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Selling is a wonderful profession when approached ethically, constructively and helpfully. Happily much sales development theory takes this positive direction. The origins of the word 'sell' provide a useful reminder of its purest meaning.

Selling is a wide subject, covering many selling methods, sales theories, models and sales training methods.

This sales training guide attempts to summarise the main ideas of the professional selling field. You can use this information as a self-teaching aid to develop your own sales skills, to teach others, or to help you identify and choose suitable sales training courses programs and providers for yourself, for your team or for your sales organization.

I welcome suggestions of new selling concepts and sales training methods for inclusion or reference within this guide.


Note that this webpage is a historical overview of sales training and selling theories and models, as well as a training guide.

Naturally some of the older traditional sales techniques and examples need adapting for the modern world. 

Modern business and selling must be ethical, collaborative, compassionate, even loving, which is an important aspect of the superb (and in my view unbeatable) Buying Facilitation methodology. 

That said, many of the old structures and principles of selling hold up extremely well with a little thought and adaptation - even the alternative close/leading question - which can usefully be incorporated within Buying Facilitation (again in my personal view and experience) where a prospect might benefit from seeing the issue from two or three important different perspectives.

For example: "Is it easier for you to look at these issues before or after the planning round?.." Or "Is it better for the board to be given a presentation about this, or is the proposition best circulated in advance in a paper?..."

The point is whether the question or technique is helpful and relevant to the process (for the buyer - not just you), rather than whether the technique itself is acceptable or not.

The sales techniques and selling ideas here have all been effective at some stage. Many are still widely used. Think about what you are selling, the market that you're selling into, the people you meet in the selling process, and use what will help you sell better. If you are managing sales people, the best results generally come if you allow sales people to work to their strengths; in a way that is natural to them.

New sales techniques, sales training and selling methods are continually developing. This free sales training section covers sales and the selling process from its early beginnings, through to the most modern selling techniques and ideas.

Sales and selling terms, and early sales and selling theories appear first in this article; the most advanced sales methods and ideas are at the end of the section. While early sales processes still contain some useful techniques and fundamentals, successful selling today relies on modern selling using collaboration, facilitation, and partnership. Tips on selecting sales training providers, sales training programs, selling courses and sales management training are in the sales training providers section.

Successful selling also requires that the product or service is of suitable quality for its target market, and that the selling company takes good care of its customers. Therefore it's helpful for the sale person (or anyone else in business for that matter) to work for a professional, good quality organization. Product development, design and production, service delivery, and the integrity of the selling company's organization are also necessary for successful selling, and typically are outside the formal control of the sales person, hence why internal selling is an increasingly important aspect of the modern sales role.

Effective sales people are interpreters and translators (and increasingly educators too) who can enable the complex systems of the buying organisation and the selling organisation to work together for the benefit of both.

How to improve your selling skills, processes and sales training

There are many ways to build your knowledge and skills in selling and business. Be selective when choosing sales training - see the tips for selecting sales training providers, sales training methods, courses and programs.

Aside from sales training courses here are some fine examples of other sales improvement concepts, and learning methods and resources.

  1. Explore Nudge theory - it's a powerful concept for understanding how people think and decide, and explains the significance of indirect non-pressurized interventions - as opposed to direct pressure methods. This methodology is especially useful in sales management and marketing, and negotiating too.
  2. See Sharon Drew Morgen's Buying Facilitation® methodology - advanced ideas in sales and selling. Read Sharon Drew Morgen's remarkable thinking and techniques in her books 'Dirty Little Secrets' and 'Buying Facilitation'. Her ideas are very progressive compared with most other selling theories, and can transform the way you sell and dramatically increase the results you achieve. The philosophy and facilitative methods focus on selling, but transfer extremely well to all relationships and communications, for example managing, coaching - even parenting.
  3. Download and read the free ebook 'The Game of Business' by Paul Gorman - a wonderful practical guide to business success from a leading business thinker. Paul's book encompasses modern selling and extends to a complete package of entrepreneurial methods and ideas. With grateful acknowledgements to Paul Gorman.
  4. Download and read another superb free ebook - 'Business Survival and Prosperity Guaranteed' - An excellent, very helpful, practical and encouraging guide to starting up a new business, or improving an existing one - (note this is a 15MB pdf file) - with grateful acknowledgements to Paul Hurst.
  5. See Ari Galper's ideas on cold calling, one of the greatest challenges for sales people and sales organizations. Ari Galper's 'Unlock The Game®' programme is a helpful and constructive selling approach for the modern age.
  6. Download and read the superb free ebook - 'Unleash the Power of Consultative Selling' - an excellent free 200 page ebook (560KB pdf) by Rich Grehalva on modern selling methods - with grateful acknowledgements to Rich Grehalva.

There are many more good modern ethical sales training and development systems out there. If you've had experience of a good modern sales training programme or product, or a particularly effective selling concept please let me know.

Businessballs does not receive a commission from the providers and authors for recommending the sales methods and theories featured in this sales training guide.

Old-style VS Modern Sales Process

This simple chart illustrates the fundamental shift in selling theory which occurred particularly during the 1980s, reflecting the development of an increasingly competive market-place and a better-informed buying and purchasing audience.

The advent of the internet and globalization during the 1990s meant that old styles of selling, based on one-way persuasion and control theories were finally obsolete for all mainstream business activities.

The development of selling ideas and methods is progressive. Selling inevitably reflects the changing world of business and communications.

Please note that where reference is made to the customer 'organization' this reflects a business-to-business scenario, however, the principles in all other respects apply for business-to-consumer, or for person-to-person sales scenarios.

Traditional Selling

Modern Selling

Typical 1960s-80s selling, and still found today.

Essential to sustain successful business today.

Standard product Customised, flexible, tailored product and service
Sales function performed by a 'sales-person' Sales function performed by a 'strategic business manager' 
Seller has product knowledge Seller has strategic knowledge of customer's market-place and knows all implications and opportunities resulting from product/service supply relating to customer's market-place
Delivery service and supporting information and training are typical added value aspects of supply Strategic interpretation of the customer organisation's market opportunities, and assistance with project evaluation and decision-making are added value aspects of supply
Good lead-time is a competitive advantage Just-in-time (JIT) is taken for granted, as are mutual planning and scheduling; competitive advantages are: capability to anticipate unpredictable requirements, and assistance with strategic planning and market development
Value is represented and judged according to selling price Value is assessed according to the cost to the customer, plus non-financial implications with respect to CSR (corporate social responsibility), environment, ethics, and corporate culture
The benefits and competitive strengths of the products or service are almost entirely tangible, and intangibles are rarely considered or emphasised The benefits and competitive strengths of the product or service now include many significant intangibles, and the onus is on the selling organization to quantify their value
Benefits of supply extend to products and services only Benefits of supply extend way beyond products and services, to relationship, continuity, and any assistance that the selling organization can provide to the customer to enable an improvement for their staff, customers, reputation and performance in all respects
Selling price is cost plus profit margin, and customers have no access to cost and margin information Selling price is market driven (essentially supply and demand), although certain customers may insist on access to cost and margin information
Seller knows the business customers' needs Seller knows the needs of the business customers' customers and partners and suppliers
Sales person sells (customers only deal with sales people, pre-sale) Whole organization sells (customers expect to be able to deal with anybody in supplier organization, pre-sale)
Sales people only sell externally, ie, to customers Sales people need to be able to sell internally to their own organization, in order to ensure customer needs are met
Strategic emphasis is on new business growth (ie, acquiring new customers) Strategic emphasis is on customer retention and increasing business to those customers (although new business is still sought)
Buying and selling is a function, with people distinctly responsible for each discipline within selling and customer organizations Buying and selling is a process, in which many people with differing jobs are involved in both selling and customer organizations
Hierarchical multi-level management structures exist in selling and customer organizations Management structures are flat, with few management layers
Authority of sales person is minimal, flexibility to negotiate is minimal, approvals must be sought via management channels and levels for exceptions Authority of sales person is high (subject to experience), negotiation flexibility exists, and exceptions are dealt with quickly and directly by involving the relevant people irrespective of grade
selling and buying organization are divided strictly according to function and department, inter-departmental communications must go up and down the management structures Selling organization is structured in a matrix allowing for functional efficiency and also for inter-functional collaboration required for effective customer service, all supply chain processes, and communications
Supplier and customer organization functions tend to talk to their 'opposite numbers' in the other organization Open communications to, from and across all functions between supplier and customer organization
The customer specifies and identifies product and service requirements The selling organization must be capable of specifying and identifying product and service requirements on behalf of the customer
The customer's buyer function researches and justifies the customer organization's needs The selling organization must be capable of researching and justifying customer organization's needs, on behalf of the customer
The customer's buyer probably does not appreciate his/her organization's wider strategic implications and opportunities in relation to the seller's product or service, and there will be no discussion with the seller about this issues The seller will help the buyer to understand the wider strategic implications and opportunities in relation to the seller's product or service
The buyer will tell the seller what the buying or supplier-selection process is The seller will help the buyer to understand and align the many and various criteria within their own (customer) organization, so that the customer organization can assess the strategic implications of the supplier's products or services, and make an appropriate decision whether to buy or not

Nowadays, more is demanded from the selling process by consumers, professional buyers and organizations choosing their suppliers. The analysis below refers both to the development in recent decades of what customers require from the selling function, and also to the progression of a relationship between supplier and customer.

This is different historical perspective of the way that selling methods and theory have changed. The grid tracks the sales function from its beginnings to what sales means and entails in the modern age.

The Development of the Selling Function

1. Pure transaction

Since time began. Pure transaction is effectively one step removed from stone-age barter.
Basic selling. Standard commoditised products, price and reliability - there is little to build on, business may be spasmodic, hand-to-mouth and unpredictable. There is no relationship other than the transaction.

2. Relationship and trust

Since the beginning of selling as a profession, popularised by Dale Carnegie, among others, early-mid 1900s
Continuity, consistency, sustainability, and some understanding of the customer's real issues are seen to have a value by both selling and buying organization. Intangibles such as continuity on communications and contacts, matched styles of trading, mutual flexibility and adaptability, are regarded as relevant benefits by the customer, which can justify a price premium, and therefore offer protection against 'cheaper' competitors, and build loyalty to supplier.

3. Management and information

Operated instinctively in isolated examples in business relationships for centuries, but not generally seen in selling methodology, sales training and strategic application until the 1960s-1970s.
The provision of management and information support by seller to buying organization, and the exchange and cooperation in these areas represent a significant increase in depth and effectiveness of selling reletionships. A longer-term supply arrangement - a requirement for and outcome of this level of selling - is seen as an advantage by seller and buyer, because it brings extra intangible benefits of co-operation and support other areas of the customer's business, eg., training, technology, product development - which improve the customer's own competitive strengths and operating efficiencies. The supplier is seen as part of the team, and is likely to be more involved in some of the the customer's own internal systems, meetings, planning, etc.

4. Partnership

A sophisticated open approach to selling which mainly first developed in the 1980s, probably in response to the increasing complexity of business relationships, technology, global markets, etc., and the increasingly fast pace of change. Organizations could be more effective and adaptable by devolving operating responsibilities to suppliers. Very different to merely buying and selling products and services.
The activities of the buying and selling organization become almost seamless wherever they are connected; the supplier is virtually part of the customer's organization and treated as such. 'Out-sourcing' generally requires this degree of collaboration, which involves a level anticipation, innovation and integrated support that is very difficult to un-pick, even if it were in the customer's interests to do so. Partnership level selling is not a legal or contractual arrangement; it describes the relationship, which operates virtually as a formal partnership would do. There is typically an enormous depth of understanding and cooperation which is not written down or detailed in a contract. Partnership selling relationships generally need time to develop - probably between 1-3 years depending on the size and complexity of the seller and buyer organizations.

