching efforts!  As opposed to the experienced and cynical sales team members that I managed, many of whom thought they were incapable of learning anything new that could help them sell better.

My new team of SDRs and inside sales reps had gone through some basic sales methodology training and had many different forms of cheat sheets and check lists posted in their cubicles. All useful stuff, but also a lot to absorb for someone who is brand new to enterprise sales. Not surprisingly they were all over the map and performing inconsistently. So I called an all hands sales team meeting in our main conference room.

I had made copies of all the various cheat sheets, checklists, sales tools, etc. and taped them up on the whiteboard in the main conference room prior to the meeting starting. When we commenced the meeting, I asked them a series of questions:

  • What are these things taped on the whiteboard?
  • How do use them?
  • How do they help you?
  • Do you understand them well?
  • What confuses you about how to use them?
  • What is your role/job?
  • What is your goal for every touch/interaction with a prospect?
  • How do you accomplish that?
  • What is the purpose of sales?

As you might expect, the answers to all of my questions were all over the map. Everyone in the room had to respond to the questions, first by writing down their answers and then by reading them back in front of everyone. I acted as a scribe up at the whiteboard by grouping their answers to find out where, if anywhere, there was critical mass and alignment in any of their answers. It was really a fun exercise designed to strip away all the fluffy bullshit that we feed ourselves as sales people and allow us to laugh at ourselves and see how comical the whole thing can become at times.

Then with dramatic flair, I ripped down from the whiteboard all the cheat sheets, sales process flow charts, checklists, BANT qualification criteria, etc. that I had taped up there and erased all of their answers to my aforementioned questions that I had written down. I simply said very quietly to my team that we tend to make sales too complicated and can over think it at times.  And that it comes down to one simple word that we all know quite well because we have been using that word since we all first started talking.

Yup, you guessed it as I wrote the word “WHY” in big bold letters on the whiteboard. I explained to my team that “WHY” is the very meaning, purpose and pure essence of sales.   Our job is to answer that question (aka- Why?) for all of our prospects and customers. In our preparation for every call or email or interaction that we have with the prospect, think about why they should listen to us and not hang up on us. Think about why we can uniquely help them address big, hairy, painful business problems that they have better than any other alternative solution. Here is a subset of the “why” focused sales questions we learned together:

  • Why am I calling/emailing you?
  • Why should this matter to you Mr./Ms. Prospect?
  • Why should you take the time to learn more about how we can help you?
  • Why did we build this software/technology in the first place?
  • Why do our existing customers buy more from us and renew their subscriptions with us?
  • Why are we considered thought leaders and innovators in our industry?
  • Why should you invest in this solution?
  • Why are you going to learn things in working with us that you won’t learn from anyone else in the world?
  • Why are we qualified to make these statements/assertions?

I’m pleased to report that after adopting the “why” sales focus on our SDR and inside sales team, performance and consistency improved dramatically. In fact, we became the SDR and inside sales team model for other sales teams within the company as I started seeing various other VPs of Sales crashing my quarterly sales team learning workshops to learn what we were doing, and yes, to see “why” it was working so well.

So for those of you that bothered reading this entire blog post, here is a test…a shout out to Sol Cates (CSO from Vormetric), who was the esteemed colleague and friend that I mentioned at the start of this post that inspired this article through our conversation. Please reply with a comment telling me “why” you liked or hated this article and hash tag Sol Cates in your comments/reply so I’ll know that you read the entire 1216 words in this post:-)