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The Scientific Method of Sales

Revisiting The Ambition Way - Rob deCarvalho's official field guide to bringing the scientific method into sales.

An excerpt from The Ambition Way - our official field guide to building measurable sales processes.

By Rob deCarvalho, Data-Scientist at Ambition.

At a recent company retreat I had the opportunity to ask members of our sales team what it would mean to run a company using “The Ambition Way.”  

As a data scientist, I spend my days tinkering with the inner workings of our product and don’t have a chance to interact with our customers.  But relaxing with our sales team on the porch of a remote East Tennessee cabin gave me the opportunity to learn and discuss the value we provide to our clients.  

What is "The Ambition Way?"

I posed the question: what would it mean to run a company using “The Ambition Way?” Among the many excellent responses I heard, one really stood out to me.  A leader on our sales team said that adopting “The Ambition Way” would mean that you embrace “the science of success.”  

Now, to many people, this response would sound like a platitude.  But to a physicist-turned-data-scientist like myself, this description really struck a chord.  The word “science” has a very specific meaning to me, and hearing it in this context forced me to straddle the abyss between the worlds of sales and and low-temperature atomic physics.

Here was my epiphany about what makes Ambition so unique.  Ambition is a tool for improving your business using the scientific method. 

The Scientific Method (Quick Refresher)

Many of you probably haven’t thought about the scientific method since high-school or college, so perhaps a quick refresher is in order. The scientific method is actually pretty simple.  You can read about it on wikipedia if you’d like, but here it is, in four easy steps.

Hypothesis: Identify a cause/effect relationship you believe exists between different aspects of your business.

  • Example:  I think the number of outbound phone calls helps drive revenue.

Prediction: Make specific predictions that will be true if and only if your hypothesis is correct.

  • Example: I think that if every one of my people added 15 more calls to their day, we’d see a 5% bump in revenue.

Testing: Take action to test if your prediction is true or not.

  • Example: I’m going to split my crew up into two equally-skilled teams for a month.  I’ll allow one team to maintain status-quo, but I’ll incentivize the second team to focus on pounding the outbound phone calls.

Analysis: Look at the results of your test.  Are your predictions true?

  • Example: Okay, the month is over.  Did my second team see a bump in revenue?  Was it 5% like I predicted?

A successful “sales-scientist” will iterate through these four step over and over with a different hypothesis each time.  Sometimes she’ll be right, and other times she’ll be wrong, but it doesn’t matter.  

The scientific method will continually drive her to ask the right questions and objectively evaluate the answers.  Over time she will accumulate a tremendous amount of knowledge about how to maximize her team’s success.  

The Challenges of Real World Application 

Now, why is it that these four steps are not as widely applied in the sales world?  Well first of all, sales deals with humans who have moods, hidden agendas, and personality conflicts.  

None of these are are a concern for studying, say atomic physics.  But that doesn’t mean that the scientific method isn’t applicable.  It just means that it’s harder to do well.

And this is where Ambition comes in. Ambition is a tool for implementing the scientific method. Let’s see how specifically.

Hypothesis: It’s hard to come up with possible cause/effect relationships without visibility into how your company is performing.  With Ambition, you get a level of visibility that’s difficult to attain with just a CRM. It helps reveal exactly what the most successful people are doing to hit their numbers, thereby guiding you to figure out what is actually working.

Prediction: Ambition has projections.  Given the historical performance of your business, we have algorithms to estimate future performance.  These are excellent tools for helping you create testable predictions.

Testing: This is probably where Ambition is going to help you the most.  Ambition provides a set of knobs and dials you can tweak to steer the day to day activities of your business.  It harnesses the innate human desires for recognition, transparency, and competition to channel your team’s energy into a unified direction.  This not only enables you to create meaningful tests, but also provides the means of ensuring your procedures are followed.

Analysis: Ambition provides a curated set of visualizations to help you extract the information that matters most.  A great deal of thought has gone into providing only information that is actionable and no more.

Do you need Ambition to run your business scientifically?  Of course not!  It is fairly straightforward to set up a CRM and download data into spreadsheets.  You already know how to do that, and you won’t need to create an additional line item in your budget.  

What you will need however, is an additional 20 hours in your week.  Although the scientific method is simple, implementing it is actually a lot of work.  And quite frankly, if you wanted to be doing science, you probably would have taken that calculus course in college.  

With Ambition, you automate most of the grunt work required to do the science, thereby freeing your time to focus on the fun stuff that you’re actually really good at like developing business strategy and motivating people.

Is Your Company a Fit for The Ambition Way?

My final thought for you is this: Ambition provides many features that are “nice-to-haves” for your business.  Your team may love the public leaderboard, and you may love the visibility you have into your metrics.  But at the end of the day, if you really want to get the most out of your Ambition experience, you need to do do some serious introspection:  

Am I smart enough to even ask the right questions?  Doing science means that you know how to ask questions that are both relevant and testable.

Am I committed to the long game?  Doing science takes time.  Some questions are really hard to answer and it may take a few iterations to get it right.

Am I bold enough?  Doing science means you are constantly trying new things.  You have to be courageous enough to shake things up and get people -- including yourself -- out of their comfort zone.

Am I humble enough?  Nobody is perfect, especially in science.  There is a 100% chance that you will screw up and an experiment will fail.  You have to be willing to swallow your pride and go back to the drawing board.

Not all businesses are good fits for Ambition, and not all managers are equipped to extract its true potential.  So the only remaining question for you is this.  Are you willing to give science a try?  Do you have what takes to see it through?  If so, then you might be ready to run your business using “The Ambition Way.”

Read The Ambition Way

Download Rob deCarvalho's full white paper on the Ambition Academy. We encourage you to bring Rob's scientific process prescriptions into your organization once it is ready. Sales is hard enough as it is - take the guesswork out of your strategies and lead your company The Ambition Way.

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About Ambition
Sales Leaders, HR Professionals, and C-Level Executives use Ambition to recognize, motivate, and develop employees into more engaged and productive versions of themselves. Funded by Google, used by the Fortune 500, endorsed by the Harvard Business Review.

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