5. Education and enablement

2000 and beyond. The dimensions, scope and impact of this new type of selling are not yet fully developed and defined. 

There are signs however that the sellers who can give most to their customers - especially in areas that the customers didn't even know they had a need or an opportunity - will be the most successful.
The educational and 'giving' activities of the selling organization extend the aspects of anticipation and information found in the partnership level. Also incorporated are aspects of facilitative and enabling support, which are for example well represented by Sharon Drew Morgen's 'Buying Facilitation' methodology. The seller gives to the customer any and all help it can reasonably offer as might improve the customer's understanding, interpretation and commercial development of issues relating to the supply area. This is a hugely sophisticated level of selling which was difficult to see anywhere in the last century. Sellers and selling organizations take the role of teacher, guide, mentor, enabler; which can influence and help customers far beyond commercial and financial outcomes, into previously unimagined strategic business development and considerable change. Internet organizations such as Google are examples of this sort of selling, which at its best can actually give more than it takes.

5.(a) The internet age - buyer empowerment

2000 and beyond. This aspect of selling is not a stage in its own right, it is a changed market, and particularly a changed behaviour of buyers. It must be seen as a background and situation to education and enablement selling. It shifts power to buyers like never before.
The internet has enabled and empowered buyers and decision-makers of all sorts to research, compare and assess (increasingly using internet social technology) sellers and their offerings - from product specifications, to reputations and recommendations, or negative reports, and even personal information about sales people and company executives. Sellers are no longer the main providers of sales/product/service-related information, because all this is available easily on the web, and most buyers and decision-makers - business-people and private consumers - know how to find it and how to interpret it. Sellers must therefore adapt their own sales and negotiating methods and styles to support and fit the new vastly increased power and knowledge of buyers and decision-makers. The internet age gives all buyers the tools to discover crucial market-wide information about product, service, price, value, quality, reliability, reputation, track-record, credibility, for any supplier. Social media technology is increasingly making everything transparent and public, from faulty products, to poor service; from pricing and contracts; to user experiences and peer reviews. More than ever before, the seller has to be a helpful trusted advisor, able to respect, respond to, and to complement the buyer's increasing awareness and control of the buying/selling transaction.

Early Selling and Sales Training

Much of the early development of selling skills and conventional sales training theories is attributed to American writer, speaker and businessman Dale Carnegie (1888-1955). Carnegie, from humble beginnings and several early career failures, started his training business in the early 1900s, initially focusing on personal development. Later, Carnegie's 1937 self-help book 'How to Win Friends and Influence People' became an international best-seller, and probably the major source of the ideas and theory which underpinned traditional selling through the 20th century. Carnegie's book remains a highly regarded and widely read work on human motivation, relationships and 'influencing' others.

Carnegie's ideas contain a huge amount of useful learning relating to understanding other people and their motives. As such the theories are well worth reading. In this respect, Carnegie's concepts, and other similar methods based on them, are helpful in understanding that people are all different and therefore all have different perspectives (and different to those of the seller, or influencer). This is a vital concept within selling - to appreciate that people have their own views, feelings, values, and aims. The more we can understand the other person's situation, aims and feelings, the more likely we will be able to develop rapport and trust with them, and then hopefully to arrive at suitable solutions and agreements with them. As far as this goes all is well.

However, as with all early and 'traditional' sales persuasion techniques and methodologies, the purpose of 'influence' is in the hands of the 'influencer' (or seller), and this purpose (product or service) may or may not be in the best interests of the customer. In other words, early thinking (and much current thinking still unfortunately) primarily focuses on influencing the other person (customer) to adopt an opinion or to take action in the direction which favours the influencer, irrespective of whether this is in the genuine best interest of the other person. Indeed, some modern criticism suggests that Carnegie's and other similar traditional selling methodologies and sales training systems lack honesty and integrity, which in my view many do.

Traditional methods - most of which continue to draw on the ideas and concepts contained in Dale Carnegie's 1937 book, tend to encourage sales people, or others seeking to persuade and influence, to use knowledge about the other person's (or customer's) perspective as a means of gaining their trust and flexibility, so that the customer can be led in a certain direction. Used unethically this amounts to manipulation and is therefore wrong and not sustainable.

Carnegie and others who have interpreted and developed his early ideas, commonly provide a good framework for understanding other people's needs and motives, but arguably the matters of ethics, honesty, integrity, sustainability, are omitted.

The purpose of using the techniques, and what to do with the understanding was, and remains, open to use or mis-use by the seller.

The question is - as sales-people - is our purpose (and responsibility) to exploit people - or to help people?

Therein lies the major difference between early (and still-practised) traditional selling, and modern collaborative, facilitative ideas, which in my opinion are the most effective, sustainable and ethically sound concepts for today's business world.

Look at the old ideas like Carnegie's, learn the Seven Steps of the Sale, understand consultative and needs-creation selling - they all contain useful learning and processes - but most importantly, ensure you work within a strong and ethical value-system. These days selling should more than ever focus on helping people, which of course has additional implications for your choice of organization, and the products and services that you choose to represent.


AIDA is the original sales training acronym, from the late 1950s, when selling was first treated as a professional discipline, and sales training began. The model is said to have evolved from earlier work by American psychologists concerning assimilation and understanding of communications and information. Walter Dill Scott's 'Attention-Comprehension-Understanding' model, developed by 1913 at the Chicago Northwestern University, is cited as one example of possible contributory thinking, although this is by no means a specific single origin; in fact it is unlikely that a specific single origin for AIDA actually exists.

AIDA is perhaps more relevant and useful today than when it was first devised, because modern theories and distractions can often cause people to lose appreciation for the most basic and obvious features and requirements of a successful sales engagement.

So, especially for those learning your trade in selling or advertising or communicating with prospective customers, if you remember just one sales or selling model, remember AIDA.

Often called the 'Hierarchy of Effects', AIDA describes the basic process by which people become motivated to act on external stimulus, including the way that successful selling happens and sales are made.

A - Attention

I - Interest

D - Desire

A - Action

The AIDA process also applies to any advertising or communication that aims to generate a response, and it provides a reliable template for the design of all sorts of marketing material.

Simply, when we buy something we buy according to the AIDA process. So when we sell something we must sell go through the AIDA stages. Something first gets our attention; if it's relevant to us we are interested to learn or hear more about it. If the product or service then appears to closely match our needs and/or aspirations, and resources, particularly if it is special, unique, or rare, we begin to desire it. If we are prompted or stimulated to overcome our natural caution we may then become motivated or susceptible to taking action to buy.

Some AIDA pointers:


  • Getting the other person's attention sets the tone: first impressions count , so smile - even on the phone because people can hear it in your voice - be happy (but not annoyingly so) be natural, honest and professional.
  • If you're not in the mood to smile do some paperwork instead. If you rarely smile then get out of selling.
  • Getting attention is more difficult than it used to be, because people are less accessible, have less free time, and lots of competing distractions, so think about when it's best to call.
  • Gimmicks, tricks and crafty techniques don't work, because your prospective customers - like the rest of us - are irritated by hundreds of them every day.
  • If you are calling on the phone or meeting face-to-face you have about five seconds to attract attention, by which time the other person has formed their first impression of you.
  • Despite the time pressure, relax and enjoy it - expect mostly to be told 'no thanks' - but remember that every 'no' takes you closer to the next 'okay'.


  • You now have maybe 5-15 seconds in which to create some interest.
  • Something begins to look interesting if it is relevant and potentially advantageous. This implies a lot:
  • The person you are approaching should have a potential need for your product or service or proposition (which implies that you or somebody else has established a target customer profile).
  • You must approach the other person at a suitable time (ie it's convenient, and that aspects of seasonality and other factors affecting timing have been taken into account)
  • You must empathise with and understand the other person's situation and issues, and be able to express yourself in their terms (ie talk their language).


  • The sales person needs to be able to identify and agree the prospect's situation, needs, priorities and constraints on personal and organizational levels, through empathic questioning and interpretation.
  • You must build rapport and trust, and a preparedness in the prospect's mind to do business with you personally (thus dispelling the prospect's feelings of doubt or risk about your own integrity and ability).
  • You must understand your competitors' capabilities and your prospect's other options.
  • You must obviously understand your product (specification, options, features, advantages, and benefits), and particularly all relevance and implications for your prospect.
  • You must be able to present, explain and convey solutions with credibility and enthusiasm.
  • The key is being able to demonstrate how you, your own organization and your product will suitably, reliably and sustainably 'match' the prospect's needs identified and agreed, within all constraints.
  • Creating desire is part skill and technique, and part behaviour and style. In modern selling and business, trust and relationship (the 'you' factor) are increasingly significant, as natural competitive development inexorably squeezes and reduces the opportunities for clear product advantage and uniqueness.


  • Simply the conversion of potential into actuality, to achieve or move closer to whatever is the aim.
  • Natural inertia and caution often dictate that clear opportunities are not acted upon, particularly by purchasers of all sorts, so the sales person must suggest, or encourage agreement to move to complete the sale or move to the next stage.
  • The better the preceding three stages have been conducted, then the less emphasis is required for the action stage; in fact on a few rare occasions in the history of the universe, a sale is so well conducted that the prospect decides to take action without any encouragement at all.


More recently (c.1980s-1990s) the AIDA acronym has been used in extended form as AIDCA, meaning the same as AIDA with the insertion of Commitment prior to the action stage. Arguably Commitment is implicit within the Action stage, but if it suits your sales training purposes then AIDCA is an acceptable interpretation. Commitment here means that a prospective customer is more likely to progress to the Action stage if their commitment to the proposition can first be established. As ever, adding detail make the thing less elegant and flexible, which in this case makes AIDCA non-applicable to selling methods that do not involve a two-way communication, for example, the structure of a sales letter or advert, for which AIDA remains more helpful. For two-way sales communications, discussions, presentations, etc., then AIDCA is fine.

  • Attention
  • Interest
  • Desire
  • Commitment
  • Action

The Seven Steps of The Sale

The Seven Steps of the Sale is the most common traditional structure used for explaining and training the selling process for the sales call or meeting, including what immediately precedes and follows it. This structure is usually represented as the Seven Steps of the Sale, but it can can be five, six, eight or more, depending whose training manual you're reading.

This structure assumes that the appointment has been made, or in the instance of a cold-call, that the prospect has agreed to discuss things there and then. The process for appointment-making is a different one, which is shown later in this section. Aside from the questioning stage, this structure also applies to a sales visit which been arranged for the purpose of presenting products/services or a specific proposal following an invitation, earlier discussions or meetings. For these pre-arranged presentations it is assumed that the sales person has already been through the questioning stage at prior meetings.

The Seven Steps of the Sale remains a helpful structure for sales and sales training, but do bear in mind that the concept is over forty years old, and these days the modern collaboration and facilitation method are a lot more effective, typically when treated as a front-end to the Seven Steps or incorporated withing the first stage as an approach. The collaborative selling section includes an augmented 'seven steps of the sale' which includes integrated modern 'facilitative' sales skills, of which  Sharon Drew Morgen's 'Buying Facilitation'® is a uniquely special and effective model.

