There are many sales processes out there with lots of catchy names. SPIN Selling, N.E.A.T. Selling, Conceptual Selling, SNAP Selling, The Challenger Sale, The Sandler System, CustomerCentric Selling, MEDDIC, The 7-Step Sales Process, The 8-Step Sales Process, The 10-Step Sales Process, no joke, and there's even a Selling for Dummies because who wouldn't want to buy from a dummy? I think you get the picture. And I particularly love this diagram:
Even though there's a big arrow that says, "Start Here," I still couldn't figure out where to start. Maybe I'm one of the dummies. And in case the author of this Rube Goldberg selling diagram catches wind of this article, let me add that it probably works very well - once it's perfectly understood and properly executed. Most sales processes do what they are supposed to do. Even No-Sales-Process works some of the time. Imagine being an iPhone salesperson, for example, where the key sales candidate selection tool is a stethoscope and the sales process has two steps, 1. Avoid people; and 2. When they demand to buy something, insert their credit card. The question is whether your sales process can be understood by your people and do they have the skills, sales DNA, and beliefs to execute it.
It seems like a book comes out every month with a new sales process - a new way that's seemingly the only way to be successful selling. It's as if they are all saying, for example, "Before The Challenger Sale, there was only spinning your wheels and wandering aimlessly."
The Harvard Business Review article introducing that particular methodology seemed to imply that no one understood selling before "these guys" figured it out. I like HBR generally, but that turned out to be a pitch for their contributor's consulting firm rather than an enlightening academic article. The methodology is a useful imitation of pre-existing similar methodologies and works well when used in the appropriate place in the sales process, the description of which was absent from the article. I'm reminded of a sub-chapter in Antifragile by Nassim Taleb entitled, "Teaching Birds How to Fly," reminding us of the tendency for non-practitioners to "teach" us what we already know and then claim credit for our success.
For any sales process to be successful, it must tap into the fundamental nature of how people are moved to change. Many of them do this. Some don't. By process, I mean the steps, to-do's, and milestones accomplished in a specific order that takes a potential customer/client from lead to suspect to prospect to qualified to closed. After analyzing dozens of sales processes over the past few years, I've noticed the effective ones overlap with what we might call a fundamental sales process, one that includes a consultative approach to the conversation (methodology) in addition to other vital stages and milestones (process).
Even Challenger has elements of a Consultative approach. They point out that challenging prospects is important. Objective Management Group (OMG) has data from over a million assessed salespeople and point out that half of all salespeople have a hidden weakness called "Need For Approval," that prevents them from challenging prospects, even if you teach it to them. This hidden weakness must be addressed before they can effectively "challenge" their prospects.
Take a quick look at your sales organization and count the number who are consistently selling consultatively. If it's less than 100%, then count the salespeople who at least know what the term means. Of that group, who could tell you with clarity, how it differs from other forms of selling? For bonus points, who could tell you why consultative selling is a more desirable approach in 2018? If your company didn’t score high on this test, it might be time to question why some of your sales people consistently miss their targets.
Most believe they're selling using the latest tools and methodologies. “I’m asking lots of questions,” they might say, adding “I have the solution to their problem, have great relationships and they trust me.” All that sounds right until you consider that almost any seasoned salesperson can say all of that.
What makes one salesperson so much more effective than another? It’s not about asking questions; it’s about asking the right questions. It’s about drilling down to uncover issues which weren’t on the table beforehand. It’s not about having a solution to their problem; it’s about defining the problem in a new way which plays to your strengths. It’s not about having great relationships; it’s about standing apart from the competition so much so that you command your customer’s attention. This is what Dave Kurlan calls “Speed On the Bases” or SOB Quality. You want to be like the great base-stealer who forces the pitcher to pay more attention to you than the batter. If consultative selling is the lock, then SOB Quality is its key.
It's worth repeating in this context of sales processes and consultative selling methodologies what I described in an article a few years ago about a scene from The King's Speech with Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, the speech therapist, and Colin Firth as the prince, and future King George VI.
In the movie, Lionel Logue, a commoner from Australia, was the service provider. The prince, who was known by his family as Bertie, was the potential client. The prince had a speech impediment which others hadn’t been able to correct. Logue came recommended, but couldn’t prove that he could solve his problem any more than the knighted doctors who'd previously tried. Here’s an excerpt from their first encounter, before any agreement is made to contract his services:
Logue: “Please call me Lionel.”
Bertie: “I prefer Doctor.”
Logue: “I prefer Lionel. What’ll I call you?”
Bertie: “Your Royal Highness. Then Sir after that.”
Logue: “A bit formal for here. What about your name?”
Bertie: “Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George”
Logue: “How about Bertie?”
Bertie: “Only my family uses that," he said angrily.
Logue: “Perfect. In here, it’s better if we’re equals.”
Bertie: “If we were equal, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be home with my wife and no one would give a damn.” Bertie lights a cigarette.
Logue: “Don’t do that.”
Bertie: With astonished look, “I’m sorry?”
Logue: “Sucking smoke into your lungs will kill you.”
Bertie: “My physicians say it relaxes the throat.”
Logue: “They’re idiots.”
Bertie: “They’ve all been knighted.”
Logue: “Makes it official then. My ‘castle,’ my rules. What was your earliest memory?”
Bertie: “What on earth do you mean.” Now visibly irritated.
Logue: “First recollection.”
Bertie: “I’m not here to discuss personal matters,” he yells.
Logue: “Why are you here, then?”
Logue’s probing inquiry eventually uncovers that the prince's self-image is more important than the stammering. In fact, the breakthrough comes when Logue sits in the king’s cathedral throne before the coronation, angering and challenging the king, until he finally yells at Logue, “I have a voice!” Logue calmly replies, “Yes, you do.” and gets up out of his throne. The King never questions his credentials again. Logue has that SOB-Quality or Speed on the Bases. He's differentiated himself and become a trusted advisor.
That’s how a commoner with no credentials, title, formal training nor guarantee of success took the business away from his high-powered, knighted, competitors who possessed the inside track. That’s SOB Quality and it’s at the heart of consultative selling.
Do your salespeople push back and uncover the underlying problems? Do they challenge the decision-maker and ask questions which could cause discomfort or even irritation? Do they look past the original inquiry, listen intently and ask follow-up questions until something interesting emerges? Are they always looking to disqualify (“Why are you here, then?”) and letting the prospect sell themselves? If the answer to any of these questions is ‘No’, could they be trained? What would a sales force evaluation reveal about your company's potential for change and opportunity for massive growth? Do you have the right people to help you realize your organization's full potential as you envision it?
This month is a terrific time to reflect on questions like these. Rather than wondering whether you can hit your 2018 goals, perhaps you should be looking further and asking which sales force changes you must make in order to achieve sustained, double-digit, year-over-year growth.
If you are looking for a sales process, you can reach your hand into a plain brown bag and pull one out, or you can ask for help so you get a proven process based on fundamental human behavior that fully accounts for how people are moved to change. If you would like to become an expert at the kind of consultative selling described in this article, using a fundamental sales process that's as easy to learn as naming the base paths on a baseball field, sign up for our Baseline Selling 12-week online training course, by clicking here. Don't worry about the catchy name; focus on how easy it is to learn, even for self-proclaimed Dummies!