Why Do You Think That Harvard Business Review Does This When it Comes to Sales?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, Nov 18, 2016 @ 11:11 AM

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For years now, Harvard Business Review and its Blog on hbr.com have been accepting articles on sales that are usually laugh-out-loud wrong.  The information is sometimes old and outdated, usually not routed in science, and sometimes simply stupid.  While they have always published a great magazine, the information on selling regularly fails to meet our expectations.  

My issue with HBR is not one of sour grapes.  I have plenty of subscribers and followers that read my science of selling and opinion pieces.  My concern is that because it's HBR, readers accept that which is written on those pages as gospel. "It can't be wrong!"

Why do they allow these articles to see the light of day?  

There are several possible reasons for this:

  • Their editors don't know enough about selling so they lack the knowledge to say, "Sorry Charlie."
  • They typically don't accept articles from authors without a PHD after their name so that generally rules out submissions from experts like me
  • Those with a PHD after their names are often teaching in academia - a wonderful source of real world experience and data.  Most of their data comes from surveys and the real world experience often comes from industrial companies who are still in the analog age.
  • Their model is to publish work from university professors because it appears more credible.

I don't post a rebuttal every time an article like that appears, but when it flies in the face of what we know to be true I can't help myself.  

The most recent example of Harvard Business Review and sales stupidity came earlier this month when they ran an article on social selling being the solution to prevent salespeople from becoming obsolete.  I wrote this article on LinkedIn bring it to light and differentiate fact from fiction.

But this is only the most recent example.  There have been 13 other articles that I have written to correct their false information, as well as this white paper that you can download for free.

The Challenge of the Challenger Sales Model - The Facts

Harvard Business Review Blog Off Target on Sales Greatness

Harvard Business Review Blog Post Gets Salespeople Wrong

Harvard Business Review Hit and Then Missed the Mark on SalesHow Wrong is the Harvard Business Review Article on How to Hire Salespeople?

Revealing Study of Salespeople Makes News at HBR

Another HBR Article on Sales Leaves Me with Mixed Feelings

Top 10 Questions for Salespeople to Ask and Stay Away From

What Customers Expect From Your Salespeople and More

HBR or OMG - Whose Criteria Really Differentiate the Top and Bottom 10% of Salespeople?

More Junk Sales Science in HBR Blog

Now That You Have a Sales Process, Never Mind

Is SELLING an Afterthought in Today's Sales Model?

So what do you think?  Why does HBR consistently publish bad information when it comes to sales?

Topics: Dave Kurlan, harvard business review, hbr blog, sales and selling, HBR, linkedin

More Junk Sales Science in HBR Blog

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Apr 14, 2015 @ 15:04 PM

science

What do donuts, chips, cake and ice cream have in common with some of the articles that are written and published about salespeople, sales selection and assessments? That's right, they are all junk and junk is bad for you to consume. Over the years, there has been no better source of junk science written about sales and salespeople than the reputable Harvard Business Review Blog. Recently, they put out another absurdly awful piece, this one written by sales consultant, Steve Martin. As most of these articles do, "What Separates the Strongest Salespeople from the Weakest" attempts to use personality and conditions to differentiate the two groups. This comes on the heels of another horrible article I called out in March 2015, which led to this amazing epic debate on the science of sales, sales assessments, and sales selection. This is why this latest HBR article is yet another example of junk science.The sample size of his research was 800 salespeople plus more than 1,000 interviews he has conducted. In this case, his research consists of a survey, and surveys are not a source of qualitative or quantitative data. As far as the interviews go, if each salesperson was asked identical questions, then they actually would be surveys, and if they were asked different questions, then it's not scientific! Compare his sample size to the salespeople that we have assessed at Objective Management Group (OMG).

He said the information provides interesting insights.  Insights are opinions - a far cry from the conclusions that come from science.

He identified 6 differentiators:

Verbal Acuity - Martin said that top performers were more articulate and communicated their messages more effectively - 11th and 12th grade skills versus 8th and 9th grade skills. I agree that words are important, messaging is crucial, and presenting in a way that works for the prospect is critical. But it's not about scores in English composition. It's about being concise, simple, and targeted - things that can happen only when salespeople have good listening skills. We've all seen articulate salespeople fail, and we've all seen simple-minded salespeople succeed. 11th and 12th grade communication skills are not predictive and not what should be measured. We should be measuring listening and questioning skills. Top salespeople are great listeners and ask great questions. Those two capabilities cannot only be measured, but they are the causation for verbal acuity .

Achievement Oriented Personality - Martin said that 85% exhibited this personality, which included Goal Orientation, participation in high school sports, and being power users of CRM.  These behaviors are symptomatic, not sources of causation. We all know salespeople who bury themselves in technology, played sports and are goal-oriented, but who can't sell space heaters in Alaska.  At OMG, we measure Strong Desire for Sales Success, and Strong Commitment for sales success, along with Motivation for sales success.  This is not the catchall finding of Drive, but sales-specific measures which are responsible for the behaviors that Martin observed. In the end, for findings to be useful, we must be measuring the right things!

Situational Dominance - He talks of the salesperson who is relaxed and able to guide the conversation. Maybe. But you can't measure that. What you can measure, and what is proven to accomplish the same outcome as the customer taking the salesperson's advice, are Consultative Selling Skills. Martin said test scores for situational dominance were 20% higher for top-performing salespeople, but that's not a big difference. When we look at consultative selling skills, there is a huge delta between top and bottom performers. The general population has on average 21% of the attributes of a consultative seller. The top 26% of all salespeople have more than 56% of those attributes, while the bottom 74% have fewer than 12%!

