What Is Selling?

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A big peeve of mine is the terrible inconsistency in the language of sales. Ask five salespeople what a sales cycle is and you’ll get five different answers, and it’s conceivable that a couple of those may have no relation to one another. Considering the dearth of formal sales training at academic level this is understandable, but it can lead to enormous frustration in discussions about how technology may improve selling.

I don’t know of any other professions where this is true. Most professional vocabularies were decided and locked centuries ago, and sooner rather than later, sales and selling will have to follow suit. In a previous post I referred to my 1950’s series of business books. The book on selling has a small section titled “What is Selling?” that goes on for around three pages. It basically condenses to this:

“The successful sale consists of the following elements:

1. It induces others to buy a commodity or service

2. Which confers some needed benefit on them, and

3. At a price which yields a profit to the company”

This is also the way I understand it — it’s not rocket science. Selling is the ability of the salesperson to persuade a customer to purchase their company’s commodity or service, thereby yielding a benefit to the customer and a profit for the company. I’ve used the word persuade in place of the original word induce. Both words imply that the customer has an alternate choice to yours. I’ve always thought that the act of selling must imply competition. Selling has an end point of achieving the customer’s choice of your product over the competition.

If a customer goes to your company’s web store, sees something they want and immediately places an order — this is order taking and not selling. The marketing department, or the product design department, through efforts to promote the product may have influenced the purchase, but no salesperson was involved. Essential to selling is a conversation between the salesperson and the customer in which the salesperson works to convince the customer that theirs is a better solution than other alternatives to suit the customer’s needs. That conversation happens over time, and the time period is called the sales cycle.

The salesperson’s conversation with the customer happens in a series of discreet interactions in which selling strategies and tactics are played out. There are libraries full of sales books that aim to guide the salesperson through solution selling, strategic selling, large account selling, and more. They teach how to ask the right questions and listen for the customer’s response and what and what not to say. I call this tactical selling, and most of the material that teaches it is soundly thought out and will work if diligently applied.

There’s more to it, though. The salesperson does not drive the sale – the customer does, with a buying process that follows a certain consistency and pattern. The salesperson must know how this works, and how it works for all the sales opportunities he or she is working on, which could be many. This is where a methodology to characterize an opportunity and use technology to prioritize your attention to it becomes invaluable. But such a methodology demands a tight, consistent and accurate language of sales, which is where we came in.

In future posts we’ll be looking at the components that make a “sales model,” the device that the computer uses to understand the sales process. The end goal is to drive consistency and uniformity in the vision of the sales process for the individual salesperson and the sales team. If we do this, sales can’t help but go up. Stay tuned . . .

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