Sales is an exciting endeavor that boasts professionals from all walks of life and various educational backgrounds.
Some of the best sales reps who have the gift never graduated from high school, while others have advanced, and in some cases, terminal degrees.
Why is there such diversity in sales?
One reason is the products they sell, the other, and more salient. Sales is the great melting pot, the first and last true meritocracy in business; with some grit and gumption, anyone in sales can significantly change their lives.
With people coming from varied backgrounds, the question always seems to be: is sales a science or an art?
Is sales an art or science?
There are cases to be made on both sides.
Sales is a genuinely humanistic metier as an art, requiring an exceptionally high skill level in both literacy and presentation, wrapped in creativity.
As a science, selling requires a reasonable amount of competence in numeracy. With the increasing number of technologies available to a sales rep, being a part programmer is highly advantageous.
So what is sales, an art or a science?
In an attempt to offend (or conciliate) both parties, the great sales professionals are polymaths, adept in several disciplines. Thus doing sales well, you must be both an artist and a scientist.
Let’s unpack this.
Most great artists have a profound sense of science concurrently; many scientists have a profound sense of art.
Just a quick jog through history, we find many examples.
From ancient Greece, Plato was a philosopher and mathematician.
In the renaissance, Michaelangelo was an anatomist who made beautiful sculptures. Leonardo Da Vinci was a great artist, painter, and physicist renowned for his inventions. More recently, both Ramon y Cajal and James Audubon were both scientists who studied the arts. Both of whose drawings of neurons and birds are highly prized collector’s items for scientists and artists alike.
In the modern age, look no further than Steve Wozniak, whose code was considered artistry in motion and the reason early Apple computers could do so much with limited processing power.
With that segway over with, we can now get back on to the main topic: why should becoming a great sales rep require being both a good artist and a decent scientist?
In short, with so many moving parts, a good sales rep needs to be able to do two things well; first, a sales rep needs to hunt and stalk their quarry, second a sales rep needs to engage with their prospect in the most meaningful way possible.
Hunting and stalking is the scientific aspect of sales.
Engaging is art.
Let’s start with science.
Most sales reps come to a company with a CRM loaded with previous and former customer information. That is a lot of data starting with company demographic information, moving through to personas, titles, and roles.
Being able to pull that data and run any analysis requires at least a modicum of understanding of statistics.
Running those statistics, at scale, requires some level of computer competence from writing scripts in Excel to queries in a SQL server all the way to programming if the rep is so inclined. However, in most cases, companies find it more useful to outsource that for their reps!
In short, this is the field of data science, the combination of statistical understanding, the ability to apply those statistics with computer programming skills, and domain expertise to interpret those results.
Taken together, a decent enough sales rep can crunch the data from their CRM and identify the prospects that deliver high cash results quickly.
Yes, I know all I described above also falls in the domain of marketing and sales ops. However, every decent sales rep I’ve worked with doesn’t put their paycheck in someone else’s hands. They check, double-check, and triple-check that the leads they are following up on are those that are going to pay something, eventually.
In smaller organizations, sales reps may need to do more data science to find the best leads. When your XDRs are not hitting targets, this should be the first area you look at; are they reaching out to the best people.
While in larger organizations, it may just be a glance over the lead and have their gut affirm, they are indeed of high quality.
However, in both cases, the sales rep needs to be familiar with the methodology of figuring out which is a good lead using all the scientific tools at their disposal.
On that note of tools, being a sales rep requires a reasonable amount of computer literacy.
Sure reps that are not that computer literate can operate, however, reps that know basic programming will eventually run circles around those that aren’t either by being able to find shortcuts to work faster in their tech stack, or figuring out the software so they can use it more efficiently than their peers.
Think of it, even with a relatively straightforward tool like SalesIntel, a rep without a lot of technology savviness won’t easily grasp the nuances of using intent data, likely won’t A/B test their searches identifying the best search criteria for their prospecting. Compare that to those that can, and you will see a marked difference in prospecting prowess.
How is sales an art?
Once a rep has scientifically identified their prospect, it is time for reps to engage with them. For many BDRs, SDRs, or rather XDRs, it is a numbers game. Hitting the lofty target put in front of them by their manager, they don’t typically have the time to write beautiful prose to every prospect.
Like Michaelangelo looking at a slab of marble and seeing David, a sales rep needs to look at a pile of personas, identify the commonality and write elegant emails that go to all their prospects. Once received, those prospects should consider the personal a resonating personal note. Poetry is not a skill that is easily come by and takes time to hone.
Moving to the qualified prospect, a sales rep needs to keep them engaged and captivated throughout the entire sales process. To do so, the sales rep needs another artistic skill; showmanship.
Consider the most profound step in any technical sales process; the demo.
For the demo, the sales rep needs to create compelling imagery that speaks to the prospects. When demonstrating their product, do so in a spellbinding manner, all the while deftly and succinctly answering questions.
In a word, the sales rep must be an entertaining triple threat, someone who can write, present, and engage.
As you can surmise, any sales rep that wants to rise above the average and have the ability to punch their own ticket, must have an equal amount of scientific talent and as well as some artistic flair.
Granted there are reps that fall to either side of the spectrum; technical reps can gain immense credibility by correctly answering very technical questions quickly, while extremely friendly reps get by as their prospects love them.
For the rest of us that are more on the midline, we should balance our natural sales advantages, be it scientific or artistic, with the skillset we are less comfortable with.
Mark Shalinsky, PhD Mark Shalinsky, is a classically trained academic (PhD BioPhysics, McGill University). Following a successful career in start-ups as a director of sales and sales operations at JoVE.com, Duo Security (acquired by Cisco), and FatStax (acquired by BigTinCan), Mark started Data Sales Science. His company’s mission to utilize statistics, computer science, and domain expertise in sales & sale process helping companies hone in on their ideal customer profiles, personas, scaling their sales processes, deploying their first tech stack, or optimizing an existing tech stack.