How many times have you sat in a beach chair, watching the waves, counting… trying to figure out if the seventh wave is actually the biggest? For whatever reason, we seem to be wired whereby we believe that everything is made up of patterns, and these patterns enable us to predict the weather, floods, forest fires and even the spread of a virus.
The decimal system is obviously based on our 10 fingers and has been in use for several millennia by the Chinese, Indian, Greek and Romans. Even our 12-month calendar originated from the decimal system with September (7), October (8), November (9) and December (10).
Most of the world has transitioned away from the imperial system of inches, feet, yards, pints and gallons to the metric system. Hold-outs include the U.S. and half of the UK, along with most Canadians (like me) who still use feet and inches when measuring wood for construction. The decimal system is easier to understand, we use it for currency, yet so many of us are stuck in our ways. For musicians, the piano has a set pattern for every scale while a novice guitarist will use a pentatonic box of 12 notes to practice his or her first solo.
We learn using patterns, and they help guide us in our decision making and form routines such as getting up with an alarm clock, having a shower, eating breakfast and going to work.
Examining The Data
In business, we use patterns everywhere. We look at the past three years to set a sales forecast and expense budget and employ the same data to valuate a business as a means to quantify growth areas, opportunities and trends. Even if sales of a given product or service is new, erratic and somewhat unpredictable, we can still superimpose each thin monthly sales line on top of the other so that as we zoom out, we can create a thicker line.
In professional touring, we use the weather to guide our sales. Since concert touring is most active in the summer months, we can set sales patterns to anticipate a greater demand for equipment in late spring and a slowdown in the fall. Ticket sales will likely happen closer to the concert date, while promoters will do what they can to sell seats well in advance. Artists create “clubs” to maximize ticket sales with special insider promotions. As the holiday season is predictably quiet, this makes it the ideal time to get caught up with administrative tasks and equipment upkeep.
There are different types of sales calls, yet they all follow patterns. Good sales reps will visit their biggest clients on a set schedule and begin every call by checking inventory, if most recent orders have been shipped and if they’ve been received, in order to make sure the product is on the sales floor. You wouldn’t believe how many times I went into a store after the buyer had placed an order for the latest gadget, only to find it sitting in the warehouse collecting dust. Out of sight, out of mind! Responsible reps who encounter this situation will educate the sales staff on the product’s features and benefits so that they can, in turn, educate their client base.
As a product manager and later figurehead, I would visit stores and always carry a selection of new and soon-to-be released products. I could easily be spotted upon arriving with my big red case and endured plenty of ribbing because it looked like it was previously used to carry human transplant organs. The point is, when the staff saw me, they knew I had something exciting to show them.
A Force For Good
I have a busy mind. When making a sales call, I could easily be distracted with a question which lead me down a rabbit hole of answers. The problem was trying to figure out where I left off so that I could get back on track.
After years on the road, I devised a very simple solution: I had the shipping department create a series of bubble-wrap bags, one for each product. I would unpack them and stack them in a pre-determined order and always – yes, always – follow the same routine. A pattern.
This way, for example, if during a guitar department product pitch a pro-audio product was dragged off to the recording department, I knew that at the end of my call the bag count had to match up with the samples. There had been too many times where I drove off, opened my case on the next call, only to discover that I had left an important part of my show behind.
When I designed the floor plan for our exhibits, I structured the product layout in such a way that the reps could tell a consistent story. They would start dealers with Tonebone, then Radial, Primacoustic, and so on. By creating a pattern, it not only assured that all the new products were discussed, but the reps quickly became comfortable with all of the product features.
Today, on-line retailers use algorithms to track mouse movements, clicks, product views and past purchases to predict and suggest additional products and accessories. It doesn’t stop there.
If we read articles on a particular topic, say travel or politics, we’re fed more of the same in the hope that it will invariably shape our opinion. It’s up to us to realize that the world is filled with patterns and we need to decipher those that will help guide us along the way.