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Can’t see the forest for the trees. How to improve your vantage point.

Can’t see the forest for the trees. How to improve your vantage point.


The saying, “You can’t see the forest for the trees” goes back almost 500 years. Originally part of the Proverbs of John Heywood, written in 1546 it basically meant becoming so focused on the details of a problem that you can’t see the bigger picture. Not being able to see the bigger picture makes arriving at solutions to your challenges very difficult if not impossible.

When we are working with clients on Sales Strategy and Process Improvement, we like to use the analogy of hiking through a dense forest from the bottom to the top of the summit and we break down that process into 5 steps:

  • Mapping the Next Summit

  • Walking the Trail

  • Readiness Check (RTE)

  • Clearing the Roadblocks

  • Widening the Bottlenecks

Mapping the Next Summit

Mapping the summit comes down to vision and goal setting from the top. You must have a clearly defined vision and clarity around specific goals and milestones for the business. We have to nail down exactly where that next summit is…it can’t be a moving target if you want to get there.

This is not the last summit you will ever plan to reach, it is just the next one.

Walking the Trail

Now that we know where the future summit is, we need to “walk the trail” where the business is today. Think of the trail in your business as the current sales and growth trajectory. Every business has a trail but that trail might be heading toward a cliff or going round in circles. Just as every business has a trail, there is also a high point (the current summit the company has reached). That current summit might be $10 million in annual revenue or $5 million in net profit, or closing 1,000 transactions in a year. Whatever it is, we want to walk the trail to that point. What does the current model look like and what does the route look like from start to finish. How efficient is the current route? This is where we dive into the sales model and the processes within that model.

Readiness Check (RTE)

This is where we think of the sales team members and leaders as hikers on our trail. If they made it to the top but broke a few bones along the way, we might need to improve one of the following:

  • Route – The sales model and processes

  • Team – The fitness, morale and support of the team

  • Equipment – Sales and Marketing tools and technology they are using

If our team is getting banged up or struggling just to get to the current high point on the trail, trying to push much higher to the summit will prove to be very difficult. Our goal is to make the route as efficient as possible, ensure the team has the right fitness level, everyone is positive and engaged, they have the support and the equipment needed.

Clearing the Roadblocks

Along the current trail, we are going to encounter roadblocks. A large tree has fallen across the trail. It has been there for months, maybe even years. Moving that tree would take a whole lot of effort and is probably not even possible for the individual hiker. So what does the hiker (your sales team member) do? They find a way around the tree and back onto the trail. That is what good salespeople do, they find ways to get around roadblocks. But the fact is if you cleared that obstacle completely, the hiker’s route would become easier, more efficient and less risky. When we are helping companies identify roadblocks and coming up with solutions to clear those, we start at the source (the hiker). Your sales team has been up and down that trail every day. They can tell you exactly what is getting in the way and what they are doing to work around it.

When we work on roadblocks, we are once again looking at the route, team, and equipment. Roadblocks exist within all three of those areas. Just like the tree in the way making the route more difficult, it could be a poorly designed CRM system or overly complicated order process or maybe it is just lack of support on the trail leaving the hikers unhappy or disengaged and wandering.

Clearing or even just improving on these roadblocks can dramatically change your team’s ability to get to higher ground and do so more efficiently and with less effort.

Widening the Bottlenecks

At this stage, we are looking for areas that aren’t necessarily complete roadblocks but are sometimes the less obvious bottlenecks. These can be more difficult to identify and solve. A tree lying across a trail is pretty obvious but why do things slow down in a particular section of trail but maybe only in the last week of the month or the first week of the month. When you manage to find the root cause of a bottleneck and widen it effectively, you make the route easier and more efficient. This is all about deal flow…finding and widening bottlenecks will improve deal flow and make life easier on the sales team and management.

Each of these steps is only possible if you can see the forest despite the trees. Ultimately our goal is to help you to see the whole business from the best vantage point but not lose sight of the details right down to the trail level. Bringing both views together gives you the ability to solve big challenges and continue to push to the next summit.

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