Inward Pessimism - Martin said that 2/3 of the top performers had inward pessimism. We might be in alignment on this one. We call it healthy skepticism or not being too trusting - not accepting at face value that which a prospect says. According to OMG's statistics, 86% of all salespeople are too trusting, but only 56% of the top performers have the healthy skepticism. I agree that Inward Pessimism is measurable and found in top performers, but his number is not consistent with OMG's data.  Additionally, when this finding is combined with an individual that does not need to be liked, and who has over-the-top assertiveness, we have an individual who comes across as condescending and arrogant - not someone we would want selling for us!

Sales Management Impact - I'm sorry, but sales management impact is not a differentiator between top- and bottom-performing salespeople.  If it were, a sales manager would not have both top- and bottom-performing salespeople!   Sales managers can have a tremendous impact on sales performance overall, especially when they spend half of their time coaching, and when their coaching skills are top-notch, but in most cases, the top salespeople became top salespeople independent of the sales manager.

Sales Organization Influence - Martin stated that 39% of top performers versus 23% of bottom performers were held accountable. That is not a very big difference. Of greater significance is that he said 60% of the top performers are not being held accountable, meaning that the top performers are likely to perform regardless of whether or not they are being held accountable. Being a top performer is not sales organization dependent!

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There are significant differences between top and bottom performers, but you won't find them in the HBR article or any others like them.  With rows of data, across industries with sales organizations of every size, shape and configuration, the differences reported by OMG between top and bottom sales performers can be seen in both a macro and micro view.  And our data does not come from surveys or interviews!

From a macro view, we can look at OMG's Sales Quotient. This score, between 0 and 173, weighs 4 findings that make up a salesperson's will to sell, the 5 most important Sales DNA findings, and the 6 most important Selling Competencies.  The elite 6% of sales performers have Sales Quotients of 140 and higher.  The next 20% have Sales Quotients above 129, and the remaining 74% typically underperform.

From a micro view, each finding (over 100) is sales-specific, and together, they are extremely predictive of sales success. Unlike personality and behavioral styles assessments where the names of the findings are modified to appear (marketing) as if they actually measure sales skills and behaviors, OMG actually does.

But don't take my word for this, experience it for yourself. A sales force evaluation provides you with answers to 26 difficult to answer questions about your business and the sales force that is your economic engine. OMG's award-winning sales candidate assessments will accurately identify only those salespeople who will succeed in the particular role you have identified for them.

It's important to differentiate between the best and the worst, but you need the right tools to help. Without those tools, you'll find yourself coming up with insignificant differentiators like those identified in the HBR article, or in the Epic Debate. Stay with science and you can't go wrong. Follow faulty conclusions and you'll have more hit or miss sales selection results with an emphasis on miss.

Topics: sales assessment, Dave Kurlan, harvard business review, hbr blog, sales selection, sales science, objective management group

Another HBR Article on Sales Leaves Me with Mixed Feelings

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, Jul 20, 2012 @ 13:07 PM

I was asked to comment on an article called The End of Solution Selling, which appeared in Harvard Business Review.  The article was generally right on, but it also included several things that irritated me enough to question them and the article.

"The End of Traditional Solution Selling" - The ineffective selling model described by the authors is more aligned with transactional selling than solution selling.  The real issue is that the authors were describing ineffective salespeople who, because of their ineffectiveness when attempting to use solution selling, have sales cycles that are more transactional, an approach that simply doesn't work anymore.

"Reps" - It was difficult for me to accept the authors' use of the word "reps" 81 agonizing times.  They were writing about solution selling being dead and how successful reps use "insight selling".  We don't call salespeople "reps" anymore unless they are independent manufacturers' reps.  They referred to solution selling as a methodology from the 80's, but the term "rep" probably came into use right after the term salesman - probably back in the 50's!

Mobilizers - The article discussed the different people inside an organization who used to coach salespeople on how to get the business.  The authors wrote that a successful salesperson would now coach these people on how to get the company to buy from them.  The authors settled on the term "mobilizers" to refer to a group of skeptics, go-getters and teachers with whom salespeople should align themselves.  I wrote an article about this around 4 years ago and believe it's a much better approach to utilizing people inside the prospect's organization.

Complex Solutions - This article is based on selling complex technology solutions and you and your company are probably outside the boundaries of that focus. 

Major Accounts - As usual, this article is based on research of big company sales forces, selling to other big companies, and has little to do with what most sales forces look like or face.  As a matter of fact, our data on 600,000 salespeople and 8,500 sales forces, significantly larger and more comprehensive than the Corporate Executive Board research data, shows that big company salespeople are among the least effective salespeople anywhere.  They aren't underdogs, they have the welcome mat laid out for them, have the resources to heavily discount the deal to buy the business, and don't face the resistance of smaller, newer or more expensive competition.  

Summary - My first take away from this article is that the "superstars" (the best of all big company, ineffective salespeople) are simply selling the way that modern day salespeople are being taught to sell.  I didn't read anything in that article that was different, controversial, eye-opening or even new.  Everything about which they wrote was simply well-executed consultative selling strategies and tactics and any sales training company worth its fees will teach their own version of that.  Some will do it a lot better than others. 

My final take away from this article is to reinforce this warning, which I issued just two months ago.  If your salespeople aren't effectively utilizing a consultative sales model, you must move to the 2nd decade of the 21st Century or you will continue to climb an uphill battle to win your share of new business.

Topics: sales culture, Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, sales model, sales methodology, sales training, harvard business review, solution selling, hbr blog

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Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader.  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog has earned medals for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog award for eight consecutive years. This article earned a Bronze Medal for Top Sales Blog post in 2016, this one earned a Silver medal for 2017, and this article earned Silver for 2018. Read more about Dave.

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