THE ORGANIZING PRINCIPLE OF SALES
Speech demands 100 orofacial, laryngeal, pharyngeal, and respiratory muscles. Air from the lungs (expiration) needs to be phonated through vocal folds of the larynx and resonated in the vocal cavities shaped by the jaw, soft palate, lips, tongue and other articulators. Pavarotti had a huge jaw hence could attain remarkable cavity space and voice resonance. The generated voice, with the help of facial articulators (mobile & immobile structures of the face) adjust the shape of the mouth, pharynx and nasal cavities (vocal tract) as sound passes through it thereby producing varying resonant frequencies. Now using a combination of these vocal cord vibrations, memory, knowledge of 26 letters of the English language (or equivalence in other languages) and associated words learnt, speech is architected. This is the organizing principle of speech. There are other aspects to speech such as frequency, vibration, harmonics and so on but let us move on.
Everything from sports, science, thermodynamics, automobiles, electronics, aerospace, astronomy, medicine, atomic research, sales, surgery etc., has an organizing principle. It wasn’t there at the beginning but exists now thanks to the prodigious work of many people who cumulated and categorized information for effective retrieval & usage. Perhaps art, music, painting, poetry, drama all these appear expansive and have the tinge of free association about it but even these thrive on an organizing principle. Chemistry is no different and it has coalesced thanks to such an organizing principle we now call Mendeleev’s periodic table. Whatever material things we see around us are composed of various combinations of about 98 different elements. Elements on the periodic table from 1 to 98 exist naturally. Elements with atomic number 99 to 118 have only been synthesized, or claimed to be so, in laboratories. Selling too has such an organising mechanism.
WHAT IS SELLING ?
Selling is a behavioural approach with the client where there are multiple aspects at play such as :
and considerable others co-exist. Most of us use these selling skills inadvertently but selling for commercial gains and as an enduring profession demands an organizing principle, a methodology, a framework, which is presented in this blog.
During Russian scientist Mendeleev’s era the atom was considered the most basic particle of matter. The building blocks of atoms i.e. electrons, protons and neutrons were discovered later. The rudimentary form of selling involved a barter system i.e. trading goods for goods. Thereafter with the concept of gold coins and money, commercial transactions started that resulted in a profit for the selling party. The building blocks of sales such as attributes, traits, relationship models, behavioural skills and frameworks to the modern-day consultative selling evolved later and continue to metamorphose today.
Advertising goes for mass appeal in a short burst of time (Television- 30 seconds, Radio 20 to 60 seconds, internet pop ups, always on banners, football LED perimeter advertising, print media, concerts & event advertising and so forth). These are meant to invoke buying desire and urgency in the consumer but are impersonal i.e. it is not a 2-way interaction and doesn’t physically engage with the client. Selling is an extension of advertising with a more personalized approach of communicating the product/service essence to the targeted demographics and involves face-to-face approach. Since successful selling eventuate in a client acquisition, it is considered a valuable skill set in organizations and a high probable route to C-suite arena hence most people embrace it using it as a ‘strategy of climb’. One must love sales inherently, every aspect of sales journey and not just the ensuing destination or ‘winning a deal or client’. Right from networking, prospecting, social media strategies, rapport building, establishing needs, presentation, answering objections, closing sales, follow through and delivery, re-sales, generating referrals/testimonials, one must have a fascination for the whole bit. Selling demands some of the most stringent and disciplined behavioural and cognitive skill set from individuals. What are these and how are they intertwined, let us attempt to contrive an analogy out of Mendeleev’s periodic table.
WHAT IS SO GREAT ABOUT MENDELEEV’S PERIODIC TABLE ?
In 1863 about 56 known elements existed. Till 1868 there was no organized methodology or principle as to how various elements connected with each other, and the correlation between their physical & chemical properties etc. In 1969 Mendeleev created the first publication of the periodic table (though precursors existed) and is credited with its brilliance. He suggested that based on certain atomic weight a few blank spaces have to be allocated in the table and he in fact predicted the properties of the missing elements, which were later, discovered! Gallium was discovered in 1875, Scandium in 1879 and Germanium in 1876 (named after French, Scandinavian and German scientists who discovered it). The predictive value of Mendeleev’s research was amazing. Later on stronger rationale appeared and modern periodic table is calibrated not in atomic weight of the elements but its atomic number and this table is now the pillar of chemistry and ongoing research.
