Around three months ago we set out on a mission to build software that could Expand the limits of performance and productivity for Salespeople. Two staggering statistics make it clear there are enormous gains that Touch can potentially produce for salespeople.

1.  Just 15% of salespeople describe their sales tools as very effective.

2. 77% of a salespersons day is spent not selling.

 

We believe the key to making disproportionate gains on the statistics above is by understanding the psychology of elite athletes and flow. Focusing on embedding this into all we do at our company Touch.

Salespeople are just like athletes, every day they step daily into a world where all that matters is performance. Their psychology, environment and tools should all be geared towards one goal of reaching maximum potential. They need to be inflow.

If an elite athlete such as Tiger Woods for one moment labelled his tools or his team as anything remotely short of very effective, you could imagine how quickly changes would be actioned. Why is there not a significant level of urgency to address these massive problems.

 

How can you expand Sales performance?

Firstly, you need to understand peak performance (at first principles) before you aim to push the boundaries. The starting point is having a clear definition and here is just one taken from the Brain Performance Center: 

Peak performance is a state that is also known as peak experience, the zone of optimal functioning and flow.

 

Many definitions that we found were very similar referring to a state of confidence, effortlessness and deep concentration.  In any case, to expand sales performance with the sales tools that are currently in use we needed to understand the subject matter deeper, hence we asked the following questions.

 

  • Where and with whom can we observe this state being accessed most often?

  • What are the conditions and factors that create this state?

  • What is currently blocking salespeople from reaching this state?

  • What are some of the principles that we can weave into our software?

 

These questions have started us on an amazing journey to understand the state of peak performance, in particular, the concept of flow. Concepts such as flow are slightly mystical in certain vocations, but flow can exist in any task and is accessible to everyone. The mission for us is to weave the answers to these questions into an amazing product for Salespeople.

 

Elite athletes understand and can describe the experience of flow.

This state or experience of flow is often best described by elite athletes (see below). They eloquently express operating at a subconscious level that unlocks new levels of performance in their respective fields…

Bill Russell, 1960s basketball legend (quoted in Warren, J. 2009)

It was almost as if we were playing in slow motion. During those spells, I could almost sense how the next play would develop and where the next shot would be taken. Even before the other team brought the ball inbounds, I could feel it so keenly that I’d want to shout to my teammates, “It’s coming there!”—except that I knew everything would change if I did. My premonitions would be consistently correct, and I always felt then that I not only knew all the Celtics by heart but also all the opposing players, and that they all knew me. 

 

Tiger Woods, Golfing Legend describing being in the zone. 

I tend to have these blackout moments when I don’t remember, I know I was there, but I don’t actually remember performing the golf shot. I get so entrenched at the moment, I guess my subconscious takes over. I don’t know what the terminology is, but there are many putts or many shots where I don’t remember hitting. I remember the ball flight, I remember preparing for the shot and once I hit the shot I don’t remember the ball leaving. It’s a weird sensation. The more intense the situation gets the more calmer I feel the more things slow down. For some reason, the last few holes take forever, but they may be happening a lot faster. A lot of times I don’t hear the noise, I don’t hear anything. I become so enthralled in that particular moment, hitting a shot, performing a task being mentally prepared for that shot. It’s almost as if I get out of the way.  

 

 

After watching this video and reading those anecdotal stories, can you now wind back to times where you recognised these experiences in your life, in your career, your social life and hobbies? When time stopped and you didn’t think about your goals but effortlessly achieved them. This is flow at a more descriptive level and as athletes have long known is the key to peak performance.

 

Now you have heard from the best, why is flow so critical in the sales arena?

It is one of the few vocations in the world that has an enormous variance of performance much like sports. It is an industry that has high failure rates and requires deep psychological resilience. And like Al Pacino reminds us in the film Any Given Sunday it’s ‘the inches that make the yards’. Sales are similar to sports in that marginal gains can be the difference between average and elite.

