There are a multitude of sales methodologies that have been in vogue over the last decade and beyond. We’ve had SPIN / Consultative / Solution Selling / Value selling and many more including more latterly the Challenger sale. The basic premise to most of these is that you understand the customer need and match your solution to it.

At the same time there have been massive advances in Neuroscience over the last decade. We know more in the last 10 years than in the whole of history combined about how the brain works and, as a result, how to influence people and engage more effectively.

The thing that perplexes me is that some people seem to believe that they are mutually exclusive. The Challenger methodology said that in today’s world salespeople needed to do more than just understand the need and instead should educate the client, providing them insight and expertise to challenge the status quo, in other words initiate new needs.

I agree.

And yet Challenger also said about sales success that “if you are like most business leaders you’d say it’s fundamentally about relationships, and you’d be wrong”.

“People buy people” is a cliché, but also a truism.  For me the two approaches must be taught in conjunction with each other. “Sales Process” and “People Process”. If clients ask me just to work with their teams to do one or the other, I turn them down.

I also push back if the engagement doesn’t include Coaching to embed any learning. 87% of learning according to research is lost within 3 months if the learning isn’t coached in the field.  All businesses today want a return on investment, and they won’t get it without all three legs of the stool in place!

But let’s start with Sales Process. Now I am not going to walk you through all elements of a good sales process. Suffice to say any sales process should provide a consistent, logical and sequential process to engage with prospects.

Following structure and process is needed because salespeople aren’t like that. Their preferred behavioural preference is often to follow gut instinct and intuition, subjective reasons for action rather than objective. But I do want to raise a couple of elements of a good process that are often neglected.

The first critical success factor that I want to raise is qualifying opportunities. Sellers are typically optimistic – glass half full, not half empty people.  They believe they can win against all the odds. A more structured approach is needed defining what the critical success factors are and measure each deal against the criteria.

For example, is there a compelling event in place to make them change? Has a budget been secured?  Have you engaged high, wide and early creating internal advocates to guide you through the sale? Sales managers should force the salesperson to quantify objective reasons to pursue an opportunity or force them to qualify out. 

An IBM study of a few years ago determined that the ideal funnel shape in B2B sales is more like a Martini glass shape than the traditional funnel shape. Buyers demand so much from a winning proposition today: your solution needs to be creative, bespoke and inspiring and that eats up time and resource.  Focus instead on qualifying out of more deals and put your finite resources, effort and cost into fewer deals, narrowing the shape at the top of the funnel like the Martini glass and improving conversion ratios.

A second critical success factor for sales organisations to learn is why they lose and win deals. I have come across too few who rigorously assess won or lost deals – interviewing the buyers to learn what they did well and what they didn’t do well and what lessons should be learned. Instead they follow Einstein’s theory of insanity “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”!  Sellers race after the next deal ignoring the maxim that we learn more from our failures than our successes. Analyse the feedback rigorously and build action plans not to repeat the same mistakes again.

Now, let’s turn our focus to “People Process’.

As a result of the advances in Neuroscience, psychology in sales has now become hugely significant. Although Dr Paul MacLean’s “Triune” brain theory from the last century is now considered outdated in some ways, it is a useful way to look at how people make decisions. We know our brain avoids danger instinctively – this is our ‘gut’ brain in action. We have an emotional part of the brain (our limbic system) which is our “heart” brain which makes decisions based on emotions and a rational brain (the neo-cortex) basing decisions on logic, facts and data (our “head” brain). We need to appeal to all parts of the brain to succeed. I call this #3-Brain selling”

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) from the same era, and still followed by many today, knew the importance of avoiding danger, as did SPIN selling, with its emphasis on identifying the Problems and Implications of not buying (The “P” and ”I’ of SPIN).

The image of salespeople was hit by mis-selling, particularly in the UK’s financial services sector and the repercussions spread wider. To avoid the image of pushy, aggressive salespeople, B2B selling became too soft in the guise of “consultative” and “solution” selling. We began to forget the necessity to remind customers of the pain of not acting to make them change and overcome their preference for the safety of the  status quo. After all change in the human mind is instinctively perceived as a threat.

Cialdini’s book “Influence” has sold over 5 million copies featuring his seven principles of persuasion all based on psychology in selling. “Social” by Professor Matthew Liebermann with the sub title “why we are wired to connect” (with each other) defined the importance in humans of relationships too.

Behavioural profiling tools, like my favoured option, Life Orientations®, have been around for many years and allow sales people to Discover their own behavioural profile, understand how they come across to others, and then build a behavioural development plan to help them Manage their selling style more effectively and finally learn the techniques of how to adapt to differing customer profiles to connect and engage better. The benefits of “adaptive selling” are hugely underused and underestimated.

The power of psychology in selling is self-evident… after all when was the last time you bought something of value from someone you didn’t trust?

My methodology of choice, as a result, is an amalgam of “Sales process and People process”!  Can we really get sellers to adopt both… or do we need a different breed or a different structure? That is the topic of my next blog.