Clearing your schedule for critical field work

Author: 
Paul Nolan

The benefit of eliminating the trivial many from your work schedule is that it leaves room for the most important tasks. For sales, few things are more critical to long-term success than getting out into the field and learning about your customers’ businesses. Greg McKeown offers an example in his book, "Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less," from the non-sales world that exemplifies how frontline reconnaissance can pay off by providing new perspectives.

Stanford’s d.school is where students and faculty from all areas of study work collectively to solve world problems. The assignment in one d.school class called “Design for Extreme Affordability” was to design a baby incubator for 1 percent of the traditional $20,000 cost. The students were told that in the developing world, 4 million low-birthweight children die within the first 28 days because they don’t have enough fat to regulate their body temperature.

“If they had raced into this as simply a cost problem, they would have produced an inexpensive electric incubator — a seemingly reasonable solution but one that, as it turned out, would have failed to address the root of the problem,” McKeown writes.

Instead, the students traveled to Nepal to the see the challenge firsthand. What they learned is that 80 percent of babies were born at home, not in the hospital, in rural villages with no electricity. The team’s real challenge suddenly became clear: develop a solution that did not require electricity.

Eventually, the team launched a nonprofit company called “Embrace” and created the “Embrace Nest,” which uses a wax-like substance that is heated in water, then placed in the sleeping bag-like pod, where it can warm a baby for six hours or more.

“By getting out there and fully exploring the problem, they were able to better clarify the question and in turn to focus on the essential details that ultimately allowed them to make the highest contribution to the problem,” McKeown says.

If sales is all about addressing customers’ pain points, it can’t be done from behind a desk.