The Sales Process – “All the World’s a Stage …” (Part Two)

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Final Curtain

Here are some more thoughts on the metaphor of the stage play versus the sales transaction that began in this post. As in that post, the italics are taken from my original description of the SalesWays Opportunity Portfolio Management training course.

Remember, the reason that we get precise in the language of sales is to define an exact model of the sales process that the computer can understand. The advantage of having consistent understanding of the terms across the sales team is that it builds transparency which in turn leads to efficiency. Efficiency is one of those two E words (Effectiveness being the other) that you hope will ensue when you implement CRM or SFA. This post ends with the “Final Curtain” and will, indeed, mark the end of this two part thread on the stage metaphor. I promise.

The Stucture

The Greek philosopher Aristotle put forward the idea that “A whole is what has a beginning and middle and end.” This three-part view of a plot structure for the play (with a beginning, middle, and end – technically, the protasis, epitasis, and catastrophe) prevailed until the Romans came along and spoiled it.

The sales transaction has a structure determined by the communication flow from buyer to seller, and like Aristotle’s play, it has three parts. In sales the names of the parts (Probe, Prove and Close) reflect the type of dialog the salesperson should be using as the sales cycles takes it’s natural course.

The Script

On the stage, the characters have to adhere to the script. They can’t deviate from it. There is a prompter there to keep them on track if they suffer a momentary loss of memory.

In sales, the script is the process that the salesperson follows through the sales cycle. The prompter is the sales method that they are following.

The buyer has a big influence on the script. The process that they use to purchase a product or service actually drives the process the salesperson uses to sell. The salesperson definitely follows, but is carefully trying to influence the buyer toward their proposition. The buyer follows a pattern of well-proven steps that is called the buying process. The corresponding process on the other side is the sales process, and the sales process has developed as a reaction to the way people buy. We’ll see that process is very important from the point of view of planning and developing a strategy to win the sale.

The sales process needs execution of well thought out strategies along with the tactics the salesperson uses to win the sale. The way that strategies are implemented is through interactions with the customer.

The Dialogue

The characters follow the script through a dialogue. The dialogue happens through many scenes in the show, and through a number of interactions. There are other characters who also play their parts.

Salespeople and customers work through the sale by interacting. The number of interactions varies. A low priced product has a short sales cycle and needs only a few interactions to get the sale to close. In retail sales, there could be just one interaction to make the sale. OPM does not really apply to retail, but many of the concepts do apply.

In longer sales cycles, most of the important interactions will be face-to-face, but some will occur through phone contact, e-mail or fax. The customer interaction is important because it is through the interaction that the sales strategy gets played out.

Content and Plot

A good plot lays out a series of twist and turns to keep everyone on their toes. As each part of the plot unravels, there is more content to build ideas on how the show will end.

In the sale there is also an evolving, ever-changing story, and the salesperson needs to evaluate the implications at any point in the sales cycle. Then they need to make a plan that will best help them to win. The plan is a strategy and the way the salesperson makes it happens is through tactics—chunks of the main plan that play out in the interactions with the customer.

Strategy and tactics have to take into account the natural evolution of the sales process. Tactics for early sales cycle will be quite different from tactics in late sales cycle. OPM recognizes this and sets a strategic plan that is most appropriate for the current phase of the cycle.

In the sale, content is information. The buyer needs information to make a sound decision, and the salesperson needs information to develop and maintain a winning strategy. The information exchange, from the point of view of the salesperson, should be guided by skills that are tailored to the current phase of the sales cycle.

The Final Curtain

The final curtain signifies the end of the show. Everyone knows how the plot ended and how the characters survived, happily ever after, or maybe not.

From the salesperson’s perspective, the end of the sales cycle marks the point that someone won and someone lost. The customer should always win. They should have purchased something that is good value and completely solves a problem. Sometimes, the customer doesn’t win. The buying process is flawed and lets them down. They buy a solution that doesn’t work, or pay far too much for one that does.

From the salesperson’s perspective, it’s not so simple. They may have lost the sale, and no one wants to do that. If they win, it’s time to celebrate, but they must not get complacent. The loser picks themselves up, learns from the experience, and makes sure that the next one is a “win.” The viability of the winning solution will be argued by the salespeople whose proposals didn’t make it, and sometimes, they will be right.

Of course, it’s always possible for there to be no result. The buying process can just die on the vine. Projects can suddenly end by withdrawal of funds, political issues, reassessment of needs, and a host of other reasons. OPM talks about this effect as “Assurance of Completion.” The result is a return to status quo, and a lull until the next sales opportunity emerges.

The ideal result is a win/win. The buyer wins by securing the answer to their problems at an accepted price, which translates to good value. The seller wins by providing a product or service that will do the job and provide profit for the company. The concept of a joint win for both buyer and seller has been the driving force behind good business for centuries, and will continue to be the backbone of the sales profession in the future.

Next time, I’m moving away from the esoteric aspects of the sales process and talking about Samsung phones . . Or do I mean Samsung computers . . . Or Samsung cameras . . .

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