The original commonly used Seven Steps terminology is in bold. In recent years more sophisticated interpretation and application of the Seven-Step selling process requires the model to be expanded and interpreted with more subtlety and flexibility, as shown here:

  1. Preparation/planning/research/approach (using facilitative methods)
  2. Introduction/opening/approach/establish initial credibility
  3. Questioning/identify needs/ask how and what, etc/establish rapport and trust
  4. Presentation/explanation/demonstration
  5. Overcoming objections/negotiating/fine-tuning
  6. Close/closing/agreement/commitment/confirmation
  7. Follow-up/after-sales/fulfil/deliver/admin

1. Planning and Preparation

Generally, the larger the prospect organization, the more research you should do before any sales call at which you will be expected, or are likely, to present you company's products or services.

  • Ensure know your own product/service extremely well - especially features, advantages and benefits that will be relevant to the prospect you will be meeting
  • Ascertain as far as you can the main or unique perceived organizational benefit that your product or service would give to your prospect
  • Discover what current supply arrangements exist or are likely to exist for the product/service in question, and assess what the present supplier's reaction is likely to be if their business is at threat
  • Understand what other competitors are able and likely to offer, and which ones are being considered if any
  • Identify as many of the prospect organization's decision-makers and influencers as you can, and assess as much as far as you can what their needs, motives and relationships are
  • Try to get a feel for what the organizational politics are
  • What are the prospect's organizational decision-making process and financial parameters (eg., budgets, year-end date)
  • What are your prospect's strategic issues, aims, priorities and problems, or if you can't discover these pre-meeting, what are they generally for the market sector in which the prospect operates?
  • Prepare your opening statements and practice your sales presentation
  • Prepare your presentation in the format in which you are to give it (e.g., MS Powerpoint slides for laptop or projected presentation) plus all materials, samples, hand-outs, brochures, etc., and always have spares - allow for more than the planned numbers as extra people often appear at the last minute - see the presentation section for more detailed guidance on designing formal sales presentations
  • Prepare a checklist of questions or headings that will ensure you gather all the information you need from the meeting
  • Think carefully about what you want to get from the meeting and organise your planning to achieve it
  • Understand and make the most of cold calling: despite the tendency for some organizations to position cold calling as a lowly de-skilled canvassing or enquiry-generation activity, cold calling increasingly enables sales people to become more strategic and significant in the sales function

2. Introduction/opening

  • Smile - be professional, and take confidence from the fact that you are well-prepared
  • Introduce yourself - first and last name, what your job is and the company you represent, and what the your company does (ensure this is orientated to appeal to the prospect's strategic issues)
  • Set the scene - explain the purpose of your visit, again orientate around your prospect not yourself, eg "I'd like to learn about your situation and priorities in this area, and then if appropriate, to explain how we (your own company) approach these issues. Then if there looks as though there might be some common ground, to agree how we could move to the next stage."
  • Ask how much time your prospect has and agree a time to finish
  • Ask if it's okay to take notes (it's polite to ask - also, all business information is potentially sensitive, and asking shows you realise this)
  • Ask if it's okay to start by asking a few questions or whether your prospect would prefer a quick overview of your own company first (this will depend on how strongly know and credible your own company is - if only a little you should plan to give a quick credibility-building overview in your introduction)

3. Questioning

  • While questioning is a vital aspect of selling, the principles and techniques of questioning are mostly transferable to other situations where questioning is essential for effective cooperation and relationships - these questioning guidelines therefore extend to applications beyond sales and selling
  • Empathy and listening are crucial in questioning - understanding body language is useful too
  • A major purpose of questioning in the traditional selling process is to identify the strongest need or benefit perceived by the prospect relating to the product/service being offered by the seller
  • As the questioner you need also to understand very clearly what you are seeking from the relationship - questioning should aim to identify a mutual fit - relationship work when theer is a good fit for both sides
  • Buyers commonly have one main need or benefit, and a number of supporting needs/benefits
  • Needs and benefits may be obvious to seller and buyer, or not obvious to either, in which case questioning expertise is critical in selling, as it is an all other relationships where motives and change are involved
  • Questioning must also discover how best to develop the relationship and the sale with the organization - how the organization decides: timings, authority levels, the people and procedures involved, competitor pressures, etc.
  • Good empathic questioning also builds relationships, trust and rapport - nobody wants to buy anything from a sales person who's only interested in their own product or company - we all want to buy from somebody who gives the time and skill to interpreting and properly meeting our own personal needs
  • To be professional in your approach you should prepare a list of questions or headings before the discussion
  • Aside from complex variations, there are two main sorts of questions: open questions and closed questions
  • Broadly open questions gather information and build rapport; closed questions filter, qualify and seek commitment
  • Open questions invite the other person to give long answers; closed questions invite the other person to say yes or no, or to select from (usually two) options, for example red or blue, or mornings or afternoons, etc
  • Use open questions to gather information - typically for example, questions beginning with Who? What? Why? Where? When? and How?
  • When training or learning the skills of using open questions it helps to refer to the Rudyard Kipling rhyme: "I keep six honest serving men, They taught me all I knew; Their names are What and Why and When, And How and Where and Who..".
  • Use "Can you tell me about how..." if you are questioning a senior-level contact - generally the more senior the contact, the bigger the open questions you can ask, and the more the other person will be comfortable and able to give you the information you need in a big explanation
  • 'What...? and 'how...?' are the best words to use in open questions because they provoke thinking and responses about facts and feelings in a non-threatening way
  • Use 'why?' to find out reasons and motives beneath the initial answers given, but be very careful and sparing in using 'why' because the word 'why?' is threatening to many people - it causes the other person to feel they have to defend or justify themselves, and as such will not bring out the true situation and feelings, especially in early discussions with people when trust and rapport is at a low level
  • Listen carefully and empathically, maintain good eye-contact, understand, and show that you understand - especially understand what is meant and felt, not just what is said, particularly when you probe motives and personal aspects
  • Interpret and reflect back and confirm you have understood what is being explained, and if relevant the feelings behind it
  • Use closed questions to qualify and confirm your interpretation - a closed question is one that can be answered with a yes or no, eg., "Do you mean that when this type of equipment goes down then all production ceases?", or "Are you saying that if a new contract is not put in place by end-March then the existing one automatically renews for another year?"
  • When you've asked a question, you must then be quiet - do not interrupt - allow the other person time and freedom to answer
  • The other person (your 'prospect' in selling language) should be doing 80-99% of the talking during this stage of the sales discussion; if you are talking for a third or half of the time you are not asking the right sort of questions
  • Do not jump onto an opportunity and start explaining how you can solve the problem until you have asked all your questions and gathered all the information you need (in any event you should never be seen to 'jump' onto any issue)
  • All the time try to find out the strategic issues affected or implicated by the product/service in question - these are where the ultimate decision-making and buying motives lie
  • If during the questioning you think of a new important question to ask note it down or you'll probably forget it
  • When you have all the information you need, acknowledge the fact and say thanks, then take a few moments to think about, discuss and summarise the key issues/requirements/priorities from your prospect's organizational (and personal if applicable) perspective
  • Questioning is traditionally treated by conventional sales people and conventional sales training as a process to gather information to assist the sales person's process, and this is how it is typically positioned in the old-style 'Seven Steps of the Sale'; however, modern sales methodology treats questioning in a radically different way - as an essential part of a facilitative process whose purpose is to help the buyer decide (see the information about collaborative selling and buying facilitation for more explanation)
  • Questioning is a fundamentally important part of selling - techniques being increasingly developed and refined far beyond early selling techniques - transferable to and from other disciplines (notably coaching, counselling, therapy, etc)
  • See for example Sharon Drew Morgen's excellent facilitative questioning methodology and the Clean Language concept

4. Presentation

  • The sales presentation should focus on a central proposition, which should be the unique perceived benefit that the prospect gains from the product/service
  • During the questioning phase the sales person will have refined the understanding (and ideally gained agreement) as to what this is - the presentation must now focus on 'matching' the benefits of the product with the needs of the prospect so that the prospect is entirely satisfied that the proposition
  • The sales person therefore needs an excellent understanding of the many different organizational benefits that accrue to customers, and why, from the product/service - these perceived benefits will vary according to the type of customer organization (size, structure, market sector, strategy, general economic health, culture, etc)
  • The sales presentation must demonstrate that the product/service meets the prospect's needs, priorities, constraints and motives, or the prospect will not even consider buying or moving to the next stage; this is why establishing the prospect's situation and priorities during the questioning phase is so vital
  • The above point is especially important to consider when the sales person has to present on more than one occasion to different people or groups, who will each have different personal and organizational needs, and will therefore respond to different benefits (even though the central proposition and main perceived benefit remains constant)
  • All sales presentations, whether impromptu (off the cuff) or the result of significant preparation, must be well structured, clear and concise, professionally delivered, and have lots of integrity - the quality and integrity of the presentation is always regarded as a direct indication as to the quality and integrity of the product/service
  • It follows then that the sales person must avoid simply talking about technical features from the seller's point of view, without linking the features clearly to organizational context and benefit for the prospect - also avoid using any jargon which the prospect may not understand
  • Sales presentations must always meet the expectations of the listener in terms of the level of information and relevance to the prospect's own situation, which is another reason for proper preparation - a vague or poorly prepared sales presentation sticks out like a sore thumb, and it will be disowned immediately
  • When presenting to influencers, which is necessary on occasions, it is important to recognise that the sales person is effectively asking the influencers to personally endorse the proposition and the credibility of the selling organization and the sales person, so the influencers' needs in these areas are actually part of the organizational needs of the prospect company
  • The presentation must include relevant evidence of success, references from similar sectors and applications, facts and figures - all backing up the central proposition
  • Business decision-makers buy when they become satisfied that the decision will either make them money, or save them money or time; they also need to be certain that the new product/service will be sustainable and reliable; therefore the presentation must be convincing in these areas
  • Private consumer buyers ultimately buy for similar reasons, but for more personal ones as well, eg., image, security, ego, etc., which may need to feature in these type of presentations if they form part of the main perceived benefit
  • While the presentation must always focus on the main perceived benefit, it is important to show that all the other incidental requirements and constraints are met - but do not over-emphasise or attempt to 'pile high' loads of incidental benefits as this simply detracts from the central proposition
  • Presentations should use the language and style of the audience - eg., technical people need technical evidence; sales and marketing people like to see flair and competitive advantage accruing for their own sales organization; managing directors and finance directors want clear, concise benefits to costs, profits and operating efficiency; and generally the more senior the contact, the less time you will have to make your point - no-nonsense, no frills, but plenty of relevant hard facts and evidence. See the presentation section for more guidance on this.
  • If the sales person is required to present to a large group and in great depth, then it's extremely advisable to enlist the help of one or two suitably experienced colleagues, from the appropriate functions, eg., technical, customer service, distribution, etc., in which case the sales person must ensure that these people are properly briefed and prepared, and the prospect notified of their attendance.
  • Keep control of the presentation, but do so in a relaxed way; if you don't know the answer to a question don't waffle - say you don't know and promise to get back with an answer later, and make sure you do.
  • Never knock the competition - it undermines your credibility and integrity - don't even imply anything derogatory about the competition
  • If appropriate issue notes, or a copy of your presentation
  • Use props and samples and demonstrations if relevant and helpful, and make sure it all works properly
  • During the presentation seek feedback, confirmation and agreement as to the relevance of what you are saying, but don't be put off if people stay quiet
  • Invite questions at the end, and if your are comfortable, at the outset invite questions at any time - it depends on how confident you feel in controlling things
  • Whether presenting one-to-one or to a stern group, relax and be friendly - let your personality and natural enthusiasm shine through - people buy from people who love and have faith in their products and companies

