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We haven't yet exhausted the list of traps in the conventional selling process. There are others, large and small, that negatively impact key performance metrics, such as margins, proposal conversion ratios, sales cycle time, and forecasting accuracy. We discuss more of these in later chapters, but for now, all we need to realize is that the three traps previously described are the fundamental problems facing salespeople who try to impose a traditional sales process on multifaceted problems and solutions.

The first trap of conventional selling causes salespeople to depend on their customers' decision-making processes, which frequently is missing key elements. The belief that customers have a high-quality decision process leads to a second erroneous assumption: Customers' ability to understand their own problems and evaluate all the solutions available allows them to discern the true value of the salesperson's unique solutions.

These assumptions cause salespeople to fall into the second trap of conventional sales. Because they assume higher levels of comprehension and decision-making ability on the part of their customers than actually exist, salespeople focus the majority of their efforts on presentation. In doing so, they largely ignore the customers' world, the most significant source of credibility, differentiation, and decision criteria in any sale—thus creating a major disconnect between customers and solutions. The strategy to compete at the solutions level and the rush to present information heighten the blur between competing solutions. This reinforces customers' drive toward commoditization by validating their view that we are all the same.

Finally, the emphasis on sales presentations exacerbates the communication gap between buyer and seller, leading to frustration, misunderstandings, conflict, and adversarial relationships—all of which impede the salesperson's ability to create cooperative and trust-based relationships with customers. This schism is the major reason underlying the protective behaviors customers so often adopt when dealing with salespeople.

These problems are what manufacturing quality guru W. Edwards Deming defined as systemic problems. We can't solve them by disciplining individual salespeople who step over some arbitrary line. Instead, the process itself causes the problem. The only effective and enduring way to resolve these problems is to set aside the conflicting elements of the conventional selling process. And that is exactly what we propose in the following chapters.

The topics covered herein concern solution sales, consultative sales, and consultative selling.

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