Saturday, 24 January 2015

Scientific Attributes can help Selling - learning from the scientific mind-set Davos 2015

At Davos 2015 the president of Imperial College Alice Gast postulated that there was pressure from business in the application of sound business practices to universities and other public services.

 This resonates in the UK with the next General Election on the horizon.

For example :-Which parties care for and manage best the National Health service NHS ?

But business practice is also being applied to institutions such as the established Church of England whose  current Archbishop of Canterbury ( a former Oil Executive) and has commissioned a report on the Church written by Lord Green ( a former Chief executive of HSBC bank and McKinsey consultant.)
Professor Gast said that she wanted to turn the tables and suggest that a scientific mind-set can inform and benefit the decision-making process outside of the laboratory.

 She also argued that by adopting the mind-set of a scientist this could help all of us approach a changing world.
“We should embed a scientific mindset into business culture”

As a distinguished scientist herself and  co-author of “Physical Chemistry of Surfaces “ a classic textbook on colloid and surface phenomena, and she has presented named lectures at several of the nation's leading research institutions she is worth listening to.
For myself, whose first degree study in Chemistry with Business undertaken some 45 years ago I have a vested interest in what she had to say.

 How can the scientific mindset help our Selling?
Because selling involves a delicious mixture of the logical and emotional, science can contribute.

I thought it might be interesting to look at the professor’s presentation to Davos and from the perspective of selling .

What would adopting a scientific mindset in this way mean in the sales arena?

Let's consider her three scientific attributes  but to “Selling”

1.  Sceptical curiosity

2.  Collaborative competitiveness

3.  Confidence in the case of the unknown

1. Sceptical curiosity

 Scientists need to be sceptical. Like their colleagues in selling, and they also must innovate. As they innovate, scientists strike a careful balance between curiosity, intuition and scepticism. For those practising selling these three aspects are a daily work.

Salespeople need to be curious how else will we find out the needs and wants of our client ?.

 We need to tune  into our gut instinct and what we have learned from experience but also not believe everything we are told. ( Customers like salespeople can exaggerate things and because we are all human, sometimes even lie !)

Science is driven forwards by curiosity, and it is guided by intuition and prior knowledge, but techniques such as external and internal peer reviews and randomized control trials are also embedded in their way of thinking to avoid blind optimism and bias.

An executive from Nestle Corporation speaking at
the International conference of Tack International
an example of Gast's Sceptical curiosity in action
 - letting your customer speak to your sales team -
 genuine LIVE  Voice of the customer !
How we apply apply it in selling

 In your organisation, invite sceptics and non-experts in.
Some already invite themselves in of course, most disciplines have an opinion about sales ( not always complimentary ).

But taking the gist of Professor Gast’s suggestion inviting customers , buyers etc into to speak to your sales meetings can be  enormously helpful in selling and servicing your clients better.

 Ensure that certain sales initiatives are checked by someone outside your team, even outside your organisation or industry.

2. Collaborative competitiveness

 The best scientists readily compete and collaborate with one another.

Successful Selling Conference Professor Gast's
 "collaborative competitiveness in action  .
Someone in a different field or organisation could have the key to unlocking the problem they are working on.

When the problems get tough, scientists want to build the best team, even if the partner is a fierce competitor.
Prof Gast illustrated the point
 "At one time, collaboration and data sharing were the purview of “big science”, such as the scientists at CERN. Now we see new collaborations all the time when it is opportune to bring together diverse teams such as at the Crick Institute or in complex areas such as climate change or public health for an ageing population."

How we might apply it to selling :

Look at those sales problems and opportunities in your business or organisation that cannot be solved in isolation.
Prof Gast suggested at Davos areas such as cyber security, global political and economic forces, or significant technological requirements, all benefit from collaboration across the industry and across sectors.  These are also relevant to many in Selling along with PESTLE  factors from the marketing model.

When corporations come together, as they do at Davos, they can make important things happen. Bringing together industry, government and higher education can be even more powerful.

Similarly  when sales professionals attend their institutions like the CIM or ISMM or IOD they can make important things happen. They enable to bring together industry, government and higher education  and can be even more powerful.

Sales people should collaborate like a scientist. Some do of course but more should.

3. Confidence in the face of uncertainty and the unknown.

Valuable Insight in unknown and uncertain business world
 Download for free Buyers' views of Salespeople 2012
In selling we have become aware of our modern  business world by the acronym VUCA ( Volatile Uncertain Complex and Ambiguous)

 The scientist’s business is the unknown.

 Where something is unknown, it is an opportunity to be pursued rather than avoided.

This requires the ability to deal with ambiguity and uncertainty, which most people find difficult.

In  a scientific experiment, a lack of correlation moves science forward as much as a positive correlation.

VUCA Volatility ,Uncertainty,
 Complexity and Ambiguity
Photo of Slide from Impact International
No information is ever complete.

Scientists are comfortable with moving forward purposefully when faced with incomplete or problematic data sets.
How  might apply it in Selling ? :

Break down problems into smaller hypotheses to be tested. ( An elephant can only beat eaten in bite-sized pieces)

A complex sales situation e.g.  preparing for a pitch at a  competitive “beauty parade”  where buyer’s have deliberately not fully revealed all the information either as negotiating ploy, or because they don’t know themselves  but are  using your pitch to help them discover the more about the nature of the issue.

To quote Prof. Gast

"Evaluate probabilities and the interrelation between factors affecting probability and move forward armed with that imperfect knowledge. " 

This all sounds so similar to the  challenging world of sales forecasting , pipeline management and assessing the risk ( or doing it anyway !)
Like the scientists , professional salespeople need  to build a team that can deal with uncertainty and ambiguity by sharing their understanding and gaining confidence.

Good Selling  and Good "Sciencing" ! 

Related Links

Sales Process # notatDavos by Little Bogdan


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