 

 

Achieving the state of flow consistently has the potential to unlock large positive changes in Salespeople. Those who can effortlessly access their full skillsets during any challenge will experience a large shift in performance.

It is possible you haven’t had the first-hand experience of flow or not previously recognised it existed. But we must agree that humans, in general, are all inclined toward experiences that promote happiness, creativity, and productivity; achieving a flow state just represents a natural objective of life.

With the amount of money that is spent on self-development and growth within the Sales Industry, it’s surprising how very few out there talk about the concept of flow within the sales environment.

 

Everything that surrounds salespeople should be focused on seeking flow.

You only have to look to elite athletes and see that they essentially surround themselves with two teams to help them achieve their peak state:

Team 1- A team to help them achieve their peak psychological state (flow)

Team 2 – A team to help unlock greater efficiency, through improvements in the body, engineering or equipment. 

 

Salespeople need the same two teams. The first (The Flow Team) is what I will be elaborating on. But the second (Greater Efficiency Team) is what Will our CPO has talked about extensively. So let’s understand flow a little deeper by looking into definitions from the most renowned researchers of this subject matter.

 

The Godfather of flow describes it best..

The godfather of flow Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990) described flow as:

A state in which people are so immersed in an activity that nothing else matters. One is so happily absorbed in what they are doing, that their thoughts and actions flow freely. 

 

His research and findings led him to see that flow seem to occur most frequently in athletes. Jackson and Marsh (1996) further describe the flow state as:

A situation where personal skills equal or exceed the required challenges of the sport, and this experience is perceived as enjoyable, free from distractions, and typically leads to overall good performance.

 

In the Sales Industry, there is much talk of positive thinking, obscenely large goal setting and forcing action (The 5 am club) in Salespeople to achieve results. Generally, this somewhat flies in the face of the concept of flow.  Salespeople need to create an environment that facilitates the pursual of two goals, greater efficiency and being in the flow state.

 

Flow is critical and the key to unlocking this is the Challenge/Skills Matrix.

First, a few questions. Have you heard great mentors of elite athletes like Butch Harmon, Pep Guardiola, Phil Jackson talk more about focusing on wild goals or focusing on one game/shot at a time? Focusing on just trying harder or increasing the efficiency of the body and equipment?

 

 

At the core of the principle of achieving flow is the Challenge/Skill balance. If you continually focus on increasing your skills whilst very minimally increasing your challenges as a salesperson you will achieve a state of flow more consistently. Coaches of top athletes understand this and it is far more subtle than most sales ideologies that encourage you to set or attract wild goals.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has discovered from his 40 years of study how the skills/challenge matrix affects performance and flow. You can see below his representation of this and the feelings created when the balance of the challenge you are presented with is mismatched with the skill set.

 

 

Upon looking at this and thinking about your goals, what springs to mind? 

Pushing yourself to aim for high goals without addressing your skill sets and productivity could be the wrong approach. From the matrix you can see high levels of challenge with low levels of skills can create anxiety and frustrations, it’s generally what you see in athletes when they are out of their depth. 

We need to think of the Skills/Challenge matrix as our mechanism for achieving flow. Achieving goals then becomes a byproduct of being in flow more consistently. This will feel like you are achieving more with doing less.

 

So what should salespeople learn from athletes?

If we think about the greatest athletes, teams and coaches, it is a lifelong commitment to the process, how many times have your heard from athletes:

‘We take the season one game at a time’

‘We take the game one step at a time’

Breaking down the goal into smaller problems that lead to process focus is the key. This is why the greatest athletes are on a lifetime journey to achieve flow in every performance and every moment, incrementally engineering improvements to make a difference one step at a time. The by-product has miraculous results.

Be it a formula 1 team purely focusing on gaining a few milliseconds or Tiger Woods, trying to improve his driving accuracy by a few percentage points every round. These marginal improvements are what helps you meet incrementally more difficult challenges and this is the mechanism towards great performance.

