It's Not about Selling—It's about Managing Quality Decisions
Prospect, qualify, present, and close—these are the basic elements of the conventional sales process that most sales organizations and salespeople still follow today. The conventional sales process is the most widely used selling paradigm for good reason: It works. That is, it works if you have a simple sale.
In a simple sale, there is a single decision maker faced with an easily understood problem or opportunity and a just-as-easily understood solution. Your task as a sales professional in a simple sale includes finding that buyer, completing a needs analysis, presenting your offering, and convincing the potential customer that it is the best solution available. The conventional sales process is perfectly aligned to meet those requirements.
Think of the mass production, assembly line process Henry Ford invented to make automobiles at the beginning of the last century. It was a remarkable and historical advance that changed the very structure of manufacturing. But what would happen if you reproduced that first assembly line in a modern auto plant? It would be hopelessly outdated and inefficient in this era of robotics and computerized control systems. Most salespeople today face a similar dilemma. The environment in which they sell has evolved, but the selling process that most use has not kept pace and adapted to the new realities.
What happens when you apply the conventional sales process to a transformative sale? Now you are dealing with multidimensional problems and correspondingly transformative solutions that involve multiple decisions and multiple decision makers. Your customers are also wrestling with more diverse problems, and it becomes increasingly difficult for customers to understand and manage the scope, details, and ramifications of their problems and the characteristics of the solutions that will best resolve them. While customers grapple with these issues and before they have a deep understanding of the problems and optimal solutions, conventional salespeople are busy pitching their products and services.
When salespeople use the conventional sales process in a complicated situation, they are like major league pitchers hurling 90 mile per hour fastballs at batters who may be at the plate for the very first time or who hit only infrequently. What are the chances that such batters will connect? Likewise, in transformative sales, customers don't get up to bat that often. Yet, salespeople continue to pitch reams of solution data at customers, leaving them to comprehend, sort, and connect all of that information on their own. Major league pitchers are trying to make the batter miss. Salespeople want the customer to connect. However, they are depending on their customers' ability to connect their problems to the proposed solutions. When customers strike out, salespeople lose. If your proposal conversion rate is less than 30 percent or if your cost of sales is otherwise unacceptable, chances are good you are striking out too many customers. You are trapped in the conventional sales paradigm.
When you follow the conventional sales process in a transformative sale, you run head first into a series of traps that grows progressively more difficult to avoid and that makes a positive outcome for the sale less likely. This downward spiral starts with a fundamental and, as we soon see, erroneous assumption of the conventional sales paradigm—that your customers have a quality decision process with which to diagnose their problems and evaluate your solution. If that's actually the case, the sale should be straightforward. You develop a compelling proposal, answer the customer's final questions, and ask for the sale. The best solution in the marketplace wins. But what if the customer does not have a quality decision process in place?
The topics covered herein concern solution sales, consultative sales, and consultative selling.