Why Willy Loman’s Life Could Have Been Spared

“‘Willy was a salesman. And for a salesman . . . he don’t tell you the law or give you medicine. He’s man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine.’”
— Death of a Salesman

Written by the famous playwright Arthur Miller and released in 1949, Death of a Salesman recounts the tragic story of struggling, 63-year-old traveling salesman Willy Loman. Throughout the play, Willy repeatedly references his belief that the success of a salesman is based on being “well liked” by others.

As he fails to close sales and make ends meet, he blames his poor performance on people thinking he talks too much or perceiving him as physically unfit and unattractive. His failures and lack of confidence soon take their toll on his mental health and, after getting fired, the play ends with him taking his own life so that his family can collect his life insurance.

While Death of a Salesman is often interpreted as an exposé around the pressures and difficulties of the American Dream, it can also tell us a lot about sales itself.

The Trouble with the Art of Sales

As the old saying “the art of sales” conveys, sales has traditionally been considered a game of skill honed by sales veterans over years of deals won and lost. Success has been attributed to being “well liked,” or, as Willy’s friend Charley puts it in one of the script’s most famous lines, “a smile and a shoeshine.”

The problem with this is that art cannot be defined or measured in a quantifiable or scalable way. The art of sales is an abstract concept that leaves sales leaders and reps guessing as to how they can “do better” or “work harder” to increase wins through sheer mastery and determination. Not only is this approach risky for businesses, but it is also extremely frustrating for reps.

Science, Not Smiles and Shoeshines

Technological developments like digital media, machine learning and big data analytics are making it possible for companies to leave the art of sales behind in favor of a more scientific approach. With the Science of Sales, sales professionals like Willy Loman can achieve a data-driven understanding of their sales performance, and the exact steps they can take to increase sales growth.

This is achieved by focusing on three key elements:

1. Data: Leading Science of Sales solutions are designed to drive adoption among reps, which in turn increases the volume and variety of data captured during the sales cycle. One of the ways this is achieved is by consolidating multiple point solutions into a single, all-in-one sales platform so that reps don’t have to bounce back and forth between systems to make calls, send emails or run reports. An intuitive consumer-grade UI, mobile accessibility and automated data collection are also key platform components that drive rep adoption.

2. Metrics: Instead of focusing solely on closed deals and revenue, businesses are utilizing a new set of metrics to measure performance at each stage of the sales funnel over time. These new metrics can be broken into two categories: process measures and yield measures.

Process Measures are used to understand how leads and opportunities flow through your sales process and pipeline, allowing you to pinpoint bottlenecks and inefficiencies that reveal ways to increase revenue. These measures include the percentage of opportunities converted to qualified opportunities, sales cycle length, average deal size and more.

Yield Measures are used to understand how much value you are getting in return for your investments, enabling you to quantify the true ROI of your time, money and effort. These measures include lead yield, opportunity yield and qualified opportunity yield.

Process and Yield Measures

Together, these two sets of measures give you a complete picture of your sales performance. With the ability to calculate each of these conversion points and see exactly how it affects sales growth, businesses can make more educated and strategic decisions.

3. Insights: The ability to measure data consistently across key conversion points will inherently reveal important factors, or dimensions, impacting your sales performance. These can include industry vertical, rep training, stage duration, lead source and much more. Understanding how each of these factors affects performance at each stage of the funnel uncovers quantifiable, actionable insights as to the specific things your team can do to achieve a particular result.

Using the Science of Sales, all of the data from Willy Loman’s sales activities could have been systematically compared to that of his more successful sales counterparts, measuring hundreds of factors across the key conversion points in the sales process and pipeline. In doing so, it may have been discovered that Willy was simply pursuing customers in the wrong vertical. Perhaps Brooklyn was a less lucrative territory than other New York areas. Or, maybe Willy just needed more coaching on how to move deals from Quote to Close.

Rather than trying to smile brighter, talk less and be “well liked,” with the Science of Sales, Willy Loman would have had a specific, measurable next step to take toward improving his performance.

The Science of Sales could have helped Willy Loman, and it can also help your business. If you’d like to learn more about how you can start taking a scientific sales approach today, download our free white paper, From Art to Science: 5 Steps to Predictable Sales Growth.

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