 

 

It’s for this reason, we believe that elite athletes experience flow more than any other vocation. They understand the mechanism of the skills/challenge matrix and structure their environment so that the conditions for flow are present and increase the probability of being in this state. 

Thus, salespeople need to adopt this mindset of centring their whole environment to be in the flow state as long as possible. By understanding the skills/challenge matrix you can stay focused on the process of engineering marginal gains in skill and performance levels. This will lead to accessing the wonderful benefits that come from being inflow.  

 

Salespeople need to create the 3 pre-requisite conditions for being inflow.

Thankfully, due to the extensive research into this subject matter Salespeople can learn and understand the conditions required for accessing the flow state. 

1. Clarity of goal and immediate feedback – i.e in tennis, a player knows exactly what the goal is and every shot provides instant feedback towards this.

2. A high level of concentration on a limited field – Essentially when a person delves deeply into a limited activity. Naturally, as a professional athlete, you are dedicating your life to a very narrow field. 

3. The balance between skills and challenge – Avoid taking on a task too hard where skills can’t match leading to anxiety and frustration or vice versa a challenge too easy leading to boredom and familiar routine. 

 

If you are in flow, you will then notice these characteristics…

1. Effortlessness – The greatest athletes look effortless in peak performance, this comes from years of constant refinement. Over time every unit of energy produces more output.

2. The Feeling of Control – A state of security and relaxation that you will take the right action in any situation presented. 

3. An altered perception of time – The prefrontal cortex, parts of the brain associated with time, inner voice, ego become less active. Many athletes and artists cite this time distortion when in a state of flow.

4. The union of action and consciousness – Feeling at one with your performance, there is no thinking involved, the inner voice quiets and you trust actions to take place.

5. Love of the process – You will love the journey, the environment and the process of seeking the goal as much as the achievement of the goal itself. (Flying in the face of common sales education)

Are a large majority of Salespeople are in flow? From the research and interviews, we have conducted the answer is no. We hear (from interviews) much frustration and pain regarding the conflict with management, their tools and in particular the CRM.

 

So what’s the biggest challenge for Salespeople creating an environment set-up for flow?

A fundamental step towards peak performance is creating an environment that fully supports and creates the conditions listed above. This is critical for Salespeople to unlocking their true talents of communication and creativity. The environment needs to:

a) help support you to achieve your peak psychological state (flow)

b) help you unlock greater efficiency, through your body and the technology you use.

The right environment will feel IMMERSIVE.

I love the term immersive. The definition of this is – ‘characterized by deep absorption or immersion in something (such as an activity or a real or artificial environment).’

Furthermore, the term “immersive experience” refers to pulling a person into a new reality, enhancing their everyday life (by making it more engaging or satisfying) via technology.

Your sales environment should be so immersive, that you lose the sense of self, time and inner voice and this is the aim of The Integrated Sales Environment.

It’s clear from the Tiger Woods above, high performers require an immersive environment. Unfortunately, the current technological environment salespeople live in is not fit for purpose removing them from flow and peak performance.

The reasons that most salespeople’s environments are not immersive.

There are 3 major factors that are taking almost all salespeople out of flow on a daily basis:

  • The CRM reduces speed and efficiency for Sales People.
  • The explosion in the requirement for data entry/CRM hygiene from management.
  • Managing multiple communication and productivity software applications.

Is it any wonder that currently only 23% of a salesperson’s day is spent selling. 

 

Salespeople we interviewed experienced the following issues.

Increased distraction – Several tools are required to manage the high-intensity days. Too many platforms are being used on a daily basis and it’s almost impossible to no be continually distracted.

Too much thought and effort – A typical sales workflow takes too long and is too complicated. Due to the slow performance of CRM’s, constant page loads and mouse scrolls energy is lost through these inefficiencies. 

Loss of control – Feeling like you are being shoehorned into an environment which was not built specifically for you. Ultimately salespeople use a combination of CRM tools (built for management purposes) and personal communication apps. 