5. Overcoming objections/negotiating

  • Decades ago it was assumed that at this stage lots of objections could appear, and this would tend to happen, because the selling process was more prescriptive, one-way, and less empathic; however, successful modern selling now demands more initial understanding from the sales person, even to get as far as presenting, so the need to overcome objections is not such a prevalent feature of the selling process
  • Nevertheless objections do arise, and they can often be handled constructively, which is the key
  • If objections arise, firstly the sales person should qualify each one by reflecting back to the person who raised it, to establish the precise nature of the objection - "why do you say that?" , or better still, "what makes you say that?, is usually a good start
  • It may be necessary to probe deeper to get to the real issue, by asking why to a series of answers - some objections result from misunderstandings, and some are used to veil other misgivings which the sales person needs to expose
  • Lots of objections are simply a request for more information, so definitely avoid responding by trying to re-sell the benefit - simply ask and probe instead; the best standard response is something like "I understand why that could be an issue, can I ask you to tell me more about why it is and what's important for you here?.."
  • Try to avoid altogether the use of the word 'but' - it's inherently confrontational
  • An old-style technique was to reflect back the objection as a re-phrased question, but in a form that the sales person is confident of being able to answer positively, for example: the prospect says he thinks it's too expensive; the sales person reflects back: "I think what you're really saying is that you have no problem with giving us the contract, but you'd prefer the payments staged over three years rather than two? - well I think we could probably do something about that..."
  • Another old-style technique used to be to isolate the objection (confirm that other than that sticking point everything else was fine), then to overcome the objection by drawing up a list of pro's and con's, or analysing to death all the hidden costs of not going for the deal, or re-selling the benefits even harder, and then to close powerfully, but these days such a contrived approach to objection handling is likely to insult the prospect and blow the sales person's credibility
  • The 'feel-felt-found' technique was another popular tactic in overcoming objections: this is a response built around the three 'feel felt found' elements: "I understand how you feel/why you feel that...//Other customers have felt just the same/that...//But (or 'And') when... they have found that..." The method uses empathy in stage one, neutrality and group reference (shifting the issue away from personal confrontation) in stage two, and then counters the objection and reinforces the benefits using (alleged) majority evidence in stage three, in the hope of persuading the buyer that he/she is isolated and missing out if deciding not to buy
  • It is important to flush out all of the objections, and in so doing, the sales person is effectively isolating them as the only reasons why the prospect should not proceed, but then the more modern approach is to work with the prospect in first understanding what lies beneath each objection, and then working with the prospect to shape the proposition so that it fits more acceptably with what is required. See the section on negotiating.
  • Avoid head-to-head arguments - even if you win them you'll destroy the relationship you'll go no further - instead the sales person must enable a constructive discussion so that he and the prospect are both working at the problem together; provided the basic proposition is sound most objections are usually overcome by both the seller and the buyer adjusting their positions slightly; for large prospects and contracts this process can go on for weeks, which is why this is often more in the negotiating arena than objection handling
  • You've handled all the objections when you've covered everything that you've noted down - it's therefore important to keep notes and show that you're doing it
  • By this stage you may have seen some signs that the prospect is clearly visualising or imagining the sale proceeding, or even talking in terms of your working together as supplier and customer; this is sometimes called buying warmth. Certain questions and comments from prospects are described as buying signals because they indicate that the prospect may be visualising buying or having the product/service. In the old days, sales people were taught to respond to early buying signals with a 'trial close', but this widely perceived as clumsy and insulting nowadays. Instead respond to early buying signals (ie those received before you've completed the presentation to the prospect's satisfaction, and answered all possible queries) by asking why the question is important, and then by answering as helpfully as possible

6. Close/closing/agreement

  • In modern selling, even using the traditional Seven Steps process, every sales person's aim should be to prepare and conduct the selling process so well that there are few if any objections, and no need for a close
  • The best close these days is something like "Are you happy that we've covered everything and would you like to go ahead?", or simply "Would you like to go ahead?"
  • In many cases, if the sales person conducts the sale properly, the prospect will close the deal himself, and this should be the another aim for the sales person - it's civilised, respectful, and actually implies and requires a high level of sales professionalism
  • The manner in which a sale is concluded depends on the style of the decision-maker - watch out for the signs: no-nonsense high-achievers are likely to decide very quickly and may be a little irritated if you leave matters hanging after they've indicated they're happy; cautious technical people will want every detail covered and may need time to think, so don't push them, but do stay in touch and make sure they have all the information they need; very friendly types may actually say yes before they're ready, in which case you need to ensure that everything is suitably covered so nothing can rebound later
  • For the record here are some closes from the bad old days - the traditional golden rule was always to shut up after asking a closing question, even if the silence became embarrassingly long - (a who-talks-first-loses kind of thing) - use them at your peril:
  • The pen close: "Do you want to use your pen or mine?" (while producing the contract and pen)
  • The alternative close: for example - "Would you like it delivered next Tuesday or next Friday?", or "We can do the T50 model in silver, and we have a T52 in white - which one would you prefer?"
  • The challenge close: "I know most men wouldn't be able to buy something of this value without consulting their wives - do you need to get your wife's permission on this?.." or "Most business people in your position need to refer this kind of decision to their boss, do you need to refer it?"
  • The ego close: "We generally find that only the people who appreciate and are prepared to pay for the best quality go for this service - I don't know how you feel about it?..."
  • The negative close: "I'm sorry but due to the holidays we can't deliver in the three weeks after the 15th, so we can only do it next week, is that okay?"
  • The guilt close: "Over three years it might seem a lot of money, but we find that most responsible people decide they simply have no choice but to go for it when it's less than a pound/dollar a day to protect your.../safeguard your..../improve your... (whatever)."
  • The sympathy close: "I know you have some reservations that we can't overcome right now, but I've got to admit that I'm pretty desperate for this sale - my manager says he'll sack me if I don't get an order this week, and you're my last chance - I'd be ever so grateful if you'd go ahead - and I promise you we'd be able to sort out the extra features once I speak to our production people..." (How could anyone live with themselves using that one?....)
  • The puppy dog close/puppy dog sale: "Let me leave it with you and you see how you get on with it..."
  • The last ditch close: (sales person packs case and goes to leave, but stops at the door) "Just one last thing - would you tell me where I went wrong - you see I just know this is right for you, and I feel almost guilty that I've not sold it to you properly, as if I've let you down....."
  • The pro's and con's list: "I can appreciate this is a tough decision - what normally works is to write down a list of all the pro's and con's - two separate columns - and then we can both see clearly if overall it's the right thing to do..."
  • The elimination close: "I can see I've not explained this properly - can we take a moment to go through all the benefits and see which one is holding us back from proceeding?" (At which the sales person lists all the benefits - the positives, and runs through each one to confirm it's not that one which is causing the problem, crossing a line through each as he goes. When he crosses the last one out he can claim that there really seems to be no reason for not going ahead...)

7. Follow-up/fulfilment/delivery/admin

  • After-sales follow-up depends on the type of product and service, but generally for every sale the sales person must carry out a number of important processes:
  • All relevant paperwork must be completed and copies provided to the customer - paperwork is will cover the processing of the order, the confirmation of the order and its details to the customer, possibly the completion of installation and delivery specification and instructions
  • Sales reporting by the sales person is also necessary, generally on a pro-forma or computer screen, typically detailing the order value, product type and quantity, and details about the customer such as industrial sector - each sales organization stipulates the sales person's reporting requirements, and often these are linked to sales commissions and bonuses, etc.
  • The sales person should also make follow-up contact with the customer - as often as necessary - to confirm that the customer is happy with the way the order is being progressed; this helps reduce possible confusion and misunderstood expectations, which are a big cause of customer dissatisfaction or order cancellation if left to fester unresolved
  • Customer follow-up and problem resolution must always be the responsibility for the sales person, who should consider themselves the 'guardian' of that customer, even if a well-organised customer service exists for general after-sales care
  • Customers rightly hold sales people responsible for what happens after the sale is made, and good conscientious follow-up will usually be rewarded with referrals to other customers - this is also helpful for networking
  • Follow-up is an important indicator of integrity; when a sales person makes a sale he is personally endorsing the product and the company, so ensuring that value and satisfaction are fulfilled is an integral part of the modern sales function

The Product Offer (Or 'Sales Proposition')

The product offer, or sales proposition, is how the product or service is described and promoted to the customer. The product offer is generally presented in varying levels of detail and depth, depending on the situation.

As an opening or initial proposition the words are used by the sales person to attract attention and interest in verbal and written introductions to prospects - so it has to be concise and quick - remember that attention needs to be grabbed in less than five seconds.

The product offer is also used by the selling company in its various advertising and promotional material aimed at the target market.

Traditionally the selling company's marketing department would formulate the product offer, but nowadays the sales person greatly improves his selling effectiveness if he able to refine and adapt the product offer (not the specification) for targeted sectors and individual major prospects.

Developing and tailoring a product offer, or proposition, is a vital part of the selling process, and the approach to this has changed over the years.

FABs (Features Advantages Benefits)

The technique of linking features, advantages, and benefits (FABs) was developed in the 1960s and it remains an important basic concept for successful selling and sales training. FABs were traditionally identified and by the company and handed by the training department to the sales people, who rarely thought much about developing them.

Here is the principle of using Features, Advantages, Benefits:

Customers don't buy features, they don't even buy the advantages - what they buy is what the product's features and advantages will do for them, which in selling parlance is called the benefit.

For example: A TV might have the feature of internet connectivity and a remote control qwerty keyboard; the advantage is that the customer can now access and interchange internet and TV services using a single system; and the benefit is that the customer saves money, space, and a lot of time through not having to change from one piece of equipment to another.

It's the saving in money, space and hassle that the customer buys. A sales person who formulates a sales proposition or product offer around those benefits will sell far more Internet TV's than a sales person who simply sells 'TV's with internet connectivity and remote qwerty keypads'. In fact lots of customers won't even have a clue as to what a 'TV with internet connectivity and remote qwerty keypad' is, particularly when it's packaged, branded and promoted as the latest 'WebTV XL520 with the new Netmaster GT500 Supa-consul'....

Moreover the few customers who recognise the product benefit by its features and advantages will also recognise all the competitors' products too, which will cause all the sales people selling features and advantages to converge on the most astute purchasing group, leaving the most lucrative uninformed prospects largely untouched.

The aim is to formulate a product offer which elegantly comprises enough of what the product does and how, with the most important or unique benefits for a given target market or prospect type.

USPs (Unique Selling Propositions/points)

The strongest benefit for a given target sector is often represented by the term USP, meaning unique selling point or proposition (for many companies no real uniqueness exists in their USPs, so the term is often used rather loosely where the word 'strongest' would be more apt). Real or perceived uniqueness is obviously very important because it generally causes a prospect to buy from one sales person or supplier as opposed to another. If there were umpteen WebTVs on the market, the ones that would sell the best would be those which had the strongest unique selling points.

