September 24, 2020

The elusive art of Sales DNA

The elusive art of Sales DNA

There’s a famous quote by the well known Pixar founder Steve Jobs that goes, “Technology alone is not enough,” something something, “technology inspires art and art inspires the technology.”

I first encountered the term Sales DNA when I was a wide-eyed rookie on my very first day in the Melbourne office of A LEADING CONSTRUCTION SOFTWARE COMPANY, wandering around A SENIOR MEMBER OF STAFF’s desk on my way back from another floor’s toilet while he was busy at the printer.

Bumping into his stuff with my mug of coffee, scanning everything on the walls for something smart-sounding I could memorise and slightly modify later to sound more competent,  the term jumped out at me, atop what I recall to be a laser-engraved, wall mounted placard behind EMPLOYEE NUMBER REDACTED’s desk.

I’m paraphrasing, but essentially it read:


What is [SALES DNA] (specific term modified to satisfy terms of non-disclosure agreement)

“Here’s what our product can do”
—no sales DNA detected!

“Here’s what you can do with our product”
—that’sa salesa DNAa!

Although I’m fuzzy on why the final line of the placard was written in a Mario accent (maybe the engravers had switched shifts?), I do remember that reading it had a huge impact on me. And not just because DNA makes me think of the NDA I signed specifically preventing me from discussing this topic with anyone outside of COMPANY NAME REDACTED.

As that certain employee returned from the printer shaking his head, already annoyed at something he was reading--or at least pretending to be, so that no one would ask him to do any additional work--I posited, “Hey GUY, what’s this Sales DNA I keep reading about on walls around here lately? Is it something to do with the stuff under the heading here on your placard, with the two examples?”

The fellow of course nodded, and without even having awareness of the sensation, I had already taken the first step on my learning journey to discovering, as the article is clearly titled, “the elusive art of Sales DNA”.

Bearing in mind also that it wasn’t called Sales DNA exactly, but close enough to it that you’re getting the whole picture if I call it that. It definitely had DNA in it—and if you pick up a thesaurus for sales, it’s probably about sixth down.

During the following weeks I met a lot of sharp, dedicated employees of THAT COMPANY I WORKED FOR, from a diverse range of disciplines and specialties. Just wall-to-wall intro catchups filled my days, as mandated by the Trello board (I can say Trello under my NDA), rolling those onboarding cards up the virtual mountain each half hour—the first person in an office, ever, to think about Sisyphean archetypes while confronted with a moderately lengthy task.

I found myself in a series of meetings with plenty of people who I could only manage to generate around ten minutes of small talk with, then three to five minutes of vaguely informed questioning, and thirty seconds of awkward silence before it would occur to me to say, “So ah, what’s your take on Sales DNA?”

Caesar’s leaf hat, was this ever a lifeline! Some people light up when you ask them, while others kind of hesitate, then take a bite at it, and meander into a twenty minute monologue on what it was, is, and one day may be.

One pattern that emerged was that everyone had a slightly different take on how it applies to forcing customers to realise you have the superior product.

Applying the Sales DNA lens to their own product or area of expertise, for eg, could take on many angles, and levels of complexity, perhaps even vague nebulousness—depending on who you asked. And while marketers clearly did have a different perspective than, say, an engineer—when you overlaid their visions, they still fit. Putting enough of them together lets you turn the concept around a bit, like some kind of 3D model architecture type interface, if you can imagine what one of those would look like.

Steve Jobs never said anything specifically about Sales DNA. I googled it. It would have really helped bookend this whole concept review far more effectively.

I eventually used the quote about technology inspiring art and art inspiring technology with some hesitation, not entirely sure if it is in fact related to Sales DNA in any way. I think that’s the truly elusive thing about Sales DNA. No one really knows what it is until you blurt it out, or in the case of writing about it, fingerblurt.

Sometimes Sales DNA can be the notion your team rallies around to drive sales forward, while other times, it can just be something neat sounding that a guy with seniority in the company you work for mandated everyone must now do. It really can go either way.

At its simplest, Sales DNA can be distilled down to that dude I mentioned’s mahogany and pewter laser engraving. I suspect that the conversation around this elusive art—science?—would result in not only a few surprises, but also serve as a handy reference point for all of us, at all levels of any company—next time someone puts us on the spot for our take on “what Sales DNA is”—for example during a client meeting.

A salesman for THAT COMPANY I MENTIONED could have a printout of ratified Sales DNA discussion points ready in his (or HER!) pocket, and pretend he (or SHE!) just needs to quickly check the bus timetable before providing a very salient “off the cuff” description of the concept as a whole. Knowing precisely what it is can be half the battle, when describing what it is to someone.

Steve Jobs didn’t live to hear the term “Sales DNA”. Who knows if it might have helped. He probably just called it something else though, I’m sure someone brought it up with him at some point over at the Pixar offices. Not knowing about it certainly didn’t stop him inventing Woody, and Buzz Lightyear though, and that’s something we can all agree on.

Thank you, I will see myself out, assuming I have not already done so, as I am writing this at my home.