Theory of sales relativity

Is sales an art or a science?

Most discussions about sales (or marketing, or any other business topic) are reductive to the point of this single false dichotomy. The truth is that sales is both art and science, and we’ll turn to one of the biggest scientific theories ever to illustrate the point: Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity (TGR).

What the theory says isn’t as important as knowing just how groundbreaking the theory was. He came up with the theory at age 25, and it wasn’t purely art or purely science that influenced him. As this article states, “the discovery was not momentary…(it took) seven and more years of work.”

Art is typically thought of as a physical force akin to lightning. In a sudden, momentary burst of energy, an outside force imposes its will on us, and we create something, thanks to the heavens. Science, on the other hand, is thought of as a slow and plotting methodical process predicated on repetition, proofs, and complex logical arguments and deductions. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Einstein recounted a thought experiment he did when he was 16 that laid the foundation for what eventually was articulated as TGR. Over the intervening 9 years, he read countless papers, performed countless experiments, and thought for countless hours about how to solve the paradox he identified.

In other words, it was both the methodical process of learning and building upon the foundations of what had already been discovered – the science – and the rumination and creativity and flexibility of thought – the art – that allowed him to finally define TGR and change our understanding of the natural world.

Now to selling…

There are typically two camps in sales:

  1. The Scientists: build a process and follow it exactly or risk – gasp! – losing a sale and becoming painfully inefficient, spiraling into an abyss of lower and lower conversion rates
  2. The Artists: there’s no way to know exactly what anyone is thinking or what will motivate them to buy, so there’s no point in building a process or standardizing anything

The problem with this view is that both camps are right. On the one hand, having a process allows you to standardize your selling, incrementally improve your efforts, and transmit your learnings to both your clients and your team whenever you need to. On the other hand, you can’t predict with 100% certainty the motivation of any individual, which is the underpinning of a successful consultative sale.

The Scientists have scripts, and automated CRMs, and best practices, and training materials, and slide decks.

The Artists have only an acute curiosity and the desire to help their clients.

Both are required to be successful, and to improve your overall success rates.

Chances are you won’t create the next Theory of General Relativity, but you could certainly help a client, and do more work that matters.

-Liston