The Elusive Hockey-Stick Sales Curve [Weekly Roundup]

Jamie Shanks
Jamie Shanks

elusive-hockey-stick-sales-curve.jpgWelcome to your sales weekly roundup for March 17-24. This week we’re dispelling myths of unicon-style growth created by Silicon Valley sweethearts, exploring the impact of artificial intelligence in sales, and highlighting 4 ways sales managers can enable their reps to become “grittier.” Enjoy!

The Elusive Hockey-Stick Sales Curve

Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship at University of Chicago Booth School of Business Waverly Deutsch dispels the myth that every startup will achieve unicorn status and high-growth. Deutsch highlights the importance of having a repeatable and scalable sales process and realistic business planning strategies. Key takeaways:

Unrealistic growth expectations. Groupon hit the billion-dollar mark in top-line sales in four years. Uber booked nearly $4 billion in gross revenue five years into its operations. Rather than being the rule, these companies are the exception. Moreover, they have hefty amounts of funding from venture-capital and private-equity players.

How sales patterns vary. What the following graph illustrates how online distribution is growing at a rapid pace, compared to traditional sales patterns such as relationship selling, retailers or channel sales. “These companies,” Deutsch writes, “are the most likely to demonstrate a propensity toward the hockey-stick curve of exponential growth.”

What correlates with sales success? Simply put: more revenue (perhaps in the form of capital) and more employees. Of course, most business know this anecdotally, but the author statistically proves this: he conducted a study, and in every year an increase in the overall number of employees showed a “strong positive correlation with increased revenue the following year. And more employees dedicated to sales activities correlates with higher revenue.”

Takeaways? Businesses should avoid getting caught up with the idea of hockey-stick growth. Though these kind of companies get tons of press attention, much less than one percent actually achieve these kind of results. Instead, focus on what you can do to increase your chance of success: “give your company enough capital to work with in the early days, and invest some of that money in employees who can sell.” 

When Science Fiction Becomes Reality: The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Sales

Mary Shea brought this article to our attention by posting on Twitter: “As B2B sales becomes more of a science & art, what is the role of AI?” Indeed, the folks over at Training Industry write on the hot topic of the impact of AI on sales. Key points:

The Sky Isn’t Falling — No need to freak out just yet. The post highlights some illuminating research: In 2017, McKinsey Global Institute research found that “fewer than 5 percent of all occupations can be automated entirely” using current technologies, but most jobs have “partial automation potential,” especially in tasks such as “collecting and processing of data.” Basically, robots won’t be taking your job; they’ll be making it easier. Salesforce senior vice president Peter Schwartz wrote last year this kind of technology actually “makes the human salesperson much more capable by augmenting them.”

Changing Processes And Competencies — Salesforce and IBM’s AI partnership highlights how the most powerful sales processes in the world can be elevated. The idea is to provide value by automating processes like qualifying and initiating contact with leads, collecting information and preparing contracts. This kind of transactional automation frees up salespeople’s time to, as Clara Shin says, focus on “the human trust and relationship aspect of sales.”

4 Proven Ways Sales Managers Can Make Their Reps Grittier

Managing Director of Sales Readiness Group Ray Makela blogs about how the perfect mix of passion and perseverance, otherwise known as “grit,” creates the best kind of salespeople. Though sales managers can’t teach grit, they can can encourage it in the following four ways:

Model Grit — Makela cites psychologist Angela Duckworth’s book, “Grit, Power of Passion and Perseverance,” outlining the simplest lesson, which is that people imitate their leaders. To put this lesson into action, leaders can be proactive by setting meetings to help salespeople map and close crucial deals. Layer coaching on top of that guidance to ensure salespeople stay on track. And when things don’t go as planned, stay calm “schedule another meeting to analyze the deal, understand the gaps in your response, and commit to not repeat the mistakes in the future.”

Give Your Reps A Vision — Reps might need more than just a reiteration of the company mantra. Similarly, “We need to expand our reach in X vertical,” or “Our VP of Sales wants us to sell 20% more of that product line,” just won’t cut it. Instead, provide your reps with a vision that is unique to their team and gives them an end goal to strive towards.

Hone in on Gritty Process — Gritty prospecting, says Makela, involves having the discipline to make prospecting calls even when there are other priorities. Take notice if your salespeople are just scanning a buyer’s website before a call, or actually allocating enough time to research into their pain points. If not, help them understand the importance of gathering insights and what it should look like. Remember, you can’t summon grit when it’s not there, so if a rep isn’t responding well to feedback they might not be the best fit for the team.

Call Out Examples of Grit — Recognize grit by calling it out and rewarding it. This doesn’t only help inspire reps, it sets a template for future success. “How you should share these examples depends on your internal culture and practices,” notes Makela.


Follow Us

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Get our latest blogs direct to your inbox


Subscribe to receive more sales insights, analysis, and perspectives from Sales For Life.

The Ultimate Guide to Social Selling