One of the most positive things about sales people and leaders is their “action orientation.” Great sales people are driven to take action. Whether its prospecting to find new customers, or moving an opportunity forward, or getting support from within their own organizations or within their customers. Likewise managers want to make sure they have the right people, doing the right things. They want to see the right activity levels, the progress with opportunities, full pipelines, strong account/territory plans.

When there’s a problem, for example a stalled opportunity, or anemic pipelines, there’s a propensity to leap into action. Perhaps breaking a stalled deal loose by provoking the customer, escalating, making a time based offer such as a discount. Or filling anemic pipelines by more prospecting.

A lot of this is driven by past experience–“when these things happened before, doing these things worked…..”

But the problem is, often, those things aren’t working, or they aren’t working as well. For example, emails and phone calls helped identify prospects, so when we need more prospects, we just do more emails and phone calls to more people. If they don’t produce the desired results, then we just do more and more and more….

When we see these patterns of things not working, or not working as well as they did in the past, it’s insanity to keep doing them, ramping volume and intensity. But that seems the dominant approach in much of what we do.

It’s important for us to pause, to resist our tendency toward blind activity. We need to step back, asking ourselves, “Why is this happening? What is causing these outcomes?”

Often we need to probe several levels, to really understand the cause/effect relationships or what’s happening or what’s changed. There’s the famous tool, “5 why’s,” where we drill down to understand the root issues or causes that impact us.

Probing to understand the underlying issues that impact performance is critical to identifying the performance levers and the most appropriate path forward. For example. more prospecting might not be the best thing to do to fix anemic pipelines, particularly if we have relatively low win rates. It might be better to address the win rate issue, improving our abilities to win those things we have in our pipelines, rather than just pursuing more.

As we look at increasing complexity, challenging times, rapid change/disruption, our propensity for action is often the wrong thing. We must pause, think, ask ourselves “why,” perhaps 5 times. We have to diagnose, understanding what really is happening. Only then can we identify the highest leverage activities to get back on track and achieving our goals.