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Winging It

The major difficulty with the selling environment we’ve described so far is that few companies develop a repeatable way for traditional salespeople to navigate buying cycles with mainstream-market buyers. Instead, they offer disparate silos of product and industry knowledge, backed up by more or less irrelevant sales collateral. Ultimately, in the absence of a workable structure, salespeople have no choice but to wing it. Revenue growth stagnates, and no one can explain how or why.

Contrast this with other occupations. For example, you won’t find plumbers or electricians winging it. They are required to take courses and get certified. Most serve an apprenticeship, working under someone who is experienced. Finally, jobs have specifications showing which materials will be used, drawings that define how the work will be done, on-site supervisors or postjob building inspectors who monitor quality, and so on. All these factors combine to create a structure designed to ensure that (1) the worker is competent and (2) the outcome is predictable and satisfactory.

Why do so many salespeople wing it? We believe it’s because in most cases, there is no clearly defined structure within which salespeople can operate. Expectations (beyond achieving quota) are vague; a definition of a standard sales process is almost nonexistent.

Don’t believe us? Based on your own experience in sales, try this experiment: Get out your laptop, and take a moment to write down the steps you follow in selling to a prospect. (If you aren’t in sales, ask someone who you believe is a competent salesperson to perform this exercise for you.)

Now look at that document. If your son or daughter were just starting a sales career, how helpful would this description of selling be? Does it give specific direction about how to sell? If your son and your daughter went off to sell the same product based on your document, how similar would those two sales efforts be?

The underlying reason most traditional salespeople wing it is that their sponsoring organizations haven’t codified the selling process. So—as discussed earlier—the positioning of offerings is abdicated to salespeople, even though it never appears (and doesn’t belong) in their job descriptions.


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