I spend a lot of time in group meetings or 1 on 1’s with sales people trying to understand how they do their jobs and trying to understand what they need to be more effective and drive bigger numbers.

To be honest, most of the time I have to bite my tongue as I listen to the litany of things they need to be successful.

It always starts with more and better products–along with the lowest prices. When I hear that, I think, “If we have that, why do we need you?”

It then goes on to laundry lists including, more and higher quality leads (what they really want is people ready to issue a PO to us), more and better collateral, more and better case studies, references, tools, demos, better competitive information and good “knock-offs,” easier contracts, better customer services, stronger marketing programs, stronger corporate branding, better value propositions, better insight pitches, better call scripts, and—don’t forget—tons more and better quality leads–purchase ready customers.

There are also complaints about how much time they are spending on non sales activities, how tough things are, how unreasonable quotas are and how bad the commission plan is.

Then they want the formula, they plead, “Just give me the formula, the magic words to use, the things to do that will make the customer immediately pull out a PO.” Stated differently, they are asking, “Tell me what to do.”

Inevitably, at the end of the session I say, “We’ll see what we can do–what fits the priorities and is affordable/doable, but in reality you will never have all the stuff you want to have, but you still have to make your numbers.”

This always provokes the response, “Then what will we do? How can we possibly make our numbers?”

In my ever sympathetic and sensitive way, I respond, “(Wo)man up! It’s your job to figure it out!”

In truth, that’s really our jobs as sales people—Figuring it out–for ourselves and for our customers.

We’ll never have the customer who will open up completely, tell us everything they’re thinking, have a well defined buying process, a clear decision making process, well defined needs-that happen to fit our solutions perfectly, an unlimited budget, and plenty of time to listen to us. It’s not maliciousness on the customers’ parts, they are struggling as much as we, they often just don’t know.

We’ll never have just the right products at the right prices (free is never the right price). We’ll never have all the programs, systems, tools, materials, support, and other things we’d like. It’s simply impossible and unaffordable to do this.

We can’t wait, we can’t do nothing, we can’t complain.

It is what it is, so if we are to help our customers address their opportunities and improve their businesses; if we are to achieve our goals, we have to figure it out!

The real difference between top performers and everyone else is they have already figured this out.

They aren’t waiting for the answers, programs, tools, leads, whatever it is. They aren’t deterred by a customer who “just doesn’t know.”

They’ve already figured out that their job is figuring it out.

They get creative, they try something new, they find answers in the most unusual places. They aren’t afraid to fail or make a mistake, because they know that’s part of figuring it out.

They know the customers are probably struggling themselves, that they haven’t figured it out—so they recognize part of the value and differentiation they create is helping the customer figure it out. It may be through unique insights. It may be through collaborative conversations. It may be through wandering around, talking to a lot of people–then sorting through the information.

They’ve also discovered they don’t have to be right. Since both they and the customer are on a journey of discovery, they will find the right answers and the right approach on that journey.

Where their peers may be looking for answers and direction, top performers are looking for ideas and willing to experiment.

Top performers are never deterred by not having what they need–they figure out.

Figuring it out is a critical sales competency–in fact it’s a critical competency for anyone who wants to be a top performer in their profession, organization, or business.

Figuring it out is “learnable.” We aren’t born with a “figure it out gene.”

Figuring it out is not aimlessness, in fact it is very purposeful and goal directed. People who “figure it out” are doing it to achieve something. They don’t spend a lot of time doing things that don’t help them reach their goal.

Figuring it out requires curiosity, an insatiable appetite for learning, an ability to think critically and a desire to be a problem solver. It requires openness to different ideas and points of view, a willingness to be wrong, and a willingness to fail. Figuring out requires understanding where we’ve made mistakes or failed, learning from these and improving.

Ultimately, I think figuring it out is more about a choice we make.

Your customers need you and your help. Do you have the ability and willingness to figure it out?