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A wealthy Chinese merchant in ancient times mourns at his teenage daughter’s funeral. She was killed several days earlier when she fell off her horse on an afternoon ride. The merchant has three younger other daughters. Racked with grief and guilt and intent on preventing their deaths, he decides to find a way to help them stay on their horses. He hence invents the modern stirrups, which enable a human to be much more stable on a horse while riding. Stirrups also allow a more stable horseback fighter and better accuracy firing arrows while riding. The tactical and military advantage of the stirrup in ancient combat is so powerful it shifts power across Asia, causing a westward expansion that lays waste to much of central Asia and pushes a nomadic people westward. A small boy in that tribe of nomads, battered and humiliated by the displacement of his people, grows up angry and strong, and eventually becomes a war leader in his own right, and a major contributor to the fall of the Roman empire. (You may have heard of him as Attila the Hun).

The world around you appears to be in disorder. Yet within that apparent chaotic blur of seemingly unrelated events and happenings, patterns appear. Patterns that allow us to make sense of the disorder and be able to forecast future events.

Such is the basic message of Chaos theory, pioneered by Edward Lorenz, a mathematician and meteorologist who also coined the concept of the butterfly effect (the idea that a butterfly flapping it’s wings in Brazil can be causal and related to a tornado in Texas several weeks later. Attila the Hun’ story is an example)

Lorenz was not a sales person or a sales manager, but he could have been, maybe even SHOULD have been, because nowhere do I see more truth in Chaos theory than in the world of sales and prospecting. Take an average salesperson at an average company on an average day, observe them for several hours of “cold calling” and you can easily conclude that they will never succeed in selling anything to anyone. A ton of “not in” and “Not interested” with a healthy amount of “too expensive” and an occasional mean “Go Away!” can quickly convince the casual observer that it’s a hopeless mission with little chance of success. Looking at it from that perspective (front end activity) over a small time frame provides that impression.

But within the chaos lies a pattern, and the sales winners have identified it and recognize it for what it is. Like the innocent butterfly flapping it’s wings, the consequences are as powerful as they are hard to spot, because Chaos theory shows us that we are rarely, if ever, able to connect them except in hindsight.

The cold calls that you do, even and especially the failed ones, in enough volume, over a period of time, create Attila the Hun like effects on your sales results. You will not, and cannot see it on the day you are making the cold calls. The very act of picking up the phone or knocking on the door, or writing the follow up email sets in motion a chain of events that affects more than just your results. It is not an act of faith to make that cold call, it is an act of cold, hard, mathematical fact. Action creates reaction. Getting your mind right around prospecting and cold calling is just a matter of seeing that big picture for what it is.

I’m going to steal and expand on an analogy from a recent podcast I listened to, because of how much I liked it.

You are standing in front of a gumball machine with a stack of quarters. You want a green gumball, because the green ones are your favorites. The gumballs in the machine are of three different colors, arranged in a chaotic fashion. There is nothing you can do to specifically select a green one. You put in a quarter and turn the wheel and a gumball drops into the tray.

Purple. You don’t like the purple ones. Your little sister is standing next to you. You don’t like your little sister either, so you give her the purple gumball and drop another quarter into the machine and turn the wheel. Another gumball drops.

Blue. The blue ones are OK. Not your favorite, but certainly too nice to just be handed to your little sister. you pocket the blue one and put another quarter in the machine. Out drops a green gumball. Success. THAT is cold calling!

The skeptic will tell you that the machine is a rip off, because gumballs are supposed to be 25 cents, and you had to spend 75 cents to get yours.

The mathematician will tell you that gumballs may cost 25 cents, but GREEN gumballs actually cost 75 cents, since the odds of getting one are 1/3.

The optimist will tell you that maybe next time, you’ll get a green gumball on your first try.

The priest will tell you to pray for more green gumballs

The psychiatrist will ask you a bunch of questions to find out why you don’t like purple gumballs, and why you don’t like your little sister.

The sale person will ask his little sister what her favorite color is, and when he finds out it’s blue, he’ll offer to trade her his blues for her greens, doubling his green intake. Then he’ll do research and find someone who loves purple gumballs, but has no gumball machine in his town. He’ll sell his purple ones to that guy for 50 cents a piece, and eventually make so much money that he can buy his own gumball machines and order extra green gumballs from the manufacturer at wholesale.

It looks like chaos, and it feels like chaos, but in the long term, the pattern always shows that activity drives results. Do the math, and focus on activity.