Similarly selling too has an organizing principle and leadership teams as well as sales teams must understand its existence and importance. Selling is made out to be extempore, a gift of gab, a spontaneity oriented engagement with the client, an innate gift, a behavioural disposition and so forth but these are grossly erroneous assumptions. In relatively primitive markets and later in commoditized markets one could ease through with such transactional selling attributes but when it comes to large stake, multimillion dollar deals and well-differentiated markets there certainly has to be a more organized approach, a selling framework is needed and the sooner leadership teams constitute such a selling approach within their organizations, the quicker the desired results will accrue.
WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS OF SELLING ?
So let’s skip the gristle and get down to the bone. It would be presumptuous to equate the brilliance of Mendeleev’s periodic table with the ‘sales elements table’ that we attempt to contrive here but a table nevertheless is calibrated below with abiding relevance to relational selling precepts just to exemplify how selling could be organized, and what are its constituent parts. The abbreviation equivalence (Ap, Su, Te, Ow, Ax … and so forth) in this table doesn’t have intrinsic value that could be used for formulaic purposes as much as one can do with the original periodic table. It is mentioned here for analogy purposes and to also back up as an affirmation about the existence of such an organizing principle in selling. Mendeleev’s table had atomic weight and later atomic number that had considerable significance in the chemical world.
The arrangement and categorization of sales attributes, traits, skills and competencies in this table are highly intertwined, relevant and applicable but in terms of weightage these aren’t combative with each other rather collaborative hence doesn’t have a hierarchical order to it. It is however in use all the time whilst interfacing with the client as well as in the preparative stages of selling. Erstwhile transactional selling could work with short-circuiting many of these but in todays consultative selling it is prudent to follow a proven matrix. 124 elements are listed in this table that constitute basic sales requisites. Is 124 a sacrosanct number, absolutely not. Improvements can be done, rearrangements can manifest over time but nevertheless is a start .
SALES ELEMENTS TABLE
( Click on the image to see enlarged view )
Selling is classified here in terms of 3 tables:
- Client-Facing Skills: Further sub-componentized into Presentability, Communication, Consultative approach, Presentation to the client and Influencing the client.
- Behavioural Skills: Further bifurcated into Core Values, State Preservation, Cognitive Awareness and Traits
- Competence: Bifurcated into Job knowledge, Sales knowledge and Professional development.
SO HOW MUST ORGANIZATIONS APPROACH SELLING ?
Though it isn’t linear, a bottom up approach in the above table is prudent beginning with ‘Competency’ then behavioural skills and finally client facing skills.
Sales is not about going to the customer, experimenting, getting beaten up and learning along the way. It has too much of a cost attached to it and could eventuate in a permanent loss of a customer. Discerning organizations must not let the sales person meet any client till two aspects of the competence table is sorted out; Job knowledge and Sales Knowledge.
- Product/ Service knowledge: Sales personnel must have absolute command and certitude over own firm’s products/ services/ pertinent case studies that one is about to represent to the client. No substitute for this as buyers easily sense sales people besieged by doubts. Every sales person must be made to present their product/services knowledge internally with stringent querying from seniors/technology teams prior to client interaction. Conventional wisdom or years of experience in the industry of any sales person is inadmissible as a pretense to get oneself absolved from such scrutiny.
- Sales person must understand the prevailing and future trends in that product/ service line; know in-depth about the industry that one is servicing.
- Heritage: Firms such as NIKE puts tremendous emphasis on new recruits understanding NIKE heritage. They feel it is part of their internal branding strategy: ‘The stories about the past shape your future’. Nike has a number of senior executives who invest considerable time serving as “corporate storytellers”, explaining the firm’s heritage to everyone from VP’s to sales reps to the hourly workers who run the cash registers at Nike’s stores. Every firm has a heritage and sales people must latch on to its strengths to make passionate representation to the client.
- Culture: Own firm’s culture and more important the culture prevailing at their customer’s end both has to be understood in order for sales people to navigate well. DreamWorks executives strive to foster creativity by encouraging employees to take risks and giving staff members the opportunity to engage in spontaneous discussions and this culture has kept attrition at a mere 3 %. If sales person is trying to acquire DreamWorks as a client he/she must know client’s culture.
- Economic: Sales people must be wary of ongoing economic indices, drivers and key news of the country they operate in. These are essentials whilst holding conversation with C-Suite personnel in the client’s firm. They are ‘conversation conservers’ to remain in session.
- Competitor knowledge: Initially this has to be capsuled and ingested to the sales person prior to his/her client meeting. After maturing in the terrain the sales person is more seasoned and will extricate more competitor’s information for the firm due to his/her client intimacy & market sentience.
