How to See the Competitive Game of Sales in Slow Motion

My brother-in-law is a football coach. His oldest son started as a quarterback in his freshman year of high school, and he started as a safety on defense. He was the best player on the field and eventually played for Ohio State. My brother-in-law’s youngest son is now starting as quarterback for the junior varsity team at his high school. On Saturday, he ran for five touchdowns, beating a team that was supposed to beat his team badly. I asked my brother-in-law whether the game moves slower for his son than other kids on the field, and he assured me it does move slower.

The game moves slower for my nephew because he has a deeper understanding of the game. He understands the offensive plays better than most because his father is a football coach. He’s grown up watching and listening to his Dad explain and teach the plays, and he has sat through the film reviews on Saturday mornings from the time he was a small child. Even though my nephew is very young, his Dad has educated him to read a defense. His knowledge and experience make the game move slower for him.

If you want the great game of sales to move slower, allowing you to anticipate problems, challenges, and obstacles, and overcome them, you have to acquire a deeper knowledge of your craft, an education that provides you with an advantage.

You Can’t Learn to Sell from Reading a Book

You cannot learn to sell by reading a book. You can’t learn to sell by reading many books on sales. You can, however, learn to sell a lot better by reading books. But not only from reading books, but also from training, development, and coaching.

When Neil Rackham wrote SPIN Selling in 1988, salespeople were taught to ask two kinds of questions, open-ended questions that required their prospects to provide information, and closed-ended questions that required a yes or no answer. The close-ended questions being used to teach salespeople to tie-down their prospects and close them. Rackham’s work provided a framework that included situational questions, problem questions, implication questions, and need-payoff questions. At that time, salespeople asked mostly situational and problem questions. No one had described the value of implication questions, or uncovering the motivation for change or the consequences of doing nothing.

Imagine two salespeople competing for the same client. One asks questions to understand the situation and the problem the client is experiencing, while the other asks questions about the implication of their issues and the consequences of maintaining the status quo. I would argue the game is slower for the second salesperson.

In 1970, Mack Hanan wrote a book titled Consultative Selling. There may not be a book that was so far ahead of the curve as it pertains to selling effectively. Hanan’s primary framework in the book is something he called a “PIP,” an acronym for a Profit Improvement Plan. The general concept was to show your client how what you were selling them would contribute to higher profits.

Maybe because every new salesperson’s knowledge base starts at zero, much of what Hanan taught is unknown to most salespeople. The game moves very fast for those who believe they lose deals on price, and most salespeople still struggle to justify the more significant investment they need their clients to make to produce better results. The game moves much slower when you know how to position your higher price and relate it to lower costs, i.e., higher profitability.

Without the conceptual frameworks, you can’t make sense of what you are seeing. You can’t learn to sell by reading a book on sales, but you sure as hell can learn to sell better.

Process, Methodologies, and Journeys

If you want the game to slow down for you, you need to deepen your understanding of the sales process, particularly the outcomes you need at each stage of the sales conversation and the obstacles to obtaining them. A sales process provides you with an understanding of where you are in space, without which you can quickly lose your orientation. You underestimate the value of the sales process when you believe it is just a way for your sales leaders to forecast. I believe the sales conversation is now non-linear, but that will mean nothing to you if you aren’t aware of the linear process I am referring to, that idea isn’t useful to you.

Both Rackham and Hanan’s work are both methodologies. Rackham’s work is a methodology for asking questions to uncover dissatisfaction and the implications of the problems and challenges your client is facing. Hanan’s work is a methodology for positioning your offering and compelling change. These methodologies provide you guidance on how to play the game. When you have access to structures that allow you to see something and understand the choices available to you, you are moving faster than the game–and faster than your competition.

Now, there is much work being done on the buyer’s journey, even if the application of business-to-consumer journeys used are inadequate for complex, business-to-business sales. Understanding where the stakeholders are in their buying process provides you with a better understanding of what conversations they will find valuable. When you know where they are now, you are better prepared to serve them.

Your processes, methodologies, and frameworks for understanding your buyers all provide you with conceptual frameworks that can shift the game into slow motion for you, allowing you to see what’s coming and make effective choices.

My Constructs

As of this writing, I have written three books.

The first book, The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need, is a competency model for salespeople. The framework in that book provides you with a way of looking at your personal and professional development.

My second book, The Lost Art of Closing: Winning the 10 Commitments That Drive Sales, is a methodology for gaining the commitments you need to control the process and help your clients obtain better results.

The third book, Eat Their Lunch: Winning Customers Away from Your Competition, is the most strategic, providing several conceptual frameworks, including Level 4 Value Creation, my approach to starting conversations at the strategic level and compelling change. That book also includes a practical and tactical framework for building consensus, something that can slow the game tremendously when used well.

If you want the sales game to slow down for you, you have to speed up your acquisition of the concepts, strategies, and tactics that will provide you with the ability to make sense of what you are seeing.

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