Thought bubbles can derail sales strategy – beware!

Sales strategy and thought bubbles

Selling in major accounts requires thinking and acting strategically.  While traveling recently, I read an interesting article by Holly Green in Executive Travel Magazine that introduce an interesting way of understanding an idea that poses a threat to that process – thought bubbles.

As Green notes: “Thought bubbles are the deeply held beliefs and assumptions we have about the way the world works. They determine how we perceive things, and guide how we think and act. Thought bubbles tend to be self-reinforcing. They are always incomplete and can limit our ability to achieve results.”

The troubling part for sales reps is they tell us we don’t need to pause to get clear on what to do next – just follow the thoughts in the bubble. They can therefore cause us to overlook evidence that contradicts what we suspect may be true. Hence they can get in the way of developing appropriate ideas of what we should do next.

Just a word or two about these thought bubbles and then we will look at some ideas to make sure they don’t get in the way.  According to Green, we take in large amounts of data that we sift, analyze, and then form into patterns … and we do this automatically. However, once these patterns are established, they’re difficult to break. To support them, we tend to accept data that supports the pattern and screen out contradictory information.

Now let’s move from theory to practice.  Sales people are operating in a business environment where each account is unique and each account is continuously changing.  So a strategy that was effective in one account will probably not work in another and what was appropriate yesterday may be out-of-date today.  So, what do we do about these thought bubbles?

  • Challenge assumptions by deliberately seeking out different perspectives, especially those that contradict your point of view. Sales reps should ask themselves questions like “What has changed with our customers, our markets, our industry and the world at large in the past six months?”
  • Then sales people should drill down on the specific opportunity, using questions such as “What if?” and “So what?” to broaden their view of the sales opportunity – including, for example more accurate readings on the customer’s challenges, perceptions of you and perceptions of your competitors.
  • And don’t forget – selling in major accounts is not usually an individual activity. If you sell as a teamleverage the experience of the team to identify and question what needs to be done.
  • And finally, question conventional wisdom – Is it really true that because customers only have done things one way they’ll never change? Or, my personal favorite – “We tried that 10 years ago and it didn’t work, so it won’t now.”

So, the next time you sit down with yourself, your sales team, or with your sales manager to create or modify your sales strategy – begin by talking about alternative and innovative approaches.  Take a critical look at your first answer (thought bubble) and walk out of your meeting with a more robust sales strategy.

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©2012 Sales Horizons, LLC

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About Janet Spirer

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. Janet has followed two different, yet complimentary paths. First, as a B-School Professor she taught marketing, sales, and business strategy courses. She also managed a consulting practice focusing on sales productivity and marketing – working with a variety of clients ranging from Xerox to IBM. She translated those experiences into a book – “Parlez-Vous Business” – that helps sales people develop the business savvy to sell successfully. Since co-founding Sales Momentum® in 2000 with Richard Dr. Spirer received her Ph.D. from The Ohio State University, an M.P.A. from The University of Texas at Austin, and a B.A. in Economics from Brooklyn College. She holds the appointment of Professor Emeritus at Marymount University.
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