The game of sales is as much art as it is science. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t rules that apply and that need to be observed in order to succeed. Succeeding means knowing when you need science, and when you need art.
The iron laws of sales have to be observed and maintained with a rigid and unrelenting discipline. You diagnose before you prescribe. You ask questions and seek to understand before you try to make your case. You dig your well before you are thirsty, and your nurture relationships and create value before you claim value.
Violating any of these principles makes selling a lot more difficult, as well as making it much more difficult for your dream client to buy. Prescribing before you diagnose means making suggestions and recommendations that aren’t connected to your dream client’s needs or visions. Making your case before you fully understand your dream client’s issues, challenges, and their constraints is a sure recipe for rejection. Waiting to prospect until you are desperate means missed quotas, missed opportunities, and perhaps a career change.
Salespeople know all of these things to be true, and they are usually embedded in the sales processes and practices of a well-run sales organization.
The art of sales has nothing to do with violating these principles, although I have heard many salespeople suggest that their situation is different, their product or service is different, that they have their own way of doing things that works for them, and that I don’t understand.
More Art than Science
The part of sales that is art is the part where the iron laws and principles are difficult to obtain and are obtained by a salesperson acting resourcefully.
You may want to diagnose well before prescribing, but you may not be able to gather the information you need by asking for it directly. Finding a way to acquire the information you need by making a case and selling the value of sharing the information with you and your team is artful. Gaining access to the stakeholders two and three levels deep to capture an understanding and paint a picture is art.
Gaining the commitments you need when they are difficult to obtain or when they are resisted is the application of the art. Discovering a way to obtain those commitments by finding some way to make each of the commitments you ask for valuable for your dream client is art.
There are hundreds of ways that the outcomes that align with the iron laws and principles of sales can be obtained. A great salesperson—and a great sales organization—is flexible in how it goes about achieving the outcomes that it needs to obtain in order to win deals.
Rigid discipline in observing the principles, flexible in the method of obtaining the outcomes.
What Is Not Art
What is not art is deciding that you can go without what you need to win, knowing that you are violating an iron law of sales. The art of sales is sometimes seen in a salesperson’s tremendous ability to think on their feet when the tough question fly across the boardroom table, but the art isn’t going into the boardroom fully unprepared and having done nothing to ensure that you have the deck stacked in your favor.
That isn’t art; that is simply winging it.
Every opportunity comes with it’s own set of challenges. Every opportunity presents an opportunity to exercise your creativity and your resourcefulness as a salesperson and as a businessperson. Much like jazz, in sales there are no rules and you have to know them all.
- What do you believe the iron laws of sales to be, the principles that cannot be violated without negative consequences?
- When you do, why do you violate these iron laws? Do you sometimes fall prey to the belief that what you are doing is so different that some of the laws contained in a good sales process or best practices don’t apply to you?
- When you violate the iron laws, do you so intentionally, knowing that are you doing so because there is another way to achieve the outcome, or are you avoiding doing something because it is challenging or because it is more work? Is it sometimes because you need to obtain commitments that are harder to obtain?
- Where can you best exercise the art of sales? What areas of the sales process or the opportunity gives you the best chance to exercise your creativity and your resourcefulness, coloring way outside of the lines?
- Are you ever really just winging it, pretending that selling is all art and no science?
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