Price is not a USP; sure, some people only buy the cheapest, but most do not; most will pay a little or a lot extra to get what they want. As with the example of the WebTV, an advantage that produces a money-saving benefit is different to straight-forward price discounting. A low price is not a benefit in this context, and any product that is marketed purely with a low-price USP will always be vulnerable to competition which offers proper user-related benefits, most of which may come in the form of a higher value, higher price package.

What makes it difficult to succeed all the time with a fixed USP or series of USPs is that one man's USP is another man's dead donkey - USPs by their nature fail to take account of a prospect's particular circumstances and detailed needs. The name itself - unique selling point - says it all. Purchasers of all sorts are more interested in buying, not being sold to.

Each type of prospect has different reasons for buying. Market sectors or prospect types with smaller houses and fewer rooms are more likely to respond to the space-saving benefit of the WebTV as the product's main USP. Market sectors or prospect types with big houses and lots of big rooms are more likely to regard the time-saving benefit as the key USP instead. A sector which comprises people who are not technically competent or advanced, may well respond best to a USP that the supplier could fail to even mention, ie., installation, training and a free technical support hotline. Where does that leave the sales person if his marketing department hasn't included that one on the list?..

UPBs (Unique Perceived Benefits)

This leads us to the UPB, meaning unique perceived benefit - a modern selling concept naturally evolved from FABs and USPs.

The UPB acronym and concept was originated by The Marketing Guild, and it is proper to mention this when using the term in training.

A UPB is essentially a customer-orientated product offer.

The problem with USPs and FABs is that they are largely formulated from the seller's perspective; they stem from product features after all. So if instead of looking at the product from the seller's viewpoint, we look at the need, from the customer's viewpoint, we can build up a UPB-based product offer that fits the prospect's situation and motives much better than any list of arbitrary FABs and USPs.

First it comes down to knowing the target market segment, or the targeted prospect type, extremely well. This implies that we should first decide which sectors or segments to target, and it also shows why the planning and preparation stage in the selling process is far more significant and influential than it ever used to be.

Each targeted segment or prospect type has its own particular needs and constraints, and these combine to create the prospect's or target sector's very specific buying motive. So if we can identify and then formulate a unique perceived benefit to meet or match a known or researched sector's specific buying motive, we can create a very well-fitting and easily recognisable product offer indeed.

For instance, a likely attractive target sector for the WebTV could be families with limited space and little technical confidence. With children at school learning how to use computers, their parents (the decision-makers) would likely be interested in improving their children's access to internet services at home, given no requirement for extra space, and in a way that didn't put pressure on their limited technical know-how at the time of installation and for ongoing support. If the package enabled the parents to upgrade their TV as well for not much more than the cost of a conventional TV, then we're certainly likely to get their attention and interest, and we're a short step away from creating some real desire. The UPB for this particular prospect type might look something like:

"You can now give your children important educational access to the Internet at home, if you know nothing about computers, and don't even have room for one."

The product offer above is described so that the prospect type in question identifies with it, and can immediately match it to his own situation. The WebTVs relevant benefits - ie., you save space and you don't need to spend time understanding the technicalities - have been translated to match exactly why we believe that the prospect might be motivated to consider buying it. The 'important educational' reference is an example of developing the UPB further, ie., that your children's education will be improved. The trade-off is that more words reduces impact and attention; only by using the UPB in various forms can we see what works best.

It's now clear to see the difference now between a basic technical feature ('a TV with internet connectivity and remote qwerty keypad) and an unique perceived benefit (your children will be better educated). The feature does nothing to attract the buyer; the UPB does a lot.

There's another important reason to use tailored perceived benefits, rather than focus on FABs and unique selling points: it's easy for prospects to compare and put a price on what a product is (FABs and even USPs), but it's very difficult to value a real UPB. This means that sales people who sell UPBs are far less prone to competitor threat.

Developing strong meaningful unique perceived benefits is not easy - it requires good insight and understanding of the prospect or sector to be approached, and a lot of thought, trial and error to arrive at something that works well.

Remember that it is important to adapt the product offer (UPB, sales proposition or however you define it) according to its use in the selling process. For example:

  • When cold calling, the proposition is generally broad, concise, and more strategic in nature, and amounts to no more than a long sentence.
  • In sales brochures and enquiry follow-up letters the product offer or proposition is more detailed, perhaps running to a few sentences or bullet points.
  • In formal proposals and detailed presentations the proposition can often extend to several paragraphs.

Consultative and 'Needs-Creation' Selling

Consultative selling involves deeper questioning of the prospect, about organizational and operational issues that can extend beyond the product itself. This leads to greater understanding of the prospect's wider needs, (particularly those affected by the product), and the questioning process itself also results in a greater trust, rapport, and empathy between sales-person and buyer. The process has been practised instinctively in good sales people and organizations for many years, particularly since the 1970s, especially for concept selling or service solutions selling, driven by competitive pressures, as buyers began to learn as much about the sales process and techniques as the sales people themselves. In the 1970s and 1980s various proprietary frameworks and models were established, and many of these remain in use today. The 'needs-creation' selling approach is example of consultative selling. It's more involving (of the client) than the essentially one-way prescriptive Seven Steps method, but it is still largely centred on what the supplier wants, rather than helping the buyer.

In 'needs-creation' selling, the sales-person seeks to identify and then 'enlarge' a particular need, problem, challenge or issue that a potential customer faces. Obviously the sales-person would must have a reasonable confidence that the supplier organisation is able to offer a suitably matched remedy or solution (product and/or service proposition) once the 'need', with all of its attached considerable and negative strategic and financial implications, are firmly established in the buyer's mind.

The consultative aspect exists hopefully in the sales-person's ability, experience and expertise, to 'consult' with the buyer in developing a solution, which of course entails the supplier organisation provision of product and/or service.

The process is rather like the process employed by professional consultants in all sorts of 'professional' and 'technical' disciplines (for example, engineering, health and safety, law, finance, IT, etc):

  1. Research the prospective customer organisation to confirm suitable prospect profile (subject to the supplier's prospect qualification criteria), and competitor threats, opportunities, contract review dates, past dealings etc.
  2. Establish rapport and seller's professional credentials with the client (typically by referencing case-histories and case-studies for successful solutions provided in similar markets and applications that are similar to those of the prospective client).
  3. Ask 'strategic' open questions to identify, explore and develop areas of potential problems, difficulties, aims, challenges and unresolved issues within the prospect organisation. Normally identify and agree on a single primary issue (which represents both a major concern for the buyer, and a relevant area of product and/or service opportunity for the seller.) This could be a 'distress' or emergency pressure, priority, or threat, for example an issue which the prospect is involved in 'fire-fighting' to resolve currently, such as legislative compliance; or a strategic development opportunity for market or business development, to which significant potential profit, cost-savings and/or competitive advantage are attached.
  4. Interpret, clarify, extend and quantify in financial and strategic terms the knock-on effects of the primary area of opportunity or threat. That is to say, what are all the negative effects and costs of failing to resolve the threat or pressure?, or what are all the positive effects and revenues/profits that will be derived from achieving the identified strategic opportunity? The sales person is effectively doing three things here:
    1. Increasing the size and cost/value of the issue heightens the issue's priority and importance, and thus increases the buyer's feeling that action must be taken - it gets the issue higher up the buyer's agenda and closer to the front of his/her project schedule.
    2. Increasing the size and complexity of the issue increases the need and opportunity for consultative advice - the buyer increases his/her perception that outside expertise (from the seller) is required.
    3. Increasing the costs or values associated with the issue naturally increases the buyer's tolerance and expectations for the cost of the supplier's proposed product/service solution - the higher the cost or value of the challenge, then the higher the cost of the solution.
  5. Sell the principle of the seller's solution (necessarily in outline for large prospects - small, simple situations often require specific solutions proposals at this stage), matching the benefits of the solution to the various aspects of the prospect need or strategic opportunity. For larger prospects it is commonly necessary to agree to proceed with a survey or assessment prior to producing a fully detailed proposal. A large complex proposal would typically need to be presented by the sales-person, or a team from the seller's organisation, to a board or decision-making team within the prospect organisation.

The final point referring to a buying organisation's decision-making team provides a clue as to the weaknesses of these traditional supplier-orientated selling methods. Decision-making within organisations, particularly large ones, is a highly complex process. Often the organisation, and certainly the buyer, does not understand it, let alone be able or willing to explain it to an outsider.

Buyers rarely explain everything to a sales-person during a consultative meeting, however good the sales-person is. This is not a criticism of buyers - simply an acknowledgement of the extremely complex nature of organisational decision-making. As such, consultative selling and 'needs-creation' selling, howsoever packaged, don't always provide a reliable selling framework for the modern age.

Buyers and customer organisations often need more help, especially in the early stages of the sales process.

They need help with their own processes of evaluation and assessment, decision-making, communications, and implementation, which traditional 'consultative selling' alone is unable to address in a true and meaningful sense. For this reason, if you seek to become a truly expert and effective sales person modern selling and business, I would urge you to look beyond the traditional methodologies, to the modern philosophy and concepts contained in collaborative and facilitative selling, especially the ideas developed and defined by Sharon Drew Morgen.

Neil Rackham's 'SPIN Selling®' Model

Neil Rackam's SPIN Selling® model is a fine example of a consultative selling process and 'needs-creation selling'. SPIN Selling® was developed by Neil Rackham in the 1970s-80s, from his extensive 12-year study into successful selling behaviour in 20 leading sales organizations, in 23 countries, involving analysis of data from 35,000 sales calls. Rackham's book 'Spin Selling' is one of the biggest selling books on the subject of sales, and the SPIN® methodology remains a mainstay of the Huthwaite (US/UK) training organizations that he founded. Rackham's SPIN® model is a simple communications structure used by a sales person to develop the selling opportunity with the prospective customer:

S - Situation - the customer's circumstances 
P - Problem - a difficulty for the customer 
I - Implication - the difficulty causes more serious disadvantage/cost 
N - Need (or Need-payoff) - the difficulty must be solved (by the seller's offering)

In other words:

  1. Discuss, understand or explain the situation with the prospect.
  2. Next identify a/the problem that exists or could arise.
  3. Explain, discuss or understand the implication of the problem for the prospect's business (how the problem produces a significant organizational or business disadvantage, which is therefore an opportunity to achieve major organizational or business improvement).
  4. This effectively creates a need or opportunity to rectify the problem (by selling the sales person's product/service) - the 'payoff'.

SPIN® endures as one of the most versatile, memorable and useful sales models.

The SPIN® acronym is also one of the most popular and widely known selling and business acronyms.

Note that SPIN® and SPIN SELLING® methods and materials are subject to copyright and intellectual property control of the Huthwaite organizations of the US and UK. SPIN® and SPIN SELLING® methods and materials are not to be used in the provision of training and development products and services without a licence. Depending upon the geographic territory, the rights and sales jurisdictions for SPIN® and SPIN SELLING® are owned by either Huthwaite Inc., or Huthwaite International, - UK/Euro.

Open Plan and Strategic Selling

E.g., Miller Heiman's Strategic Selling®

To my best knowledge, the term 'Open Plan Selling' was first coined by a wonderful and inspirational British business consultant and trainer, Stanley Guffogg, during the early-1980s. His ideas and philosophies were many years ahead of their time, and they provide much of the bedrock for what is written here.

