When I was young, my dad got me a chemistry set for Christmas. Now it might seem like an odd gift to give to an eight-year old, but this was no ordinary set like you see today. I am not even sure how this chemistry set was even allowed to be offered as a toy as it had some seriously potent chemicals and formulas included.
I did not know enough to be concerned or cautious, so I just plowed ahead with the formulas in the instruction book. Then I got bored of that and started mixing random combinations together to see what I could make. After some disastrous yet enthralling results from the hydrochloric acid, sulfur, and other compounds melting the kitchen counter, my parents packed away the set, ending my burgeoning career as a chemist.
That did not deter my joy of tinkering and prodding and exploring though. My choice of college degree was mostly based on what career would let me build cool stuff. I whittled it down to either visual arts or electrical engineering. I decided I had more inherent talent with a soldering iron, so I went with engineering.
Experimenting is not just limited to the world of science and technology though. We experiment on a regular basis. When we cannot decide between two options, most of us will just pick an option because most decisions are low risk and low stakes. When the stakes are higher though, we often pause and consider what tests we can run to be sure we go down the right path.
None of these tests are complicated. The point is to get to a definitive answer quickly. If I am testing if the water is too hot to drink, I do not search for a thermometer, I dip my little finger into the cup or check for steam. That is the value of a well-formed test, it gives us just enough guidance to move forward without being burdensome and time consuming.
Over the holiday, I spent some time cleaning up my contacts on LinkedIn and transferring those contacts to my database. I use a tool called SalesQL to help automate some of this work. Anyway, while it does a decent job of collecting information, sometimes the emails are wrong because the tool sometimes has to guess the correct email. I found out the hard way when I sent out an update newsletter to all my new connections and the bounce rate was over 10%.
Now I use a mass email address checker, Zerobounce and Hunter, to vet the emails before sending anything out. But there are always a few nagging emails that I cannot nail down. So I use a throwaway email account where I send a few tests to try to guess the correct email address. It helps save my email deliverability rating and it fast enough that it does not get in the way of me getting things down quickly.
This is just a simple example of tests, but in sales, we will often come up with situations where we are faced with a decision and not sure which route to take. I shared one example of the Denver prospecting fiasco when I was sharing about “Sales Explorers” and how early stage sales reps need to constantly experiment. Even with Sales Settlers and Sales Prospectors, there are plenty of moments when you will ask yourself, “which path should I take”, whether it is deciding which batch of accounts to focus on, crafting the right solution for a prospect, figuring out the right stakeholders to reach, negotiating a particular term, etc.
What would be some examples of sales experiments? I often play around with messaging, A-B testing various value propositions and wording to measure response rates in my cold outreach across phone, email, and social networks. Another experiment I run is to optimize my qualifying questions to see which ones elicit the most informative responses.
Many things that you might want to consider for experiments however do not provide immediate or near-term results. A single, or even a few, tests are not deterministic enough to provide any reliable direction. You have to simply make a choice, see what happens, and over the course of making many similar decisions over time, see what patterns emerge. From those patterns, you can see what decisions are going to have a higher likelihood of success. This would include testing steps in the sales process or where you spend the most time negotiating on deal terms.
Having historical data recording in a CRM system is invaluable for these analyses. It is hard to know where to go if you do not know what you did in the past. Plus, we are all programmed with cognitive biases that will cloud our judgment unless we have the raw data in front of us. The unvarnished truth shall set you free by giving you the confidence to plot your future tactics.
You might think all of this is the responsibility of management. I thoroughly disagree. You need to own your decision making and your playbook as much as you would own your career. There are methods and approaches you will have to adopt as part of joining a sales team, but sales is not cookie cutter, even for the Sales Prospectors. We each bring our unique experiences and skills into a role, so we should strive to take ownership of our professional development and the methods we employ in our craft.
One of my big experiments I am trying out this year is creating short-form video content on TikTok. This is an opportunity to see if I can reach new audiences of startup founders with professionally oriented content. It is one of my Think Big ideas for the year. It could fail or it could succeed. So far however, I have been able to post twelve videos in the first twelve days of the year, and still plan to record a video per day. Early indications seem positive, but this will definitely be a long-term experiment to test engagement and influence.
What might some experiments you want to try this year to optimize your sales efforts? Let me know in the comments and look forward to hearing your ideas on useful sales experiments.
Mark Birch, Founder of Enterprise Sales Forum
The Enterprise Sales Forum is a professional community championing the practice of sales through monthly sales talks at chapters globally. Our chapters provide an open, collaborative and diverse environment to share new ideas, network and learn actionable insights for professional sales development.