"Stop Helping Me Sell More"

By Michael Perla on Aug 30, 2017

One of the perspectives I’m fond of is around the dose-response relationship[i]. In other words, what is the minimum dose I need to take (or do) to deliver the response I’m looking to achieve. In exercise, you often see this with high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which is where you intersperse short-duration, high-intensity intervals (e.g., 20-40 seconds of hard running) with active rest periods (e.g., jogging in between). With a minimum dose – say a 20-minute session – you can achieve high-levels of fitness and health.

As an analogue in sales, an up-front dose of more researching and planning at the start of a sales cycle  – before conducting sales calls or targeting accounts – can help to accelerate a sales professional’s results later in the sales process. The Corporate Executive Board (CEB) – now part of Gartner – has found that top-performing sellers often spend more time planning and qualifying than average performers.

With this relationship in mind, it helps to create a frame around a dose that could potentially be harmful as well. As with most things, more is not necessarily better. More exercise can equal injuries and repetitive stress disorders, not unlike too many sales methodologies or technologies can create frustration, fatigue, and eventual turnover.

We are finding that a lot of our clients are much more conscious and intentional of what they ‘throw’ at their sales professionals in terms of change. Too many change initiatives can equal lower productivity and dissatisfaction, usually the opposite of what the sales organization is trying to achieve.

Bureaucratic ‘Sclerosis’

In a compelling study recently published in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), the study’s authors received over seven thousand responses from the HBR community around the extent of bureaucratic ‘sclerosis’ within the participants’ organizations. They used a survey tool call the Bureaucracy Mass Index (BMI), which is based on a scale of 20 to 100, with a score of less than 40 being indicative of the relative absence of bureaucracy.

Of their seven thousand responses, only 1% had a BMI less than 40, while 64% reported a BMI of more than 70. Not surprisingly, the BMI score was positively correlated with organizational size.

Cost of Bureaucracy

You may be asking ‘so what’? First off, the authors write that excess bureaucracy costs the U.S. economy more than $3 trillion in lost economic output per year. Across the 32 countries in the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), the costs rise to almost $9 trillion.  

And guess which function is at the top of the list, along with customer service? That’s right, sales and account management. 74% of professionals within sales and account management (vs. 60% for HR and Finance and Accounting) felt like their organization has grown more bureaucratic over the last few years.

In general, people in customer-facing functions felt like their organizations had become more bureaucratic, which is quite disturbing. In a damning finding, the authors write that …

“ … the individuals who feel most hamstrung by bureaucracy are the ones most directly involved in creating customer value.”

Per the title of this blog, all of us who are in the business of helping sales leaders and professionals to be better and more productive, while placing an additional burden on them to complete, use, or adopt some new tool, message, or process, need to be cognizant and mindful of the current bureaucratic sclerosis in the sales organization.

Over-Dosing on “Help”

It’s not to say that the selling processes should be chaotic or that ‘tribal knowledge’ should rule the day, far from it, but it is to say that more tools, process, methodologies, or help may be counter-productive. We don’t want the patient (sales) to over-dose on ‘help’.

Daryl Conner, a recognized thought leader around organizational change, has said that if the ‘sponge is full’ it doesn’t matter if it’s spring water or sewage, it won’t absorb any more. Think about that idea as you contemplate rolling out another ‘helpful’ change initiative to the sales force.

A sentence that has come to symbolize the Hippocratic Oath comes to mind: “First, do no harm.”

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[i] This is a simplified description of the dose-response relationship, which can also be called exposure-response. In a nutshell, a dosage protocol can be helpful up to a point (improve health or symptoms), at which time it could become hurtful. It may also not be a linear relationship so non-linear relationships should be reviewed.

Michael Perla

Written by Michael Perla

Michael Perla is a strategic leader and co-author of Symmetrics Group’s book "7 Steps to Sales Force Transformation." Michael specializes in providing actionable insights to marketing and sales organizations to help them increase pipelines, win ratios and productivity. Having sold and led projects with the Global 50 to Fortune 1000 companies, Michael provides the analytical rigor of a financial analyst with the holistic skills of a strategist to help Symmetrics Group clients improve marketing or sales performance. He has worked as a sales overlay, head of sales operations, and head of strategic marketing planning, in addition to a sales effectiveness consultant. In his spare time, he enjoys working out, reading, and watching his kids play sports.

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