The Geometry of a Sale
Getting the full view of your deal from every angle
Note: For those in San Francisco, I have a talk at the AWS Startup Loft on startup sales. If you are a founder or sales rep in early stage startups, come join! The event is Thursday at 10:30 AM PDT, it’s free & lunch is served after. Register here and see you then!
The way camera crews work on the set of live action documentaries is like a dance. Nothing is scripted, you only have that one moment to capture the shot, otherwise its gone. So the shooter (camera person) has to be aware of the subject, the surroundings, and the other shooter.
In the film business, cinematographers speak of this dance as geometry. This is usually built from intuition and experience. There are also guidelines though, like the 180-degree rule, that state two characters (or more) in a scene should always have the same left to right relationship with each other. This helps make sure the audience is not confused with orientation.
It is hard to comprehend how elegant and complex this dance is because all you see is the finished product. You are too entertained by the story to take note of the positioning required to capture the shot. Sometime though you can get a glimpse of this dance such as this great clip of Grandmaster Maurice Ashley playing street chess with a NYC chess hustler.
I know this not because I went to film school or have a secret life in the movie industry. I was listening to a podcast with Morgan Fallon who shot, directed, and produced many shows for Anthony Bourdain’s award winning series Parts Unknown. It’s a long episode, but I definitely recommend it.
Learning about the geometry of cinematography made me think of other situation where a similar geometry applies. There is the geometry of sound in how orchestras are arranged and orchestra halls are built. There is the geometry as applied to team sports like the passing of the soccer ball. It also happens in sales meetings where there is often a less elegant dance happening between customers and sales people.
I liken most sales meetings to mosh pits rather than tangos or waltzes. The preparation is negligible, the flow is halting, and the aftermath is bodies writhing in pain on the ground. Ok, maybe not that last part, but I have seen my far share of sales meetings over the years, and frighteningly few ever called to mind the word “elegant”.
The core problem is that salespeople and customers make awkward dance partners. The seller wants to close a deal, the buyer wants the best solution at the lowest price. The incentives are totally misaligned from the start. This creates a situation where there is little trust or rapport.
It is not just the situational dynamics however. Salespeople and teams do a lot on their own to sabotage their efforts. There is poor meeting planning, lack of clear objectives, chaotic management of meetings, dismal objection handling, and weak closing on expectations, follow-ups, and outcomes. It is amazing that anyone buys anything at all after these dumpster fires of sales execution.
Instead of meetings catastrophes or nice meetings that go nowhere, you need a playbook you can use to have more successful meetings. This playbook should drive results from meetings and be simple enough to be low friction and repeatable. I shares my own perspective on the topic in an earlier post about how to turnaround your meeting planning and execution.
One thing that I neglected to mention in the post was the other members of your team. Many sales teams will not necessarily need anyone else in the meeting, especially for less complex products and services. If you have a more technical product or need deeper functional or industry expertise however, then you will often have others in the meeting to address those areas. Does your product require some assistance for implementing? Then customer success and professional services folks usually join. Are you meeting executives of your customer? Then you might invite your manage or leaders to show executive commitment.
Are you orchestrating how folks will participate in the meeting? Does everyone know how best they can contribute? Is everyone aware of the plan, agenda, and key personas in the meeting? How involved was the team in shaping the plan, messaging, and content for the meeting? And are you collecting the views and feedback from the team after the meeting?
I often refer to selling as a team sport. You get the credit and accolades for closing the deal, but behind that scenes there were a whole lot of others that helped contribute to that outcome. That goes for meetings and at every stage of the sales cycle. SDR’s are finding the leads, customer success is building the implementation plan, sales engineers are answering the tech questions, services is preparing the SOW, legal is drafting redlines of the contract, as well as that may touch the customer on that journey.
Are you ever getting the perspectives of those on your team about how the deal is progressing? Do you ask them for their gut feeling or feedback after each customer interaction? If you doing anything with that feedback? And the most important question, if the feedback contradicts your perspective, are you willing to accept challenges to your view of the deal?
We are all susceptible to happy ears. We will ignore warning signs or trouble in deals. Even if there are “no dogs barking”, how aware are we about the potential obstacles and danger zones with a customer? The top salespeople are forever paranoid because they have learned early in their careers that not being vigilant can be enough opening that lets a competitor sneak in or for internal politics to scuttle a deal.
We need to consider using geometry in our sales. Our extended sales team provide important telemetry into the health of our deals and relationships, but only if we use them effectively. Your job as the sales professional is to coordinate this team, position each person in the scene, gather the feedback, listening intently to the negative signals, and take decisive steps. How do you go about doing this?
Positioning – You need the people in place to engage with the customer. Are you using the members of the team and using them effectively? You do not need to bring the “bus” where you have lots of people involved doing nothing. Be frugal with your team resources and position during moment in your deals for maximum impact.
Debriefs – It is standard practice to get the team together after a meeting. Are you doing this regularly though or only after the “big” meetings? Even a five-minute chat after a meeting is valuable to collect the unfiltered thoughts from everyone.
Stand-ups – These are short meetings product and engineering teams use to keep track of progress where everyone shares what is working and not working. Stand-ups can also be a useful format to get everyone up to speed on the deal and get the pulse of the team to discuss issues or perceptions.
Sales Notes – How often are you capturing the notes from your meetings, debriefs, stand-ups, and other interactions with the customer? It is hard to uncover issues or connect the dots if you do not have a track record of what has happened. It is also best practice to allow everyone on the deal to access and contribute to these notes (and to do that within your CRM).
Candor – Are people given the agency and safety to be critical or deliver negative news? This is crucial to ensure you do not get surprised because the team is hesitant to speak truth into deal. Having the team to help is a superpower, but it is impossible to tap into that power if people are stifled, ignore, or dismissed when conveying bad news or surfacing objections.
Give some thoughts into how you can build this team geometry into supporting your deals. You can even extend this to working with partners and with your internal champions. The key is positioning your resources effectively that benefits the customer as well as gives you multiple vantage points to fully grasp your deal from all angles, much like in episode of Parts Unknown.
Have an awesome sales week ahead and chat next week!
Mark Birch, Founder of Enterprise Sales Forum
p.s. Don’t forget to sign up for my talk on startup sales coming up this Thursday :)
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