I’m very pleased to say that my recent presentation at the Building Business Capability Conference entitled Strategy: The Crucial Enabler was recorded. You can view the presentation below, complete with slides and audio — in total it’s around 55 minutes long. Here is a brief description of the session: The words “strategy” and “strategic” are frequently…
A few weeks ago, on a cold Tuesday morning, I made my way reluctantly out of the office and towards my dentist’s surgery. I reluctantly walked up to the dentist’s door, subconsciously slowing down my steps as I approached – my fear was trying to force me to delay entering the building! I have a great dentist—she is patient and friendly—but nevertheless, I would be lying if I said I was looking forward to visiting. Particularly as this was the second of three planned appointments to have dreaded root canal therapy. It was my first ever root canal, and I had heard many horror stories from friends and family. As much as my dentist had told me it would be fine, the fear still set in.
Within 20 minutes I was settled in and lying in the dentist’s chair. She had put me at ease and was going about her work. As it turned out, my fear was unfounded, I felt no pain whatsoever. Discomfort, yes—but nothing like I had feared. She was giving me regular updates about what she was doing, and how the procedure was going. I was actually feeling quite relaxed. At several points she took X-rays to see how the procedure was progressing.
As time progressed, it turned out that the procedure was more complex than she had expected, and she was struggling to fill to the very end of one of the affected roots. She had taken a couple of X-rays but was concerned that she couldn’t verify whether the filling reached the end. After looking quizzically at the X-ray on her screen, she turned to me and said:
“Adrian, I know I’ve taken a few X-rays already—I need to see from a different angle—is it OK if I take another X-ray? This will, of course, expose you to another small dose of radiation.”
I paused—I know nothing about the cumulative effect of X-ray radiation. I have no idea how many are safe—in fact I wasn’t even sure how many had been taken previously. I felt unsure how to respond—and a little confused. My gut feeling was that there was little risk, so I composed myself and replied (as best I could, given my mouth was full of wadding):
“I’m happy to go with whatever would be your professional recommendation.”
She nodded, took the X-ray. I am pleased to say that she completed the treatment successfully.
On the way back to the office, this situation was buzzing around my head. It struck me that the dentist had asked me to make a crucial decision, but hadn’t given me a specific recommendation or a context in which to make my decision. In a dentist’s chair this is completely understandable as ‘the heat was’ on and she needed an immediate decision in seconds—and in no way do I want to criticise my dentist. Yet, in business, we work with our stakeholders and clients to make high stakes decisions all the time. Are we giving our stakeholders all the information they need? Are we packaging the information up to a digestible format, and providing an actionable recommendation?
The importance of a decision package
Say the world “sales” to many people and you’ll get a negative response. Perhaps they’ll remember a time that a desperate salesperson tried to “hard sell” them an expensive extended warranty that they didn’t want or need, or perhaps they’ll remember a time when an unethical sales executive sold them a car that turned out to be completely impractical, unreliable and not fit for their needs. In fact, for many people the whole idea of “sales” and “selling” is uncomfortable. It conjures up negative images of unethical and unfair behaviour.
Yet selling is a crucial part of what organisations do, particularly those organisations that sell ‘big ticket’ items or complex services. The reality of sales can be very different from the cliché—it really doesn’t have to be murky and unethical. Good sales involves understanding the customer’s needs, finding a solution that meets their real needs and ensuring that solution is deployed successfully within any relevant constraints. It involves building relationships , providing advice and advocating what is best for the customer whilst keeping the organisation’s needs firmly in mind too. Clearly this is quite a broad definition!
But do you have to have the title of sales executive or salesperson to work in Sales? I would argue not—in fact, there is an element of sales in just about everyone’s role. Whatever your role—whether you’re an internal business analyst or whether you work for a solution provider or managed service provider (MSP), it is likely that an element of your role involves “selling”. Just about every role involves building relationships, understanding stakeholder/customer needs, and so forth. If we are not selling products or services we are probably selling ideas. Imagine the project sponsor that has to ‘sell’ the idea of their project to the board. Or the business analyst that ‘sells’ the benefits of an idea or option to their business stakeholders. Or even the consultant within an external managed service provider that convinces their client to change tact and invest in a solution that is a better fit than the one the client had in mind. All of these are variants of selling and sales. But I suspect many of us haven’t thought of it this way before!