Jul 31, 2013

Ask Binary Questions Leading to Yes or No Answers

The sales meeting started off with a question.

It was a trick question, really. Its genesis came from listening to a call from one of our bilingual reps.

What is the most-used language on the planet?” I asked the group.

They confidently shouted their responses:




Good guesses, but wrong. Strictly speaking.

Binary codeThe language most used in the world is binary code: The strings of ones and zeros that computers use to communicate with themselves and other machines trillions of times each day. Every computer, from your digital watch to your CD player to your iPad, involves binary language in everything it does.

What’s astonishing is its simplicity. It’s ones and zeros. On or off. Yes or no. The computer makes decisions based on a series of yes or no answers, and we “oooh” and “ahhh” over their speed and power in getting work done.

How many of us don’t understand the language of our own priorities: our own ones and zeros?

Certainly anyone in sales struggles with multiple priorities: prospecting, follow-up, putting out fires, servicing a major account. We oftentimes are confused by what to do first and end up starting a half dozen things and then, midstream, stopping those and starting others, bringing few to completion and probably doing none with excellence. Consequently, we end up with frustrated clients, angry bosses and happy competitors.

What if we were to apply a little binary?

“Is this (the thing I am about to do) the most important thing I can be doing to build my business right now?”

The answer to this simple question is either yes or no, and the answer provides an immediate direction. The beauty of it is that in its simplicity, we can ask it multiple times per day to keep us on the most important tasks.

In practice, it becomes easier to make decisions and prioritize. If you determined that building your practice requires excellent customer service and you have a disgruntled client on the phone, you take the call now.  If it’s a client just making the call to touch base but is doing so in the middle of your critical prospecting time, you add it to your roster of return calls to make at a designated later time.

Many sales activities revolve around relative maturity in a business. Someone new to a business or company might have to spend much more time prospecting. Someone with tenure and a huge book of recurring business might need to focus on a lot more account service and prospect only 10 percent of the time. Both of these scenarios are well served by binary.

“Is prospecting the most important thing I can be doing right now?”

What if a co-worker is knocking on your door with a non-emergency, non-important conversation? Asking the binary (“Is discussing last night’s game best use of my time right now?”) — and having the courage to turn them away to focus on sales-related issues is the pinnacle of time-management effectiveness.

The pre-requisite of binary is you had to have put together a solid sales plan of required actions and desired results beforehand. The binary decisions are now made around that plan. Author Steven Covey differentiates the important from the urgent and this is in perfect harmony with binary — the more we focus on the important — the fewer times the urgent rears its ugly head.

Moreover, the sense of satisfaction from making a decision takes a backseat to virtually nothing. It is empowering.

Once we have made the decision as to the most important thing for us to focus on, binary code of “work ethic” must kick in. Do you have it?

Yes or no?

It takes a little cash to change the world.

So what are you waiting for?

About the author

Patrick Morin
Patrick Morin

Patrick Morin is a partner with The Cross Partnership, a global consultancy that is engaged by private equity groups, boards of directors, and CEOs to improve the performance of their invested companies. The Cross Partnership works with select start-ups, growth companies, and turnarounds to stabilize operations and ramp up revenue and employee performance.


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