By Mike Scher, Co-Founder & Chief Sales Architect, FRONTLINE Selling

I recently heard that after 146 years, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus is closing down. No personality is more famously associated with the circus than one of its founding fathers, PT Barnum; a politician and gifted showman. While the authenticity of this quote’s origin has been disputed, Barnum is generally credited with saying “There’s a sucker born every minute”.

Whether he actually uttered those words is irrelevant because the underlying idea is consistently reflected within our industry: As long as people want to believe something to be true, they will rationalize it by suspending disbelief and burying any element of critical thinking. The explosion of sales and business leaders trying to develop their brand through thought-leadership has resulted in some writing about things outside their scope of expertise—and it’s easy to accept them all as ‘advice from the experts’. But beware! There are three concepts that you should never buy into no matter who writes the article—they are the biggest cons in sales.

But first, who are these writers?

The world of sales has lots of aspiring PT Barnums. These are folks who spout ideas and opinions, many of which sound good, but in all practicality, are un-implementable or (at the very least,) so complex that most people don’t have the skill, bandwidth or inclination to action the ideas. The writers believe that by simply throwing these thoughts into the sales world, people will blindly accept them as truth and ‘follow the herd’. (Let me note here, that there are lots of insightful, downright GENIUS writers here on LinkedIn, such as Steve Hall, Matt Heinz, Tony Hughes, Lee Bartlett and others. So this article is clearly not about these types of sales leaders.)

There are just too many ‘advice pimps’ out there, pushing opinions that are well meaning, but are just someone else’s “feeling” about a subject or their own guesswork. Now, you are well within your right to call me on the carpet and say, “So Mike, aren’t you doing just that now?”  Well, I hope not. I don’t want you to take my, or anyone else’s, advice as gospel—my goal is to encourage you to think critically about a sales challenge you face and offer a perspective that may be helpful.

Now, let’s talk about the 3 biggest con jobs!

I know that the majority of sales authors are “trying to help”, but pedaling the merits of these three topics may truly do more harm than good:

•  Role Play

•  A/B Testing

•  “Lead with Insights”

Role Playing

We speak to lots of sales organizations that use this as a training tool for Sales Development. Usually the role play has some senior rep or manager acting as the “prospect” and they offer (hopefully constructive) feedback, with the belief that the SDR learns from the experience.

While the intent is noble, the concept is flawed and time-consuming. Can it benefit some reps? Of course it can, but how do we know the efficacy of the process? Does the Senior Rep/Manager represent the prospect scenario fairly? If there are multiple managers, do they role play the same situation the same way? Just because someone is or was a successful SDR, it doesn’t mean they can teach effectively. The best baseball sluggers aren’t the best coaches. The best students don’t always make the best teachers. There is a specific skill set trainers need to possess in order to impart lasting effects on their trainees—and the manager may not possess it.

Let me explain it this way: A golf instructor is trained to use specific drills to drive home the game’s fundamentals. The golfer trains not until they get it right, but until they cannot get it wrong. Instructors use video and practice to create muscle memory. With most every Role Play, these critical elements are missing, leaving the “student” without a good foundation of fundamentals. Waste of time? You decide.

A/B Testing

I love reading blogs, particularly those that offer the sage advice that you should “A/B test” your message or subject line. Really? I am sure there are some reps who are diligent about it, but sales organizations have a hard time getting reps to put prospect and customer data into the CRM, let alone adding results from A/B tests!

By definition, A/B testing is a term used for a randomized experiment with two variants. In order to properly test, say, subject line “A” vs. subject line “B”, you must control all the other potential variables. How do you know the positive or negative outcomes weren’t a result of some other activity, like the calls the rep made or marketing activity the prospect interacted with along their journey? How was the data tracked? Was there a proper statistical sampling?  As NFL Hall of Famers and TV personalities Michael Irvin and Cris Carter say, “C’mon Man!” It ain’t gonna happen!

Bottom line, A/B testing is scientific in nature, and scientifically-minded individuals who thrive on the discipline of experimentation aren’t attracted to the sales profession. The odds of your sales people accurately conducting tests and documenting properly are quite low. But if you want to believe you are doing true A/B testing and want trust the results, then go right ahead…

Leading with Insights

So before you all get crazy on me, I am not saying leading with insights is bad.  What I am saying is that there is a difference between knowing WHAT you should do, knowing HOW to do it and then ACTUALLY doing it. Most times, telling sales reps to “lead with insights” creates a paralyzing environment.  My good Aussie friend, Tony Hughes recently wrote about the rise of the silent sales floor, where sales reps are doing everything EXCEPT picking up the damn phone. They are either mired in “research” or engaging in “drive-by selling” by just emailing randomly…or following some sort of automated follow-up sequence (which is just their manager or sales ops folks automating the randomness).

In the world of prospecting, most reps have bought into the advice that insights are the holy grail. But how do they go about discovering those insights and how much time should they spend discovering them? Is it acceptable to use the ‘tallest midget theory’ where any ol’ insight will do? Once they discover what they think are insights, how do they package up and communicate the insight? To whom? When? How often? I know that’s a lot of questions, but that’s the point: too many questions and not nearly enough answers.

When I get cold called or emailed with so-called “insight”, the insight is wrong nearly 100% of the time. In my opinion, most reps spend WAY too much time on insights when prospecting because they should not even be in the mix until the appointment is secured.

Let’s not be PT Barnum people

Sales is a noble profession. It is also very hard to do.  We, the writers, must promise not to assume sales people are suckers and be accountable for producing quality content. And you, the readers, must promise not to become the suckers. Instead, seek out high quality insight from trusted sources and then consume, dissect and challenge the ideas. Remember: If you aren’t questioning what you read and simply rushing to implement the ideas, you may be getting conned.

Do you disagree with me? (At least ONE of you should!) Do you think sales reps can effectively A/B test? Is role playing a great training tool? Are you successfully ‘leading with insights’? Give it to me straight—email me at mike.scher@frontlineselling.com.  I’m from Jersey and I can take it…