February 25, 2020

99 Percent of Statistics Only Tell 49 Percent of the Story

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics!”

Mark Twain made famous that brilliant quote attributed to British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli. And the title of this post (borrowed from a book, Gents with No Cents, by Ron DeLegee II) declares EXACTLY what I want to scream every time an online sales expert or sales tool vendor spouts their favorite (stupid) stat or study attempting to scare or manipulate sellers and sales leaders.

I recently wrote that we should be very wary of the experts. Today, I want to take that warning one step further asking that you to be doubly wary of the statistics these experts proffer, particularly when those statistics violate common sense.

There has been no more overused (and abused) statistic than the famous “57 percent” declaration. For much of the past decade marketers and those with agendas trying to convince us that traditional selling methods (like picking up the phone to prospect) are dead have gleefully and continually pointed to research cited in The Challenger Sale that today’s buyers progress 57 percent through the buying process before talking with a seller/supplier.

From day one, I believed the 57 percent declaration incorrect and said so publicly - and often. Oh, I don’t doubt that the research was valid and that the authors were only reporting on what their study observed. They weren’t the ones with an agenda. But because I have eyes and ears and clients across a variety of industries (and geographies, not just in Boston and Silicon Valley where many of the sales elites and nouveau experts live), I knew instinctively that there had to be holes or biases in the report. Why? Because in the companies I work with, the only time that silly statistic proves true is when there are lazy, reactive salespeople sitting on their butts waiting for a customer to approach them! In other words, there may be many situations where buyers, on average, get 57 percent through the process before engaging with a salesperson, but that certainly isn’t the case where salespeople are proactively pursuing strategic target accounts before the buyer is shopping. My clients’ sales teams are getting in to see prospective customers, in many cases, before they have even progressed 10 percent down the buying path and sometimes when the buyer has not even started shopping yet. These proactive New Sales-focused hunters are out looking to create new opportunities, not simply responding to buyers who summon them after getting, on average, 57 percent to the decision point.

The odd part here is that it’s not the people who published the study (CEB) who have been constantly misapplying the conclusion. It is other sales experts twisting the data to fit their own biased narratives. One of the most dangerous myths, dare I say, lies, perpetrated by the charlatans misusing this research, is that it is fruitless to prospect and pursue your target accounts because “they won’t even talk to you until they’re 57 percent through the process.” Please shake your head with me as you read this pondering the absurdity of a manager or executive (with a need) sitting at his desk with a flow chart outlining his buying process where there is this giant firewall at the 57 percent mark. Before that firewall, this buyer’s documented, formal process prohibits him from seeing or talking with a salesperson who might be able to help. It’s ludicrous. We all know that type of formalized buying process is as rare as a rainbow, and those companies that do have one certainly don’t place restrictions on when managers, executives, or even procurement people, may engage with value-delivering salespeople who might actually be in a position to offer perspective, ideas, options, and more.

Just this morning I had breakfast with the Sales Rockstar highlighted in Chapter 13 of Sales Truth. He recounted story after story of deals he secured for his little firm with Fortune 500 companies. And would you like to venture a guess as to how Sales Rockstar created the vast majority of these opportunities with these giant prospects? Yep. Traditional Prospecting! Phone calls. Voicemails. Emails. Snail Mail. Referral Sources. This sales veteran’s success aligns with the rookie seller’s success I highlighted in last week’s post. Traditional methods are still working quite well when executed well!

Be wary of supposed experts and be doubly wary of their statistics especially when what they are preaching doesn’t make sense and goes against what you see with your own eyes! Popular ideas that tickle our ears are not necessarily accurate, true, or effective. All it takes to be a self-declared sales thought leader/expert today is an internet connection and a LinkedIn profile.


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