The Method Controlled Us

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I was on a cruise once and, as you would expect, took advantage of the peace and quiet to read a couple of excellent books. Cruises are always a good opportunity for that, something that I find tough to do in life back home. One of them was Bob Woodward’s account of Deep-Throat, the mysterious contact who gave him and Carl Bernstein guidance while investigating the Watergate break-in. For those of you who are too young to remember, their’s was the investigative reporting that led directly to the seminal event of the first and only US President to resign from office.

In a short postscript Bernstein said something that caught my attention:

“Reporters may believe they control the story, but the story always controls the reporters.”

This triggered something in my head about our own profession – sales. A sales method must have a story, because it has to follow the real life experiences involved in the process of selling. I have often talked about the story that resides within our ASPEC sales method, which originated out of my first book, Sales Automation Done Right. This has been expanded and augmented within the framework of our Opportunity Portfolio Management sales training and will be a prominent part of that upcoming book.

A good many sales methods have been developed over the past decades and only a few of them have survived and are accepted, Solution Selling, SPIN Selling, and Miller-Heiman being the most renowned. The test of a sales method is that it has to work, and it takes a lot of time to establish that. It’s extremely difficult to get salespeople to switch methods, even to a good one. They don’t have much patience, and if they try something new that distracts them from their normal routine, they had better see results quickly. If not, they revert to their previous way of doing things. Because of this, bad sales methods will never go mainstream. They are like bad news stories – unless they stand up to scrutiny, people won’t believe them.

Bernstein says the story controls the reporters. He’s right. Nothing can change the story, because it should be, by definition, the truth. Reporters grapple with the task of finding that truth. Its the same with sales methods. We try to discover a sales method that works for us and sometimes, under scrutiny, that method breaks down because we haven’t got it right. The method only works if it truly reflects what goes on in my particular sales process. Figuring that out is as difficult as a reporter trying to unearth the details needed to piece together the story.

If I seem like I’m belaboring this point, its because I sometimes wonder how we got to where OPM is today. We started in the early nineties, assembling the components, and here we are fifteen years later with a method, a book, a training course, and several patents. But the process was evolutionary, just like Woodward and Bernstein figuring out Watergate. There’s no doubt that the ASPEC method controlled us. Sometimes when we tried to add stuff the method fought back – it just broke down. We had to change it and test again, until it was right. As we added pieces to the puzzle, the basis for truth was tested. If we passed, we locked up that stage, and moved on.

The method controlled us, as the story controlled the reporters.

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