Similarly each aspect of ‘Sales Knowledge’ (not elaborated here) is a mandatory requisite prior to client meeting. ‘Professional Development’ in one’s field is a life long indulgence if one is to avoid an intellectual cul-de-sac. Sales personnel must get periodically trained, coached, mentored and they must indulge in extensive & pertinent reading. Speed-reading helps ingest considerable data hence is a nice skill to have. Speaking at keynote events, discussion forums, events etc., significantly augment one’s presence in the industry. The power of social media need not be emphasized, it is here to stay and proliferating at an astounding pace. Connect up with key people on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter with business intent as a strategy all these must be explored and fervently indulged in. The modern customer is off the telephone, social media is where you would find him/her these days hence to do effective prospecting, one must have these skills in one’s selling repertoire. Blogging is another efficient way to express one’s opinion and expertise and digitally proliferate its reach.
The next essential sales aspect is to sort out oneself behaviourally, the inner most core. In essence, sorting out one’s innermost core is not something that precedes or supersedes other aspects of selling. It is a concurrent task and is the cumulation of one’s life thus far, all the formative values imbibed, traits developed etc. Organizations must take a sizeable stride towards re-emphasizing these ‘Behavioural skills’ as a prelude to selling. It is customary for sales people (due to the incessant selling pressure, lost deals etc.) to get into interpretative generalizations, lose state, experience overheating and fall into despondency. State preservation is the most fundamental aspect not just for sales personnel but also for anyone. Cognitive awareness as to what is stress, anxiety, resentment, catastrophising (thoughts debilitating towards the worst when a minor incident happens) and so forth as well as how to alleviate it is important. Apart from the cognitive aspects listed in the above table there are many others for instance Bower’s semantic network theory represents sadness as an expressive behaviour and interconnected with sadness is despair, hopelessness, loss and unworthiness. One of the methods as to how organizations inculcate these positive behavioural skills into and expunge the negative ones from their employees is by radiating lines of affinity towards ‘Coaching’.
Finally let us quickly address ‘Client facing skills’, the topmost table. Whatever the organization has done combined with individual’s own efforts so far has given the sales person a grounding in building a strong inner core and job competencies. It is now time to test these in the playing arena i.e. in front of the client. ‘Presentability and Communication’ aspects are the basic hygiene elements for any sales person. Admiration, Agreeability, Approval & Appreciation: let us just delve into these four under ‘Presentability’ as others are explicit in their meaning. Sales person must occasionally express admiration for client’s insights, shouldn’t always latch on to own views, must be agreeable to client’s rationale a few times, must approve certain decisions of clients and must also acknowledge and appreciate clients achievements, efforts etc. All these has to be interspersed with genuineness and goes a long way in establishing rapport in the initial meetings.
Let quickly skim through the tenets of ‘Consultative Selling’
(Third column ‘Client-Facing skills’ in the Sales Elements Table above)
- Belief: After prospecting, qualification, and all preliminaries are done and when finally the sales person approaches the client for the first time, it begins with the basic ‘Belief’ that the relationship and deal is going to work out for the seller’s firm. It is not ‘let us make a supreme attempt’ kind of mindset with which the client must be approached rather the sales person conducts an invasion into one’s own mind and decimates all encrusted layers of doubt and limiting beliefs regardless of the size and impossibility of the deal. ‘Winning the deal’ is the mission and the belief that the ‘deal is winnable’ and the belief that one’s firm has the requisite value creation capacity must pervade in the sales person’s mind as well as the organization backing him/her. If one is pressed for an option to survive, one must chose belief over knowledge as knowledge can be acquired laterally, subcontracted, resourced but without belief that ripens into a firmly held conviction, one cannot succeed at anything.
- Needs Elicitation: There are multiple thought waves in the industry as to whether sales person must go for ‘Needs Elicitation’ to understand client’s tacit and explicit needs or to begin from the premise of an expert from the industry and indulge in teaching the client with superior insightful aspects pertinent to the business to personate oneself as an expert. Needs elicitation involves immense amount of intelligent questioning and mature clients negotiating large deals may not have the time and luxury to educate the seller with answers prior to ascertaining whether the seller is really someone they would like to engage with in the first place.
- Insightful teaching oriented approach with the client is the attribute of top-notch rainmakers. It is not about bludgeoning customers with impressive facts, incessant case studies, testimonials, etc. rather approaching client with genuine insights in a particular concern area of the client. The sales person happens to be the expert in this area. No product/service pitching at this phase, the sales person with a steadfast resolve remains focused on client’s problem. For the firm to transcend to these levels, extensive work has to be done in terms of building the teams and ensuring interconnectedness between Sales, Marketing, Advertising and Communication teams (all four brand custodians of the firm). The feed coming into Sales people from marketing has to be exemplary to effect great insightful teaching but such may not be the case if incongruity and heterogeneity prevail amongst these four departments. Leadership has to ensure that such a scenario exists.