I had the great pleasure reconnecting and meeting once again with Stanley Guffogg in April 2008 after losing touch almost twenty years ago. He confirmed that indeed the term 'Open Plan Selling' was his conception, together with some of the surrounding theory, although as with theories in general much of the inspiration and components derive from various contributory ideas and influences. He was also able to explain some of the underpinning principles of Open Plan Selling - which hitherto have not been fully represented in this section. Accordingly this item will soon be expanded, upon which it will have far greater relevance to modern thinking and expectations in ethical responsible selling. The underlying philosophy of Open Plan Selling is helping and enabling rather than persuading and influencing, which represented a major departure from traditional selling 'push' or 'pull' models.

Strategic selling (lower case generic description) is also commonly used today to describe similar selling ideas and processes, but be very careful not to confuse this with Miller Heiman's registered and protected 'Strategic Selling® (upper case trademark) sales training methods and products.

The American Miller Heiman organization uses the term Strategic Selling® to describe its own particular sales training methods and products, first published in the Miller Heiman book Strategic Selling® in 1985, and more recently updated and revised in The New Strategic Selling® by Stephen Heiman, Diane Sanchez and Tad Tuleja (1995 and later revisions). See the books below, see the explanations of the strategic selling terminology in the glossary above, and see the  Miller Heiman copyright details.

The explanation in this section is concerned with 'open plan selling' and 'strategic selling' (lower-case generic descriptive in the sense of selling strategically), and is not an attempt to summarise or describe Miller Heiman's sales training methods or products in any way. For that you'll need to buy the books or the Miller Heiman materials, and a licence as well if you seek to sell or provide Miller Heiman products.

Open plan selling is in many ways a completely different approach to the old prescriptive and relatively rigid Seven Steps of the Sale, and the Professional Selling Skills model, that began in the 1960s. Open plan selling is also more advanced than most consultative selling methods being practiced today, largely because of the strategic aspects of the open plan approach.

Open plan selling is especially suited to the business-to-business major accounts selling function - which is now the principle domain of the field-based sales person (because field-based sales people are very expensive people and low-value business can't recover their costs). However, the open plan selling principles - not the full-blooded structure - can and should be readily adapted for all other types of selling, including even telesales (selling by telephone).

In modern business-to-business selling, successful sales people and organizations provide a tailored product or service which delivers a big measurable strategic improvement to the customer's own businesses. This implies that the customer contact should be a strategic buyer - usually at least a director, or in a small company the finance director or CEO. Nobody lower in the organization has the necessary authority and budget.

The only way to develop tailored strategic offerings is by researching the market and understanding the customer's business, which means the sales person must understand business, and be comfortable talking at director level. When you do business at this strategic level you are at a higher level than your competitors, who are still selling ordinary products and services to middle managers and buyers without true authority. Selling strategically takes time - time to train sales people, and time for selling opportunities to be identified and researched.

The open plan or strategic selling (lower case - not Miller Heiman) process and summary below assumes a major account scenario, whose size and complexity let's say does not enable a sales proposal to be formulated at the first meeting.

For smaller-scale opportunities the middle stages numbers 4 to 7 are effectively compressed or leap-frogged so that the formulation of the proposal and its presentation happens at the first appointment (stage 3) or soon after it.

Open Plan Selling Process:

  1. Research and plan - market sector, prospect, and decide initial approach
  2. Make the appointment
  3. Attend appointment to build rapport and credibility, gather information about business needs, aims and process, and develop/agree a project/product/service specification
  4. Agree survey/audit proposal (normally applicable)
  5. Carry out survey/audit (normally applicable)
  6. Write product/service proposal
  7. Present proposal
  8. Negotiate/refine/adapt/conclude agreement
  9. Oversee fulfilment/completion
  10. Feedback/review/maintain ongoing relationship

Step 1 - Research and Plan

In open plan selling, research and planning is a very important part of the process. The bigger the prospect organization or potential sale, the more planning and preparation is required. Major accounts need extensive researching before any serious approach is made to begin dialogue with an influencer or decision-maker. This is to enable the sales person to decide on the best initial approach or opening proposition. Implicit in this is deciding what is likely to be the strongest perceived organizational benefit that could accrue from the product or service in question, as perceived by the person to be approached (different people have different personal and organizational views and priorities). Generally it is best to concentrate on one strong organizational benefit. A benefit-loaded 'catch-all' approach does not work, because it's impossible to make a strong impact while promoting lots of different points - people respond most to a single relevant point of interest (see the advertising tricks of the trade for more detail on this).

Assuming a large account is being targeted, the sales person must acquire as much as reasonably possible of the following information about the prospect organization:

  • The organization's size and shape (turnover, staff types and numbers, sites, management and corporate structure, subsidiaries and parent organization)
  • Strategy and trading situation (main business aims, issues, priorities, trends of business and sector, a profile of the organization's customers and competitors, and what the company considers important for its own customers)
  • Current and future demand, volume, scale for the product/service in question
  • Current supply arrangements and contract review dates
  • Decision-making process (who decides, on what basis, when and how)
  • Decision-makers and influencers (names, positions, responsibilities and locations)
  • The organization's strategic implications, threats and opportunities that the product/service in question affects or could affect (in terms of the organization's strategic aims, operating efficiency, product and service quality, staff reaction and attitudes, and particularly how the product/service in question affects or could affect the organization's own competitive strengths and added value to its own customers)

The final point in bold is the really special part, and obviously requires a good insight into the prospect's business and market. The other information is what all good sales people will be trying to discover, but only the open plan sales person will look for the final point. The final point is absolutely pivotal to the open plan selling process. When the sales person moves the dialogue with the prospect into this area then the sale takes on a completely different complexion; it completely transcends and surpasses any benefits, USPs or UPBs, that other sales people might be discussing.

These days it's easier to research and plan for a sales call than it used to be, because of the wealth of information available in company brochures, websites and from the organization's own staff, notably in customer service, press relations, and from the relative openness of most organizations. Trade journals and trade associations are other useful information sources for building up a picture. Depending on the particular product or service, different people in the prospect organization will potentially be able to provide company-specific information about important matters such as contract review dates, purchasing procedures and authority, even sometimes very useful details of attitudes, politics, the styles of the key people, and their priorities.

With a sensitive approach it's often possible obtain the trust and co-operation of somebody in the prospect organization, so as to provide this information, particularly if the discussion is positioned as non-threatening, empathic and of some strategic potential for the prospect. The rules of AIDA apply even to this information gathering element alone.

The secretaries and personal assistants of the influencers and decision-makers are generally very helpful in providing information to sales people once an appointment has been made - assuming they are asked politely and given proper reason - because they know that a well-informed visitor is more likely to enable a productive meeting, thereby saving the boss's time. It's often worth approaching these people for information and guidance even prior to making the approach for an appointment. Again the justification needs to be sensitively and professionally positioned.

It's important to strike the right balance between researching prior to the first appointment, and researching during the first appointment. The sales person should take advantage of all information that is obtainable easily and leave the rest to be filled in at the first meeting - as a rule, prospects respect and respond well to a well-prepared approach because it shows professionalism, and allows a relevant and focused discussion. Conversely, a prospect responds poorly to a 'blind' approach because it suggests a lack of care and it usually produces a vague, ill-informed discussion, which wastes time.

A good technique for planning and research is to design a 'pro-forma' or checklist of items to be researched for new prospects. This template will be different for each sales organization and product and maybe sector, but once designed serves as a really useful tool, both to gather the right data and to provide the discipline for it to actually be done.

Sample research and planning (customer/prospect) profile template

Organization name  
Decision-makers, titles, locations, phone and address data  
Influencers, titles, locations, phone and address data  
Decision-making process information  
Budgetary issues, inc financial year-end  
Current supplier(s) and contracts  
Volume and scale indicators (staff, sites, users, etc)  
Special criteria (eg supplier accreditations)  
Trading and strategic pointers  
The organization's strategic implications, threats and opportunities that are affected or potentially affected by the product/service in question (in terms of the organization's strategic aims, operating efficiency, product and service quality, staff reaction and attitudes, and particularly how the product/service in question affects or could affect the organization's own competitive strengths and added value to its own customers)  
Other notes  

Having researched and gathered information from various sources, the sales person is better informed as to how and whom to approach in the prospect organization.

Generally the first serious approach should be made to a senior decision-maker, normally the finance director/chief financial officer or the managing director/CEO. This is because only these people have the authority to make important strategic budgetary decisions in the organization; other managers simply work within prescribed budgets and strategies established by the FD/CEO.

There are other reasons for planning to make the approach at the highest strategic level:

If the sales person begins a sales dialogue with a non-decision-maker, it is very difficult to raise the contact to the necessary higher level afterwards. This is due to the perfectly normal psychology of politics and pecking-order in organizations. Everyone, when presented with a proposition which concerns their own area responsibility, by a person who reports to them, is prone to the initial "not invented here" reaction. The reaction of the recipient is largely dependent not on the nature of the proposal, but upon their relationship with the proposer.

The sales person's proposition should ideally be based on serious strategic implications and benefits, which will not typically match the motives of a lower-ranking influencer.

The sales person must avoid a situation developing where he is reliant upon someone in the prospect's organization having to 'sell' the proposition to a decision-maker on the sales person's behalf. This is because it rarely succeeds, not least due to the 'not-invented-here' reaction of higher ranking people in the prospect organization.

Step 2 - Make the Appointment

The most important rule about appointment-making is to sell the appointment and not the product. The sales person must never get drawn into having to sell the product or service, either in writing or on the phone, while trying to arrange an appointment. The sales person cannot sell without first understanding the real issues, and the real issues may not even be apparent at the first meeting, let alone before even making an appointment.

Appointment-making is a skill in its own right. Some selling organizations use canvassers or telemarketing staff to do this for the sales person, but for large prospects it's useful for the sales person to combine the appointment-making with the initial researching activity. When combined in this way it helps to build initial relationships with helpful people in the prospect organization, and the sales person can collect additional useful information that would otherwise be missed or not passed on by a separate appointment-maker or canvasser.

Introductory letters are a useful and often essential requirement before an appointment can be made. See the section on introductory sales letters. Generally the larger the prospect organization, then the more essential an introductory letter will be. This is mainly because pa's and secretaries almost always suggest that any approach to a decision-maker (ie the boss, whose time the secretary is protecting) be put in writing first. It's simply an expected part of the process by which credibility and level of interest is assessed by the prospect.

Remember AIDA - it applies to the appointment-making process as well. The aim is the appointment not the sale. When telephoning for an appointment, with or without a prior letter, the sales person typically must first speak to a switchboard operator or receptionist, then be put through to the targeted person's secretary or pa.

Bear in mind that the pa is there as a defence for the boss, and rightly so, or the boss would never get anything done. So for any approach to succeed in getting through to the boss, the pa must effectively endorse its credibility. Whether by writing or telephoning, the reason for wanting to meet must be serious and interesting enough, which is why researching and understanding the organization's strategic priorities are so crucial. Generic product and service approaches do not work because the are not seen to relate or benefit the prospect's own strategic priorities.

