Do you ever get the feeling that the universe is trying to teach you something?  I had heard of the word “heuristic” before but really didn’t know what it meant. Then, the past few weeks –   

  1. My daughter Hannah described for me her research work at Georgia Tech in design heuristics;
  2. This One Big Thing post by Nick Maggiulli showed up in my twitter feed; and
  3. At yesterday’s Vistage CEO Summit, two speakers brought up using heuristics to solve business challenges.

So, what is this “heuristics” thing? Why does the universe think I (and you) should care? And in particular, how can we apply it to sales?

What’s a Heuristic?

Maggiulli writes and borrows from Wikipedia:  

A heuristic is defined as “any approach to problem solving or self-discovery that employs a practical method, not guaranteed to be optimal, perfect, logical, or rational, but instead sufficient for reaching an immediate goal.”

In simple terms, a heuristic is a single, implementable, but not necessarily perfect, approach to achieving a goal.  If you believe in heuristics, you don’t believe that a multitude of metrics are necessary. Maggiulli describes how often it just takes knowing one important variable or factor to set you on a successful course.  My reading suggests that one of my personal favorite heuristic approaches is “don’t let the PERFECT, be the enemy of the GOOD.”

Why Should We Care?

I want to be _______.

Aristotle felt we should fill in the blank with “happy.” He defines happiness as the ultimate purpose of human life.  Well, if we are not yet “happy” in particular areas of our life, how do we improve things?  We search for answers to this question all the time.

How do I get a better job?

How do I improve in my career?

How do I lose weight?

How do I sleep better?

Without a heuristic, what do people do?  They turn to google and get thousands of suggestions.  They try a bunch of them at once.  And fail.  We know, however, that “trial and error” is one of the most well-known heuristic approaches of all.  What many people don’t appreciate is that “trial and error” is really

“Try ONE thing and see if it errors.”

So, if you want Aristotelian happiness and you know the one thing that works, do it.  If you don’t, try one thing, see if it errors, and then stick with it or move on.  By the way, modern marketers have figured this out – see A/B testing.

How Does Heuristics Apply to Sales

I know what you are thinking, “Enough philosophy, how does this apply to sales?”

In my sales consulting business, I am often asked what metrics the leadership should track or what discipline or activity sellers should work on most. My answer is usually some form of, “Well, what’s the number one activity that has predicted success? If it’s a relatively new business, I tell them to lay down a process, create your messaging, and tally up activity, but don’t judge.  See what works.  The startup doesn’t yet know what works for its particular market, offering, and prospects.  Let’s build up some experience and then figure out the one thing that most often led to success. 

If the business has been around for a while, they usually know in their gut what’s working and what’s not. They may have measured it along with a lot of other things.  We need to put a name on it, describe it, and check to see if their people are doing it.  It may be that attentions and disciplines have wandered.

For individuals, what one thing are the successful people doing?  Can I do that?

I’ll give you a peak into my SalesReformSchool™ heuristic, my one thing.  Over 14 years of selling my services of preparing, training, and coaching sales teams, I know that the more scheduled conversations I have with new and old contacts – I call them “coffee meetings” – the more opportunities I generate. So, that’s the only metric I care about. My own pipeline grows and shrinks – with a short delay – depending on the volume of coffee I drink with another person – live or virtual.  

So, put some thought into figuring out your one big thing that will bring you happiness and more sales.  And go do it.

Anyone want to join me for a cup of coffee?

SalesReformSchool: Food for Thought

Let’s talk about real food, especially vegetables.  Eat them.  Here’s a ranking of which ones and why.

By the way, I am thinking about getting a certification in nutrition. It will be one more than any internist I’ve ever met.  Think I should?  

SalesReformSchool: Extracurricular

Go outside!  But should you use sunscreen?  Maybe, maybe not.  And I know, “go outside” is poor advice this week for some parts of the United States.

Good Selling!