If NASA Was a VP of Sales

Running a sales team is a lot like launching a manned mission to space.

There are a few key elements of a successful manned spaceflight: putting together a spectacular team of capable astronauts, creating an effective plan for making the mission a success, and maintaining the ability to track the progress of the mission.

Assuming a company has found product-market fit, the same can be said for sales.

Let’s take the first element: the team. Astronauts are chosen carefully. Being a smart individual doesn’t cut it; you need to be able to work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life, react to unforeseen circumstances, and most of all, communicate extremely effectively.

Excellent salespeople have an incredible ability to learn, think on their feet and navigate obstacles with poise. They excel in teams, learning from their most effective peers as much as from their own experiences talking to customers. But they don’t always reveal themselves by having the highest quota attainment right off the bat. Very often, the individuals who become superstars aren’t immediately obvious. They work their tail off, but they need coaching to make them great. Like the support crew in Houston talking the flight crew through their crucial re-entry steps, the job of a VP of Sales is to guide your team during these key moments and help them achieve their goal.

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Now let’s talk about the flight plan.

It’s hard to imagine a more complex task than launching a mission to outer space. The Apollo space program used the orbit of the Earth to slingshot a spaceship towards the Moon, whose own orbit then “caught” the ship (with a bit of help from the ship’s engine). This took extreme coordination on the part of both the crew of the ship as well as NASA’s team on the ground. The amount of data to collect and analyze, processes to create, and situations to prepare for are incredibly daunting. Every stage of the journey needed a detailed plan understood inside and out by the whole team.

But if you think taking a crew to the moon is hard, try selling software.

sales telemetry
B2B sales organizations are predicated on the idea of a pipeline. The pipeline is a visualization of finding leads, qualifying them, getting their attention, and having an account executive work through a sales process (which the sales leader needs to define), to close a deal. Most companies have no problem finding leads, thanks to the massive array of marketing technologies available. But creating a sales process that works, and making sure they catch deals when they’re getting off track, is a very different story.

With a sales process in place, the job of the VP of Sales is to make sure that the reps follow the process and make sure they don’t lose momentum. To achieve this, most companies over-engineer their CRM, creating tons of fields to track every step and capture every activity. This is a bit like asking Neil Armstrong to stop paying attention to the flight trajectory and start manually generating basic reports like cabin temperature and oxygen levels. While these are important metrics to track, they should never get in the way of completing the actual mission of getting the astronauts home to Earth. NASA made sure they could automatically see how the ship was doing, so their astronauts could focus on the task at hand. In fact, telemetry (collecting data from hard-to-reach places) is credited as one of the primary factors that enabled the mission to succeed.

This is the next stage of the evolution of the sales organization: sales telemetry. When sales leadership can take the burden of insight off of reps working through their sales process, we’ll see a new level of productivity and achievement across the board.

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