/ Agile Sales

Why Heresy is Designed Like the Space Shuttle

When you first open up Heresy, we hope that you notice one thing. It looks really bloody good.

burndown chart for sales

It has to. People work better when the products they use are designed well. We want Heresy to help salespeople perform better. We want the data to help them. We want the tool to be a good place to be each day. To do that we had to simplify, paring back the reams of data and options found in traditional sales analytics tools to just that truly needed to be successful.

We needed to declutter.

The heavy cognitive load of most sales tools

The Space Shuttle was described as a “flying brick.” On the approach to landing, it had no fuel left and little lift. A passenger plane descends at 750ft/min. The shuttle came into land plummeting at over 10,000ft/min.

You would think then that the commander would be using all available data on that final descent to help him land. No. At 3,000ft, the display would change from this:

cluttered landing display

to this:

decluttered landing display

A single cross. All the commander had to think about was putting that cross on the runway. Watch it in action here. The shuttle would automatically declutter the display for the commander, removing all extraneous, non-essential detail from their vision. Just put the cross on the runway.

Most sales analytics tools could do with an automatic declutter button. This is what they look like:

cluttered sales reporting display

Hundreds of possible ways to slice your sales data. You can look at your forecast, your pipeline, your activity, your results. For each, you can take a deep-dive and segment by employee, or account, or opportunity, or close date. You can even expand away from sales to look at your marketing or revenue data. You are unlimited in what you can do.

On the face of it, unlimited seems great. It gives you and your team-wide access to all your data to learn from. But humans aren't designed to work in an unlimited world and learn from unlimited data. Our brains may seem like they have infinite capacity, but they don't. Especially the system of the brain that we use in our working life—working memory.

Working memory is kind of like the post-it note of the brain. It stores the information we are working on in that instant, either using it now to perform an action or quickly deciding whether to a) push it to long-term memory or b) simply discard it. “Memory” is a slight misnomer—it really incorporates attention, decision-making, comprehension, computation, and memory.

It is pretty remarkable, but its capacity isn't. The original estimate was that it could only hold seven units of information at any one time. This has actually been revised down, when “later studies suggested that the limit in capacity is more typically only three or four units.”

A unit of information could be more than just a single data point (this is one of the reasons postcodes in the UK are alphanumeric. Instead of remembering 5-7 digits, we can work with just a few “units”— EC, 1Y, 2AL). But even if you can chunk data, this is still a low capacity system.

Whenever you hear the phrases “cognitive overload” or “analysis paralysis,” it is your working memory that is struggling. Tools that overload working memory are operating against your brain. When a sales professional—rep, manager, ops, whoever—opens up a regular analytics tool, they are overloaded with choice. Their working memory can't really do anything with the information, so they can't work. Giving us too much data is just as inefficient as giving us too little.

What happens is that either they become paralyzed by choice, or they manually narrow their own choices to just the data they can handle. But even then, the UX of the tool is compromised:

  • Salespeople have to navigate through all the options to their preferred view.
  • Switching from one preferred view (say, pipeline) to another (goal) requires more moves.
  • Due to all the options, the space available for the data is limited.

Each of these might not seem too serious, but taken together and experienced every single working hour of every single working day, and they become an issue. This is why companies, including Heresy, put so much emphasis on good design. UX matters, whether you are landing 100 tons of rocketship or trying to close a $100,000 deal.

Decluttering Heresy

We pushed the declutter button on Heresy. It's not quite down to the three or four units of working memory capacity, but we give salespeople only the essentials to get the job done.

  • A dashboard, with the burndown chart as the main display
  • A deals board, with a kanban board as the main display
  • An analytics board with just five numbers on it

This is all the data a salesperson needs to close deals, just as all the commander needs is that crosshair.

This means prioritizing some data over others. This is more work, but worth it for superior performance from both the product and the users. As Jonathan Kim, CEO and co-founder of Appcue's puts it:

“True simplicity requires you to identify what's most important and ruthlessly prioritize it—which is often much more work than adding everything you can think of.”

Building Heresy this way was more work than building a regular sales analytics clone. We had to prioritize data for the salespeople. But we also used our agile sales philosophy as a design guide. With Heresy, form follows function. We did this in two ways:

  1. An important concept in Agile is lean. You want to eliminate waste and improve the flow of ideas. For the majority of salespeople and sales teams, a tool like the mock-up above is 90% waste. They are never going to use most charts. They are waste. All they do is get in the way of their flow. With Heresy, there is no waste, either in the options available or the screen real estate. It's all killer, no filler.
  2. The most important people in Agile sales are the salespeople. Most sales analytics tools are made for sales managers and sales ops. These tools have hundreds of views so that managers can look busy, rather than being there to help salespeople. Heresy is a salesperson-first tool. The data is that, and only that, they need to perform.

Sales has complexity, but shouldn't be complicated. Tools that overcomplicate the sales process aren't helping anyone. Ultimately, the simplest sales process is the best one. It allows you to understand your team and your prospects the best.

Coming in to land

One hour before touchdown, the shuttle fires its thrusters just enough to slow down by only 250mph. But this is enough to let it fall back into Earth's atmosphere. From there, there is no turning back. It's now on 5,000-mile journey to that runway.

All the way it follows the guide slope, so it hits its runway goal.

guide slope diagram

It's not quite as straight as a burndown chart, but the concept is the same. The commander pilots the shuttle down to earth, sometimes trading speed for altitude, but always with a defined landing spot in mind.

The salesperson follows the path down the burndown slope until they land in the right place at the end of the month. Sometimes they'll move faster, sometimes slower, but they want to intersect with their goal at the right place and the right time. Luckily, if a salesperson misses though, they get another chance next month.

Visualizing the sales goal like this matters. If the end-of-month goal is just an arbitrary line to cross on an analytics dashboard, then it means nothing. If it is the end of a journey through the month, that you can see burning down each day, it means something. It means that every day you want to move that line down, closer to your guide slope, and closer to your goal.


To ease your sales team's cognitive load, head over to heresy.io and signup for your (free forever) account.