A carefully thought-through UPB (unique perceived benefit) forms the basis of the appointment approach. If it strikes the right chord the appointment will be granted. A good introductory letter may win an appointment without the need even to speak to the decision-maker. Imagine what happens: the letter is received by the pa. If it looks interesting and credible and worthy, the pa will show it to the boss. If the boss is interested, and in the event that the pa keeps the boss's diary (as is often the case), the boss often instructs the pa to make an appointment when the phone call from the sales person is received.

Calling early or late in the day, or at lunchtimes, often enables the sales person to circumvent the pa, but generally it's best to work with secretaries and pa's; they are usually extremely capable and knowledgeable people. They can be immensely helpful, so it's best to work with them and certainly not to alienate them.

In modern appointment-making, calling out of normal hours is advisable only in instances where both pa and boss are extremely difficult to reach during normal working hours.

The sales person's attitude towards the pa is very important. Imagine a pa who has taken a dislike to a pushy arrogant sales person - even if the approach is enormously well researched, relevant and appealing, the pa will for certain tell the boss about the sales person's attitude, and it is virtually inconceivable for the boss then to agree to an appointment. The sales person should always assume that the loyalty and mutual trust between boss and pa are strong. Most pa's can exert positive influence too; some will even make appointments for the boss with little reference to the boss, so there are lots of reasons for a sales person to make a favourable impression with a pa.

The use of serious-sounding language is important also in presenting the reason for wanting the appointment. The pa will generally try to divert the sales person's approach to a less senior member of staff. By orientating the reason to fit into the contact's responsibility, there is less chance of the approach being diverted. So it's important to tailor the approach to fit with the level of, and functional responsibility of the person being approached for the appointment.

For example, a managing director's pa will refer anything purely functional to the functional department concerned, ie., HR issues will be referred to personnel; IT issues will be diverted to IT department; sale sales and marketing will be referred to those departments. The only issues which will win appointments with MD's, CEO's, or FD's (the main decision-makers) are those which are perceived to significantly affect or benefit the profit and/or strategy of the business.

Therefore if the sales person seeks an appointment with one of these decisions-makers, the approach must be orientated to have a potentially significant affect or benefit upon profit or strategy.

On occasions, the sales person will not be granted an appointment with the targeted main decision-maker, but instead will be referred by them to make an appointment with a lower ranking manager or director. If this happens it's no problem - the sales person then proceeds with the MD's or FD's endorsement to develop the situation with the lower ranking contact. The fact that it's been referred by the MD or FD gives the sales person vital authority and credibility.

Being referred down is fine; but trying to refer upwards for eventual purchase authorisation or budgetary approval is nearly impossible, which is why appointment-making should always aim high, with a strategically orientated proposition.

Avoid scripts - everyone recognises and reacts against a script. Just be your honest self. You must, however, smile and mean it. If you don't feel like smiling, then don't do any sales calling - do some paperwork instead until you cheer up. If you rarely cheer up then you should get out of selling, because unhappy people can't sell. You must also smile on the phone, because words spoken with a smile or a grimace sound different, and people can tell which is which. Just say "Hello, I'm/this is (first and last name), from (your organization), can I take a couple of minutes of your time please?", or "are you okay to talk for a minute?"

Let your personality shine through - don't force it, don't try to be someone that you're not, just be you. If you are door-knocking and personal cold-calling - which is only recommended for smaller prospects - be professional, enthusiastic and straight-forward. Resist any temptation to employ gimmicks, jokes and flashing bow-ties - your credibility will be undermined before you even open your mouth.

Some trainers talk about PMA - Positive Mental Attitude - and suggest that this is some kind of magic that anyone can simply turn on and off at will. For all but the most experienced practitioners of self-hypnosis or neuro-linguistic programming, this is nonsense. If you're not feeling good, don't force it or you'll waste the call and feel worse. Just wait until you're in the right mood and everything will be fine.

Sales people were, and still are, taught to use an alternative close when making appointments, eg., "What's best for you, Tuesday morning or Thursday afternoon?..." This can be quite insulting to another person, who'll have heard the technique about a thousand times just in the past week, so it's best avoided these days. Just ask when would suit best; or initially, "What week are you looking at?..", and then take it from there.

Don't suggest appointments at 9.00am or 4.30pm, or at lunchtime, but if they're offered don't quibble.

Click here to jump to the end of this article to a simple stage-by stage 'script' for beginning the initial approach to a new prospective company, through the PA

Step 3 - The Appointment

There are some obvious things to do pre-appointment which can be overlooked, so here they are:

  • Establish how long the meeting will last and who'll be there
  • Confirm the appointment in writing - keep it brief, professional, and you can even provide an agenda for the meeting, which shows you've thought about it, and prepares the contact for what's to come
  • Gather any more information that you need - the willingness of the contact's support staff to help will be quite high at this stage, but don't be a nuisance
  • Ensure you've prepared everything that you might need for the meeting - broadly, you must be able meet the expectations that your contact has for the meeting, mainly this will be information about the company, its products and services; maybe relevant case history examples (if any exist - summaries of successful supply contracts to similar organizations)
  • Learn anything you need to know to avoid being late - map and directions; security gate check-in procedure; car-parking; journey and travel time - allow sufficient time for delays

The sales person's aims at the first appointment are to

  • Complete the gaps in the basic research and planning template, ie the basic company profile (though not necessarily any mundane points, which could be provided later, but certainly the strategic information and views)
  • Establish personal rapport and trust, and the credibility of the sales person and the selling organization
  • Learn about the prospect's business, priorities, problems, trends and issues, and especially the corporate aims and objectives of the main decision-maker(s)
  • Gather relevant information about the strategic needs, implications and potential benefits linked with the product/service
  • Understand the prospect's buying process, including people and the role of influencers, budgets, timescales, procedures, internal politics and attitudes, competitors and existing supply arrangements
  • Understand the trading preferences of the prospect - purchase vs lease vs rental - long term partnerships vs short term contracts - payment, ordering, lead-times, inventory, one-stop-shop vs dual or multiple supplier arrangements, etc
  • Agree a way forward that progresses the opportunity in a way that suits and helps the prospect, in whatever areas of help that are useful to the prospect

The sales person's aim at this stage is absolutely not to launch into a full-blown presentation of the product/service features advantages and benefits. Sales people who do this will be listened to politely, ushered out and forgotten. (They'll then wonder why the once attentive, interested prospect afterwards won't return the sales person's phone calls, let alone agree to another meeting.)

The sales person must be prepared to talk about the relevant technical aspects and benefits if asked, but typically this will not happen in major account situations, because the prospect will know that the sales person is in no position yet to present a relevant solution or proposition of any kind.

The sales person will be expected to know about and refer to some examples of how the product/service has produced significant strategic benefits (profit and/or quality - making money or saving money) in similar organizations and in similar industrial sectors to the prospect's organization. This is more proof of the need for good industry knowledge - beyond product knowledge and FABs - this is knowledge about how the prospect's organization could significantly benefit from the product/service.

It may be also that the sales person is able to convey and interpret issues of legislation, health and safety, or technology, that have potential implications for the prospect's organization. This is a great way to build both credibility and added value for the sales person and the selling organization.

At the beginning of the appointment explain what you'd like to achieve - broadly a summary of the points above (essentially to understand all the relevant issues from a strategic perspective - and to what end - which is to identify how best to progress the situation in a way that will be most helpful to the prospect.

And then you're into the questioning phase, which has already been outlined in the Seven Steps of the Sale.

Where questioning differs in major accounts selling compared to the style within the Seven Steps, is that the prospect's perspective and situation are wide and complex, so more care and time needs to be taken to discover the facts. If the appointment is with a senior decision-maker the breadth of implications and issues can be immense. Any product or service can have completely surprising implications, when an MD or CEO explains their own position. For example, a purely technical product sale lower down the organization, where specification and price appear to be the issues, might have enormous cultural and cultural implications for a CEO. A new computerised monitoring system for example, would again simply have price and technical issues for a middle-ranking technical buyer, but there could be massive health and safety legislative compliance issues (threats and potential benefits) for the CEO.

Only by asking intelligent, probing questions (mostly open questions, and use of the phrase 'why is that') will the issues and opportunities be uncovered.

Sales people really only need a pad and pen for the great part of the first meeting (ask if it's okay to take notes - it's a professional courtesy). The sales person should actually try to adopt the mind-set and style of an 'expert consultant', specialising in the application of the particular product or service to the prospect type and industry concerned - and not behave like a persuasive sales person. The appointment process and atmosphere should be consultative, helpful and co-operative. Steven Covey's maxim 'Seek first to understand before you try to be understood' was never more true.

Senior experienced decision-makers will provide a lot of relevant information in response to very few questions. Lower ranking influencers need to be asked more specific questions, dealing with an issue at a time, and they will often be unable to give reliable information about real strategic decision-making motives and priorities, because they simply do not operate at that level.

There is twin effect from asking and interpreting strategic questions: first, vital information is established; second, the act of doing this also establishes professional respect, rapport and trust. Combine these two and the sales person then has a platform on which to build the next stage.

Step 4 - Agree Audit or Survey

For anything bigger than a simple small business prospect, normally the stage after the appointment is to survey, audit or gather necessary data to be able to produce a sales proposal. Therefore at the appointment it is important for the sales person to agree the survey or audit parameters: exactly what is to happen, how it is to be done, whether a cost is attached (rarely, but can be if significant expertise and input is required), a completion date, who is to be involved, and what the output is at the end of it, which is normally a detailed sales proposal.

The survey will normally take place some time after the appointment; it would be rare in a large account situation for the sales person to be able or to be asked to carry out a survey immediately.

Therefore, after the appointment the sales person needs to summarise very concisely the main points of the meeting and the details of the survey, particularly focusing on its purpose and outputs, from the prospect's viewpoint. This confirmation must include all necessary parameters to ensure no misunderstandings develop and that seller's and buyer's expectations match.

The document outlining the survey parameters and aims should be copied to the relevant people in the seller's and buyer's organizations.

Step 5 - Carry Out the Survey or Audit

This part of the process will depend on the type of product or service, and the process of the selling organization. Some will have dedicated survey staff; in other situations the sales person may carry out the survey.

For a large prospect organization this survey stage can be protracted and complex. It may be necessary for reviews during the survey process to check understanding and interpretation. Permissions and access may need to be agreed with different sites or locations in the prospect's organization, and this should all be managed sensitively by the sales person.

It is essential that the sales person manages this stage properly, thoroughly and sympathetically. This is because the way that a survey is conducted serves as a very useful guide to the prospect as to the potential supplier's quality, integrity and professionalism.

write the product/service proposal - open plan selling - step 6

The sales person is responsible for writing the sale proposal, which should reflect the findings of the survey.

Some sales organizations have dedicated people who write project proposals or quotations. In this case the sales person should ensure that what is written is relevant and concise, factually correct, and outlines the organizational benefits clearly stemming from the product or services being proposed.

It may be possible for the sales person to involve an influencer or decision-maker in the drafting of the proposal, so that it is framed as suitably as possible to meet the requirements of the prospect organization. Getting some help in this way is ideal.

Proposals that are necessarily lengthy and very detailed should begin with an executive summary showing the main deliverables, costs and organizational benefits.

The sales person should always try to present the sales proposal personally, rather than send it. The prospect may agree to, or actually ask for, a presentation to a group of people in the prospect organization including influencers and decision-makers, which is ideal.

The sales person should try to avoid any situation where a proposal is presented on the sales person's behalf in their absence, by an influencer to the decision-maker(s).

