The TASC Top 10 – Number 3 You don’t know whether to talk or listen at a key customer meeting.

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Here’s number three in the “TASC Top 10” tip sheets for sales automation that come from the “legacy” days of SalesWays, originally written by our sister company Ardexus.

This one goes to the heart of how ASPEC looks at the sales cycle – as a natural flow of the the communications between the customer and the salesperson as the sales cycle evolves from start to end.

ASPEC says the sales cycle flows through three “phases” – Probe, Prove, and Close. These phases are as much a part of all sales as sunrise to sunset as day moves to night. All sales, from simple (retail) to complex (think BIG, like fleet of airplanes) follow this pattern. That’s how ASPEC can sensibly tell the salesperson what kind of strategies are needed for a precise point in the sale. 

TASC focuses on three essential skills of selling: Probing, Proving, and Closing. Each skill is used in differing degrees throughout the sales cycle. TASC tells you which skills to emphasize as you work on the sale.

Does your sales automation system care about your selling skills? It should. The ability to use your selling skills effectively at each point in the sale cycle is a major key to  sales success. That’s why it’s surprising that very few sales automation products have the functionality required to help sales people in this important area.

Although there are still sales people who hold true to the belief that “no computer can tell me how to sell,” a properly designed automation system can in fact train the computer to be a very effective sales coach – which can directly improve the won/lost ration of each sales person. We call this the “direct” benefit of sales automation. In ISA Bulletin #15, “direct” benefits will be compared and contrasted with “indirect benefits”.

To assist in the selling process the computer must have an idea of what should be happening in the sales process – this includes which of the basic selling skills are called for at a specific point in the sales cycle. There are a number of sales “systems” in use today that help the sales person by providing strategies and methods to win the most sales. These recommendations, however, can only be properly implemented if the salesperson understands the “established principles of selling” and has the “selling skills” required to bring those complicated strategies to life. In other words, without the basic “selling skills” the sales system layered over top your sales automation program will be useless.

What are the skills of selling? In fact there are very few fundamental skills – TASC recognizes just three. Of course, life is not so simple, and the ability to implement these skills flawlessly requires practice, experience and the ability of the salesperson to draw on a host of lesser skills needed to implement the fundamentals. To see the three fundamental skills in action we realize that all selling follows a well defined pattern or sequence:

  • A customer decides to buy something and starts the process of evaluating what is available to meet his needs – this is the beginning of the sales cycle. You have to establish what the customer needs  – otherwise how do you know if their product will fulfil the customer’s requirements. You also have to determine the sales environment, or, all of the factors influencing the final decision of the customer. This initial period of questioning in the sales cycle uses the skill of  PROBING.
  • As the sales cycle progresses, and the customer’s needs become more clearly defined and established, you will have information on which to base the presentation of your product to the customer – the skill with which you do this is called PROVING.
  • At some point in the sales cycle, you have proven the majority of the benefits of his product to the customer – and the customer can potentially have enough information to make a decision on the product that he likes most. At this point you must establish any barriers that may exist to the customer awarding you the business – “if my product does everything to satisfy your needs, will you give me your business?” This skill of testing the customer’s final intentions is called CLOSING. The eventual goal of closing, of course, is that the customer indicates that you have the ideal solution for his needs and that he will give you the order. Before this happens, you may have been through a sequence of interactions of asking for the order, only to be confronted by barriers that the customer perceives in going ahead with the purchase. These interactions are called Trial Closes – and you need them to establish and overcome any objections that the customer has toward taking your solution.

There you have it, PROBE, PROVE and CLOSE, the three fundamental skills of selling – the better you master them, the greater the chances that you will win – especially since the competition will be using the same skills against you.

Notice that we have introduced the fundamental skills by discussing what happens as the sales cycle progresses. There’s an important reason for this. The logical order for usage of the skills is to PROBE first, to PROVE second and to CLOSE last. Any deviation from this pattern will inevitably lead to problems and put the sale in danger. For instance, it is a mistake to try to prove the benefits of your product before you have sufficiently discovered the customer’s needs. It is even more dangerous to start to trial close the customer before he fully comprehends the benefits of purchasing your product. Proving has to be increased in focus gradually and persistently as the sales cycle progresses until at some point the customer has enough information to comfortably make a decision. At this point the skill of closing should come into play, and should be ramped up in focus until the order is won.

The most important thing with skills is to realize that more than one fundamental skill is invariably used during a single interaction with the customer. Consider for instance your first meeting with the customer:

YOU: “Good morning Mr. Smith, your colleague has told me that you have an immediate need for a high throughput color copier? (PROBING)– I’m from the Copy Factory and I think I can help you…

Mr. Smith: “Who is the Copy Factory?”

YOU: “The Copy Factory has been in business since 1972 selling high quality copiers to . . . (PROVING).

In this meeting with the customer the probing and proving skills are used and, notice, this is the first meeting with the customer (he didn’t know you before this).

At the end of the sale the three skills are often used during one customer interaction…

YOU: “Now that you have tried the Copier 2000 successfully for a week in your office, can I place an order for you, to get you one before Christmas? . . .  (CLOSING).

Mr. Smith: It performs very well, but my support manager thinks the footprint is too large for the new copier room . . .

YOU: “Who is your support manager? (PROBING) – maybe you would introduce me so I can describe our moveable Copier 2000 cart that frees up desk space . . . (PROVING).

So the skills are used with different degrees of focus during the course of the sales cycle. TASC uses a patent-pending sales model that describes how and when the three fundamental skills should be used, allowing the computer to provide winning strategies for the sales person. More on this in ISA Bulletin #8 and a future white paper.

Lessons learned:

  • Although some sales automation products tell you what strategies to enact to win sales, few tell you how to use your selling skills to bring those strategies to life.
  • Success in the sales cycle depends on following the Probe-Prove-Close method of selling.
  • It’s important to blend the different selling skills at each point in the sales cycle, but emphasize the one skill that best suits the present moment.
  • TASC provides sales people with “intelligent” recommendations on winning each sale – plus instruction and guidance on how and when to implement the required selling skills each step of the way.


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