There is no way to succeed in sales without passing through three stages.
First, you have to learn the fundamentals of selling. You have to learn to close, or gain commitments. Doing doing so also requires that you learn how to overcome objections and resolve concerns. You also have to learn how to deliver a value proposition, even one that is features and benefits.
You also have to learn to prospect. I call this opening relationships and opening opportunities because nothing is closed that isn’t first opened. Prospecting is as fundamental to selling as closing, even if we spend too much time worrying about closing and not enough on opening.
The fundamentals also require that you learn to tell stories (or present). You have to be able to talk about how things are going to be different, how you get different results, and how you have helped other people in similar situations.
Once you have a command of these first level fundamentals, you can graduate to the intermediate selling skills, Level 2.
You have to be able to diagnose your clients needs in some sort of discovery or needs analysis. You can’t easily diagnose your dream clients needs if you don’t know anything. It takes time to master the art of diagnosis.
Because there are now so many people and companies that sell what you sell, you have to be able to differentiate yourself and your offering. Differentiating is difficult, and it takes time to develop yourself to the point that you are different. You also have to spend time learning how to differentiate what you do from what your competitors do.
The last of the intermediate skills is negotiation. Where different levels of value can be created, different levels of value can be captured. As you grow, you learn and develop the skill of creating and capturing more value. But this isn’t an easy skill set to learn, and especially when so many buyers believe price is the same thing as cost (or choose to believe that anyway).
The final stage won’t be the last stage we develop into as salespeople. It’s just the highest level now. As buyer’s needs change, and as we develop, there will be a higher level. But for now, this is the third and highest level.
Once you’ve spent time selling (or working in some capacity where you have responsibility for results) you develop business acumen and situational knowledge. You learn how business works, and you have had enough experiences to recognize patterns and ideas that are worth trying.
You also develop the skill of helping people and organizations change. More and more, decisions are made by consensus, and salespeople have to help lead and manage change. They sometimes have to act as the catalyst for change, something that is not easily done without having had the experiences that develop those skills.
Finally, sales is a leadership role. The skill of leading others is what allows you to lead your clients, lead your teams, and lead your client’s team–even when you have no formal authority. Leadership is necessary, especially for large, complex deals.
The acquisition of these skills doesn’t occur in a linear fashion. They develop over time, and you develop them through your experiences, your training, and your personal and professional development. None of them are easy to develop, and all of them are necessary.