- Value: Consultative sellers permeate ‘Value’ to the buyer. Any pricing objections are obliterated once proper value permeation happens hence the sales person keeps pulsing ‘Value oriented points’ right through the client hour.
- Positioning: Al Ries & Jack Trout had epitomized ‘Positioning’ as a marketing concept with their path-breaking book. Consultative sales personnel understand the importance of the positioning game in these highly ‘me too’ business environment. It is the creation of a distinct impression about what precise services/products gets perched on the buyer’s mind. Positioning is not something that just emphasized in the ‘Presentation’ phase; it is pulsed to the customer at all stages of the sales process.
- Advocacy: It is important to find a sponsor, a champion, and a supporter within the buyer’s organization who provides internal advocacy for the seller’s positioning exercise with the buyer’s firm. This can be only attained with trust and genuine value that the seller provides the sponsor. Sales person does excellent client mapping, finds out key influencers, gatekeepers, decision makers, and C-Suite stakeholders and develops relationship at various levels.
- Sensing: This is the ability to sense buying signals, buying barriers, buying inhibitors, buying accelerators basically uncovering the buying motivation and drivers of the client during sales meetings.
- Hobnobbing: Is the ability to invite key stakeholders to lunch/dinner meetings, sporting events, golf, and so forth. Not that customer needs to be finessed as a preemptive strategy rather it is an informal out of office meeting or gesture that relaxes everyone a bit. Whilst an RFP is in progress such approaches aren’t encouraged in certain companies but these are archaic restraints and these days trendy organizations violate such established thinking. Besides even the buyer would like to know more about the seller over lunch/dinner moreover buyer is confident about what precise information he/she can divulge due to their procurement experience and sensitivity of task at hand.
- Challenging: It takes great experience and courage to squarely and soberly challenge the customer but it can be done with expertise in a particular area where the seller has immense knowledge. Particularly where client’s needs are amorphous and not explicit, such an approach earns client’s respect & attention.
- Partner: When the client finally trusts the seller they make him/her a partner in their business. Traditional vendor-supplier days are extinct. It is about partnership between both to attain the desired objectives of the buyer’s organization. The seller’s firm has to show genuine concern in client attaining these objectives for it to be a win-win transaction and for the relationship to experience longevity.
Selling undoubtedly has an organizing principle, a magnitude of structure and affluence of imagination interspersed with inventiveness. This blog attempts to reinforce this organizing principle if it is already being followed and curate one if it isn’t. Interconnectedness exists between various elements in the table, a few of them are listed here:
- All aspects under ‘Presentability’ augments rapport building
- Buying can only progress further if there is ‘Client’s Trust’ and through communication one can engender trust. Look at the ‘Behavioural skills’ table and the values such as Integrity, Win-Win attitude with clients, Supportive, Dependability, Service excellence, Credibility, Ownership, all these are trust building catalysts.
- One of the aspects under 10-step sales process is ‘Prospecting’. It is separately again listed under ‘Traits’ as it has to become a sub-conscious behavior amongst sales professionals. A great sales person regardless of his position in the hierarchy whether frontline person, sales manager, GM, VP or CEO is always scrupulously prospecting one way or another at various levels. Prospecting is not a sales function alone, it is the pipeline building skill of the firm as a whole.
- ‘Presentability and Communication’ aspects are always in play whenever consultative selling process is on, any presentation is rendered or whenever client is influenced. It is like the basic electricity.
- Without good behavioural skills, client –facing tasks will not attain full momentum. Without competency, consultative selling won’t happen.
Since the ‘sales elements table’ is not categorized with Atomic numbers as its principle calibration guide, in the next 5 years as the terrain changes, a whole lot of new elements would creep in. Social media skills from being categorized under ‘Professional Development’ may become a mandatory part of ‘Job Knowledge’. Sensationalist as it may sound, at present, social media has become a prolific client interface mode amidst developed countries as well as amidst countries with high-speed Wi-Fi & mobility. Digital pull is inevitable. Organizations must remain invariably fuelled by the desire to take selling to consultative levels and exude wisdom to build a philosophy of unmitigated support to sales from all departments. No business exigency must abort this resolve, no justifications from support teams must create impedance towards ‘sales feed’ as selling is a revenue producing action. The organizing principle expounded here is to chaperon this cause.