Hate the process – The CRM is disliked by Salespeople. Research says 72% of execs believing salespeople do not spend enough time in their CRM. CRM’s are the core of the sales process, but with this conflict, how can salespeople truly love what they do. 

With the above issues, it’s no wonder Salespeople are not reaching their maximum potential and it’s our mission to change this.

So we created Touch, specifically for Salespeople to be inflow.

 

 

We have all have been inspired by a performer in a field we love. I was inspired by Tiger Woods superhuman capacity to expand boundaries and ability to achieve flow in the game of golf. Salespeople (Touch users) should aspire to reach these same levels of performance. Touch should enable users to experience the same mental calmness and access the quality of tools/skills that Tiger Woods would for the final day of any Major. 

There are principles we used to craft our product and build an Integrated Sales Environment in the quest to help Salespeople achieve flow. Many decisions, purposefully will not be noticed, others will standout making the experience of using our product totally different from others. 

These principles are some of the reasons why our users cite greater levels of performance and flow.

 

Principle 1 – Choosing colours which make Salespeople feel ready to perform.

Tiger Woods has always worn the Black and Red combination for every final day of his golfing career when he needed to close. He wasn’t a bad closer at that with a 93% closing rate of all tournaments when in the lead in the final round.

 

 

Research on sport colours is actually a big deal, especially where small margins can make the difference between the average and elite, all angles need exploring. 

Research by Frank and Gilovich found in 1988 that teams in black were found to be more intimidating than teams in non-black. And according to Shirley J. Wenrich, author of the book All the Colors of Life: From the History and Mystery of Color, red is the best colour for sports as it represents energy and vitality.

Furthermore, in eastern culture Red is the power & control colour and Black signifies strength and elegance, this is what we want our users to feel like in their work environment.

As always, you will find research supporting other colours, but we believe that when using our product you should feel as though you have arrived in the arena to perform. Just like elite teams and athletes you should emanate an aura of dominance as you begin your sales day.

I am not implying that the colour alone can dictate performance, but turning up to the arena in light or vibrant colours against turning up in dominating and focused colours will have an impact on your psychology. If we had to choose a colour scheme for our users we had to look deeper into the subject.

Thus we chose a Black, Red and White palette. We were inspired by the research and great teams/individuals like Tiger Woods, Chicago Bulls, AC Milan, Red Sox etc.

Touch is about more than superfast workflows, it’s about flow, peak performance and dominating your game. 

 

Principle 2 – Remove distraction to create an environment a salesperson can be immersed in.

To create immersion you have to first remove distraction. From many bodies of research into the subject of focus, distractions lower the quality of work and increase the error rate. It was clear from our interviews that the continual switching from app to app and page to page is significantly increasing distraction levels.

A salesperson needs access to all tools instantly. Hence, in Touch, we seamlessly integrate Multiple Channels, CRM and Productivity apps, all effortlessly accessible in one interface. No energy or focus is ever wasted. 

Also, distraction can be created when the next action is not made clear and instant. Therefore, in Touch users are able to interchange application panels within milliseconds. Being able to switch from Diary to CRM management, from email to set activities or other workflows with ZERO page loads, mouse interaction and new applications result in minimal energy expended.

Golfers have a caddie with a strong opinion on their next action (the next club, course card and ball is always ready for Tiger Woods). F1 drivers need a pit/engineering crew and analysis accessible via the headset so every last detail is accounted for and communicated to the driver. In both instances without these environments, performance would be affected negatively.

 

Principle 3 – Aligning Touch with the skills/challenge matrix.

In the most intense of moments athletes like Tiger Woods quieten their inner voice, their brain activity drops and are detached from the outcome, just immersed in the process and the moment. 

Salespeople need to consistently be at the cross-section of a slightly increased challenge and focused on the development of new skills.  

The interface is designed to assist you in learning new ways of completing workflows fast. You are actively challenged to learn keyboard powered workflows and we often remove the more recognisable but slower option for completing an activity. If you progress on this journey, your workflows will be completed subconsciously with minimal conscious energy.

