You may have come across this question several times in your sales career —Is sales a dark art or a science? It’s a question that solves only as many problems as it creates. Let’s spend around 3.5 minutes to understand, once and for all, which it is.
Sales as an Art
Some call sales an art because it requires the salesperson to influence the buying decisions of their customers. To do this, a good salesperson uses their emotional intelligence to strike a rapport with the buyer to establish a trust-based relationship. Sales conversations are after all interactions between human beings, albeit for business.
Extensive studies, such as ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion’ (Robert Cialdini, 1984), talk about the art of persuasion and influence. Prof. Ben Shapiro and John J. Sviokla in their (Harvard Business Review) book, ‘Seeking Customers’ (1993) wrote, “Despite the tremendous contributions of information and communications technology, selling is still largely a function of interpersonal relations, which are guided by the artful ability to recognize motivations, needs, and perceptions.”
Such evidence points towards the idea that sales is an art.
But the evidence that sales is science is considerable too.
First, while the ability to start meaningful conversations is considered an art—an innate gift — over time, we’ve learned that there are patterns to such conversations.
Today, you can learn to talk and behave in ways that can make you more employable. You can take courses to learn intonations and gestures that can improve your love life. Leaders are trained to emulate certain words and actions that can make them more influential. Since all these conversations can be scientific, it is no surprise then that salespersons too can employ science to do their job well.
Successful sales reps use science-based formulae that combine social psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral economics when they engage with buyers. These sciences explain how and why people react the way they do.
So, it is not the higher EQ or IQ alone that makes salespeople successful. The idea of Sales as a Science comes from these scientific processes, methods, and approaches employed to close deals.
But the thing that tips the scales in the favor of sales being a science is technology.
Because the art of selling can be codified to make the buyer know, like, and trust the salesperson enough to buy from them ultimately, sales can be called science. Even the innate gift of starting a meaningful conversation has been codified in science-based tools, such as Neuro-Linguistic Programming, for salespeople to influence their prospect’s buying decisions.
Secondly, sales can be considered a science because it gets more right or less wrong over time, just like Edison said - “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Businesses have been spending even more on sales training, which is paying off – a recent report shows that every $1 spent on sales training returned $29 in incremental revenue. As there are controllable factors at play, science helps salespeople get better at their jobs. Science gives sales leaders (like you) tools to invest in their sales teams’ performance development to make improvement possible.
So, sales is a science. But are we being scientific about it?
There are two primary reasons that current methods for assessing and improving sales reps’ performance are flawed.
- As a sales leader, you may have mostly used activity metrics, deal progression, and customer retention as your team’s KPIs. While these are necessary to discover the ‘when’ and ‘what’ of performance, they do not provide a holistic evaluation. To be able to discover the causes (the hows and whys), these metrics fall short.
- You may already be recording and storing sales calls to search through and listen to them for notes to feedback while coaching your team. However, you know that the manual process is not sustainable. You can’t run this on a large scale alongside your packed schedule and responsibilities.
In addition, you may recognize some of these common concerns you must address while coaching your teams:
I cannot do cold calls; I break into a cold sweat:
☎️ More than three-fifth (63%) sales reps find cold calling the worst part of their job. This could partially be due to the poor response from buyers.
🙅 Most (90%) of whom never respond
😪 Many (88%) want nothing to do with it — which discourages sales reps.
The customer doesn’t seem to want to know more:
📊 Three-fifth of buyers want to connect during the consideration stage after researching their options and arriving at a shortlist.
💳 One-fifth want to talk during the decision stage, having decided on the product to buy.
💵 So, most buyers want to cut to the chase and ask about pricing and how the product works in their first interaction with the sales rep.
I cannot wing it if the customer throws a curveball:
👨⚖️ Majority (82%) of B2B decision-makers think sales reps are unprepared.
📄 According to the majority (61%) of buyers, providing relevant information is amongst the top four ways to create a positive sales experience.
😔 So, a lead generation campaign is likely to fail when a salesperson is unable to answer questions that are a desk search away. However, 42% of sales reps feel they do not have the right information before making a sales call.
The sales pitch just isn’t working:
👬 Your reps could be following every step by the book and saying all the right things during sales calls. But they may still not be getting the closures they were expecting. The reason this happens is because emotion is one of the toughest things to study and measure. Even if reps can understand the words being spoken, they can be thrown off by intonation, intent, pronunciation or even sarcasm.
How does science solve these issues?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the primary technologies that help bring science into sales. As sales trainers by profession, we’ve been thrilled to discover just how far AI can go to make a salesperson more effective. It’s not just about repeating behaviors that lead to success; AI can actually help sales reps acquire new skills.
Further, we’ve seen for ourselves that AI can actually make humans more human. When applied through Conversational Intelligence (CI), AI can make people better at an innately human thing – conversation – and assist them in decoding the most human of all things – emotion.
We built Salesken to leverage CI and provide two core benefits; for sales reps, this benefit is available through real-time prompts displayed on a Help Zone window that aids conversation and for sales leaders, this help is made available as a post-call analytics dashboard.
Let’s see how the CI powering Salesken makes selling more scientific.
- Post-call analytics for deeper insights: It decodes exactly what top reps do to help them win more deals. When you know what leads to sales success (for your product/service), CI can use this information to get the rest of your team up to speed by providing them with an updated playbook.
- Automate and improve: You need not refer just to a transcript of a sales call but an annotated set of highlights so you can selectively listen to objection handling, mentions of your product USPs, changes in customer sentiment, and more and hear both sides of the conversation.
- Structured and standardized cold call tactics: CI can help your sales reps navigate chaotic sales calls by following the structured approach outlined in your sales playbook. It can help your sales reps push their prospects through the journey of the call in a tried and tested way.
- Leverage customer data for greater personalization: CI can harness information from multiple sources – company databases, the Internet, past conversations, etc. – so you can customize your conversations based on data such as what stages of the sales funnel your customers are at. This way, you can reduce redundancies and avoid situations where customers lose interest because you are talking to them about things they already know – or worse – have no interest to know more about.
- Relevant and timely information to hit a (curve) ball out of the park: CI can help reps provide smarter responses to any question basis what’s had positive reactions in the past, from similar customers. Salesken provides this help in real-time – so sales reps can have more effective conversations. With practice, the salesperson’s anxiety, panic, and sense of powerlessness are replaced with confidence.
- Decipher the customer sentiment to make the sales pitch work: CI can help identify customer sentiments to engage them by tapping into their interests and emotions. Based on how a customer feels at any point during the sales call, you can tweak your pitch to reassure them or pique their interest. CI can also detect customer intent based on their emotion, so your reps know when the prospect is ready to buy.
Is scientific sales enough?
We want to address one question we are often asked – Does CI replace sales training?
No, we don’t believe CI replaces sales training; we feel CI aids it.
As any sales trainer knows, acquiring the right skills is only half the job done. The other half is continually evolving by staying updated with what’s happening in the industry, in the company, and in the customer’s life. So, while sales training is an inextricable part of the process, CI leverages the power of science to ensure this evolution never slows down.
As a sales leader, if you are looking to overcome the inherent challenges of the sales industry and leave behind the idea that ‘sales is a dark art’, Conversation Intelligence (the foundation of our product Salesken) is the technology that can help make selling more scientific.