A mechanic discussing s car problems
ATD Blog

Meet Jimmy the Mechanic: Understand the Story and Redefine the Problem

Monday, December 23, 2019

My daughter had an engine problem with her car. After a cursory 10-minute inspection at a mechanic shop, we were informed that there was no oil in her engine, and as a result, the engine was ruined. It was going to cost $5,000 to replace. The car was old, so we weren’t sure if we wanted to put that kind of money into repairing it. We sought a second opinion. After hours of searching, I came across a shop with great reviews. I called and spoke to Jimmy, the mechanic. “Mark,” he said, “tell me the story of the car.” No one had yet asked the history of the car. I told him everything. I confessed that I thought I paid too much for it (but it was a good car); there was a previous accident and repairs; and I had added oil one month prior. Jimmy was a good listener and said he would take a look.

Not long after our conversation, he called and said, “You’re not going to believe this! We opened up the engine and found an old rag in the oil pan.” Turns out that the problem was not that my daughter hadn’t properly maintained her car. The problem was that another mechanic who’d worked on previous repairs had dropped a rag into the engine, which absorbed all the oil. We ended up getting a free engine through insurance. If it hadn’t been for Jimmy, who asked us to tell him the story of the car, we would not have solved the problem.

This experience underscores the importance of understanding the root of the problem. Jimmy didn’t start by addressing the problem of a car that “needed” a new engine. He did not assume but rather asked questions. He started by asking about the story behind the problem, the answers to which helped him form a dimensional “challenge” question that he could solve.

The approach Jimmy took can be applied to your business and sales goals: “We need to fix the quota process because the organization is underperforming.”

Sound familiar?


But is that the correct problem statement? Before you dive too deeply or quickly into the numbers, you’ll want to get the whole story. What else is at play? While analytics are great indicators, they alone can’t tell the full story.

In Quotas! Design Thinking to Solve Your Biggest Sales Challenge, I introduce a model called the Revenue Roadmap, which analyzes quotas in the context of four major competencies of successful sales organizations:

  • insight
  • sales strategy
  • customer coverage
  • enablement.

Many quota challenges are indicators of misalignment in other sales effectiveness disciplines. Ensure that your organization’s quota-setting approach aligns to these competencies and the organization’s related upstream and downstream disciplines. As you develop your story, ask yourself if it is really the quotas or other disciplines connected to the quotas?

Want to learn more? Be sure to check out my new book, Quotas! Design Thinking to Solve Your Biggest Sales Challenge.

About the Author

Mark Donnolo is managing partner of SalesGlobe and author of The Innovative Sale: Unleash Your Creativity for Better Customer Solutions and Extraordinary Results and What Your CEO Needs to Know About Sales Compensation. He focuses on helping companies grow profitably by developing and implementing strategies that improve the effectiveness of their customer-facing sales, marketing, and service organizations. His areas of focus include sales strategy, customer segmentation, channel strategy, sales organization design and deployment, performance management, and incentive compensation. Mark’s work spans several industries, including technology, telecommunications, business services, manufacturing, and financial services.

Mark is the author of Quotas! and Essential Account Planning.

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