We have purposefully removed GUI elements that make the old cumbersome way of doing things very hard and thus you must commit adopting new skills.

Learning new skills is challenging, but when you do, you can never go back. Would you ever de-skill? If you have ever learned to finely slice an onion with the speed and grace of a Michelin star chef, would you ever decide to go back to chopping the old way?

If you are committed to being the best you can, then the Integrated Sales Environment will support you on this journey and once you step through to this world, there is no going back.

 

Principle 4 – Introducing Jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) speed.

What is JTBD? 

Jobs-to-be-done was a concept created by Clayton Christensen back in 2003 and has become refined by Anthony Ulwick in a more recent book, surprisingly titled “Job to be done”.

Ulwick defines a job-to-be-done as a task, goal or objective a person is trying to accomplish, or a problem they are trying to resolve. These jobs can be functional, emotional or associated with product consumption.

The efficiency in how a person completes a JBTD is critical to their performance.

Watching Athletes the highest level, whether that’s Roger Federer playing tennis, David Beckham taking a free kick or Tiger Woods driving, you will notice the effortless efficiency. Extreme amounts of force and power are generated, pushing the limits of what the human body is capable of. 

Our CPO who is wildly passionate about this subject summed elite athletic performance with one word, efficiency.

 

Being efficient is essentially “taking the shortest path toward the attainment of the desired goals”. 2 In other words, it describes the number of outputs you can get from a given input.

Efficiency = output/input

So if you increase your efficiency, you get more output for every unit of energy you spend. Hence our CPO has coined the term JBTD speed for Salespeople:

The time it takes to complete a workflow, without any sacrifice of quality at all.

This is JTBD speed and it’s critical to access or remain inflow.  All workflows related to your performance should feel almost instantaneous, but this is not the case right now for most Salespeople. 

 

A typical workflow in Touch vs Pipedrive

Example workflow – Following up with a prospect and updating your CRM. 

  • Select Pipeline
  • Select Deal
  • Read contact history/details
  • Switch to Gmail
  • Compose and Send Email
  • Update CRM 
  • Set activity/diarise next steps

Even in a CRM like Pipedrive which is renowned for great UX and simplicity this workflow still takes:

4 mins and 34 keyboard/mouse/scroll actions. (Pipedrive)

vs

45 secs and 0 mouse/scroll actions. (Touch)

A 500% increase in JBTD speed. 

 

Imagine what an Athlete would give for a 500% increase in efficiency in one of their JBTD. When any athletes describe flow they talk about the experience feeling effortless.  Which of the two workflows feels effortless to you? Which is likely to increase distraction?  Which is likely to create immersion?

Every salesperson should be on the search for greater efficiency, doing more with less and this is where JTBD speed comes in. 

 

Conclusion 

We have gone deep into the subject of flow and efficiency to explain how we marry these concepts within our product.

Our users are committed to this journey. We believe that productivity software will need to incorporate these principles of flow into their product decisions creating a new wave of business software. 

We believe Touch will change the way Salespeople perform and users will cite the following benefits:

Supreme mental concentration.

Increased lateral decision making.

Subconscious execution.

High-intensity focus. 

 

Only 23% of a Salesperson’s time is spent on selling. The benefits  Touch creates will engineer disproportionate improvements on this number. 

Just remember, It’s the inches that make the yards.

 

 

References:

 

Pace Productivity – https://www.paceproductivity.com/single-post/2017/02/09/How-Sales-Reps-Spend-Their-Time

Zynbit.com – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-6g9S5hvug

Brain Performance Center – https://www.thebrainperformancecenter.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/brain_performance_center_peak_performance_white_paper.pdf

The Flow State Scale: Jackson and Marsh (1996)

CRM research – https://www.destinationcrm.com/Articles/Web-Exclusives/Viewpoints/Where-CRM-Went-Wrong-(and-How-to-Fix-It)–135419.aspx