If the open plan process has been applied thus far then it's actually unlikely that the prospect would not want the sales person's involvement at the presentation stage.

See the tips on general writing techniques.

Step 7 - Present the Sales Proposal

The aim of the presentation must be based on whatever is the next best stage for the prospect, not for the seller. Large organizations will not be pushed, and to try to do so often risks upsetting the relationship and losing the opportunity altogether.

It may be that just one presentation is required and that approval can be given there and then, or the sales process may warrant several more refinements to the proposal and more presentations or meetings. It could be that the decision-maker is advising and needing the sales person's help in how to achieve positive approval for the proposal from the influencers. Or the decision-maker may have given agreement to the concept already, subject to cost and being able to implement without disruption. Whatever the aim is, the sales person needs ensure that the presentation is geared to achieving it.

The presentation can take place in widely different circumstances, depending on what suits the prospect.

Groups of influencers and decision-makers need to be handled very carefully, and the sales person must by now understand the roles and motives of all the people present, in order to present and respond appropriately.

The presentation must be professional and concise, whatever the format. Adequate copies, samples, reference material must be available for all present.

The sales person must enlist help with the presentation from colleagues if required and beneficial, which will generally be so for large complex proposals, in which case all involved must be carefully briefed as to what is expected of them, overall aims and fall-backs etc.

The presentation must concentrate on delivering the already agreed strategic organizational needs. People's time is valuable - keep it concise and factual - don't waffle - if you don't know the answer to something don't guess or you'll lose your credibility and the sale for sure. Preparation is crucial.

See the page on creating and giving presentations.

Step 8 - Negotiate/Refine/Adapt/Conclude the Agreement

In open plan selling it is common for agreement in principle to be reached before all of the final details, terms and prices are ironed out, and if the opportunity arises to do this then such as understanding should be noted and then confirmed in writing. Moreover, in very complex situations it is certainly advisable to try to obtain provisional agreement ('conditional agreement' or 'approval for the concept in principal') as soon as the opportunity arises.

In this event the sales person must agree and confirm the various action points necessary for the conclusion of the agreement to the satisfaction of the customer.

A similar process takes place when the prospect seeks to negotiate aspects of the deal before finally committing. Some situations develop into negotiations, others into more of a co-operative mutual working together to agree points of detail. Generally the latter is more productive and by its nature avoids the potential for confrontation. However some prospects will want or need to negotiate, in which case it's essential at this stage to follow the rules of negotiating.

It's critically important at this point to establish conditional commitment for the sale in principle, ie., that subject to agreeing the points to be negotiated, the deal will proceed. Do not begin to negotiate until you have provisional or conditional agreement for the sale.

As with the other stages of open plan selling, it's important to adapt your responses and actions according to what the prospect needs, especially in meeting their specific organizational needs in the areas of operating, communicating, processing and implementing the decision.

Management of the introduction, change, and communication of implications (specifically training) are all likely to be important (and often late-surfacing) aspects of the prospect's requirements when agreeing any major new supply arrangement. So be on the lookout for these issues and react to meet these needs. The supplier's ability to anticipate and meet these requirements quickly become essential facets of the overall package - often extra potential added value - and actually contain some of the greatest potential perceived benefits of all.

When the negotiation or agreement is concluded it is the sales person's responsibility to confirm all the details in writing to all concerned on both sides. Deals often fall down in the early stage of implementation through the sales person's failure to do this properly. Expectations need to be clearly understood to be the same by both sides at all times.

The modern sales person needs to be an excellent internal communicator these days (ie., to the selling organization's people, as well as the prospect's). All big deals will invariably be tailored to suit the customers needs, and this will entail the sales person being able to agree and confirm requirements and deliverables with the relevant departments of the selling organization.

This implies in turn that the sales person has a good understanding of the selling organization's strategy, capabilities, costs, prices and margins, so as to know what is realistically achievable, strategically desirable, and commercially viable. The customer may always be right, but this does not automatically imply that the supplier should do everything without question just because the prospect needs it - often there are limits, and these need to be managed and explained. (See ways of saying 'no' in the negotiating section.)

Step 9 - Oversee the Sale's Implementation/Fulfulment/Completion

Even if the concluded sale is to be passed on to another department in the selling organization for implementation, the sales person must always remain the guardian of that customer and sale. The sales person will have won the sale partly by virtue of their own credibility and personal assurances, so it's unforgivable for a sales person to 'cut and run' (see the derivations section if you're interested in the origin of this expression).

The sales person must stay in touch with the decision-maker and give regular updates on the progress of the sale's implementation. There may be ongoing issues to manage - in fact there will be.

If the implementation is very complex the sale person must ensure a project plan is created and then followed, with suitable reviews, adjustments and reporting.

Upon implementation the sales person must check and confirm that the prospect is satisfied at all levels and at all points of involvement, especially the main decision-maker and key influencers.

Step 10 - Feedback/Review/Maintain Ongoing Relationship

In many types of business, and especially major accounts selling, the sale is never actually finally concluded - that is to say, the relationship and support continues, and largely customers appreciate and need this enormously. Good sales people build entire careers on this principle.

Arranging regular reviews are vital for all service-type arrangements. Customers become disillusioned very quickly when sales people and selling organizations ceased to be interested, communicative and proactive after the sale is concluded or the contract has been set up.

Even for one-off outright sale transactions, with no ongoing service element, it's essential for the sales person to stay in touch with the customer, or future opportunities will be hard to identify, and the customer will likely go elsewhere.

These days, most business is on-going, so it needs looking after and protecting. Problems need to be anticipated and prevented. Opportunities to amend, refine, develop and improve the supply arrangement need to be reviewed and acted upon. This must always ultimately be the sales person's responsibility - and it should have been part of the original product offer after all. Even if a whole team of customer service people are responsible for after sales implementation and customer care, the sales person must keep a strategic 'weather eye' on the situation - not to manage day to day issues, but to ensure that the supply arrangement and relationship remain high quality, better than the potential competition and relevant to the customer's needs.

Collaboration, Partnership Selling, and Buying Facilitation®

Selling through true collaboration, partnership and particularly Buying Facilitation® (Sharon Drew Morgen's methodology) enables and assists the buying processes, and creates a sustainable platform for supplier and customer to work together. These new theories - and particularly Shaoron Drew Morgen's concept, represent the most advanced, effective and sustainable selling methodology today. This approach represents a selling philosophy, beyond skills and techniques, that is quite different to Seven Steps Of The Sale and other persuasive seller-oriented models. This modern sales ideology - particularly for large accounts and business-to-business - extends the open plan selling or strategically-based selling approaches, and to it adds organizational, facilitative and relationship elements that take selling to new heights of sophistication and competitive advantage.

Essential components of the new collaborative partnership selling model are:

  • The sales person and selling organization possesses huge strategic understanding customer's business priorities, needs and market-place, and obviously how the product or service relates to these issues to produce or enable significant strategic benefit for the customer organization.
  • The sales person is likely to be a specialist in, and with huge knowledge of, a chosen market sector, vertical or horizontal.
  • The selling organization is able to offer and manage multiple peer-to-peer relationships between selling organization and customer, covering all relevant functions and levels.
  • The sales person will be able to use modern facilitative skills (notably 'Buying Facilitation®') in order to help the customer assess and react to the selling/buying process at all stages.

For more details about 'Buying Facilitation®' refer to the work of selling skills and sales training guru Sharon Drew Morgen, whose books on facilitative selling are essential reading for all modern professional sales people, managers and company directors. Morgen's 'Buying Facilitation®' methods dramatically change and improve key stages of the open plan selling and strategically-based selling methods, notably at qualifying stage (establishing early whether the opportunity is a real potential fit for customer and supplier); at rapport-building stage (genuinely helping the customer to find vital answers for him/herself, which becomes a massive competitive advantage), and throughout the questioning phase (during which the sales person becomes a facilitator and enabler for the customer - arguably an organizational development consultant - helping the buying process). Facilitative methods can also be reintroduced (as is often necessary) at any time during the later selling processes if the situation begins to drift from the agreed purpose, or if communications or understanding are interrupted or obstacles are encountered. These techniques - pioneered by sales guru Sharon Drew Morgen - are subtle and yet fundamental.

The 'facilitative' process (notably that associated with Sharon Drew Morgen's methodology) typically occurs during the early stages of whatever organisational sales process that the sales person uses or the sales training conventionally teaches, however the principles can be revisited and used at any time necessary during the selling engagement.

It must be noted however that Sharon Drew's Morgen's Buying Facilitation® is not a technique to add to conventional selling methods for the purpose of 'persuading' or 'influencing' the other person.

The integration of 'facilitative' methods within the traditional selling process must be accompanied by the appropriate change in philosophy and 'mind-set'.

Modern selling should not focus on persuasion and influence. Modern selling should focus on helping the other person (and other people involved with the buying decision) to identify their decision-making criteria, and to align the relevant elements within their organisation or system or network, so as to assess options, actions, outcomes, etc., so as then to decide and implement the best way forward.

Please bear this in mind when considering the following, which seeks to incorporate modern 'facilitative' selling ideas within traditional selling frameworks.

The planning and preparation stage (step 1 in the 'seven steps) would then logically include planning and preparation of the facilitative approach - particularly the preparation of carefully constructed 'facilitative questions', aimed mainly at helping the buyer to assess the situation, understand the issues, opportunities, viability of proceeding further, internal priorities, communications and decision-making aspects, etc.

In this way, according to Morgen (and she is absolutely correct), the sales person is acting as a 'trusted advisor'. It's a significant change of mind-set for the sales person, and for all those involved in sales training: genuinely helping people, rather than seeing the 'sale' as the priority. The sale becomes an outcome of helping the other person, instead of being a course of action that results from influence or persuasion.

The 'facilitative' process can be re-introduced by the sales-person whenever the subsequent selling processes falters or threatens to go off track.

As such these modern ideas - of facilitation especially - are not extra stages to be 'bolted-on' or added to traditional earlier selling or sales training structures; they are instead a methodology or philosophy which can be woven into traditional processes.

For example, the traditional 'seven steps of the sale', updated for the 21st century, with facilitative methodology added, might nowadays look like:

The Seven Steps of the Sale, Augmented With 'Facilitative' Methods:

  1. Planning and/or preparation - Preparation of facilitative questions is crucial. So is doing some related research, to avoid wasting time asking about things that can be discovered before the introduction (and which would waste your prospect's valuable time).
  2. Introduction or opening - Importantly use facilitative questions, and/or refer to facilitative principles where possible, instead of using old-style 'pushy' statements.
  3. Questioning - Obviously use facilitative questions - help to reveal the buying criteria, the buying system, what's missing, obstacles, decision-making factors, etc - to help the buyer, not to gain 'leverage' the sales-person. Crucially questioning must aim to help the buyer understand his/her own issues and way forward.
  4. Presentation or proposition - The approach must be to explain and convey helpful information, rather than 'pushing' benefits. Crucially ensure that information/explanation is provided in the different formats/ways that meet the needs of the buying system, which means considering carefully the type of material, level of detail, language, etc., so that communications are offered in ways that the buying system can easily absorb and understand it, and its various implications
  5. Overcoming objections/negotiating - Use facilitative questioning and assist where required to shape the proposition to meet the needs of the buyer and buying system. Look for ways to help the buyer and buying system assess and adopt the proposition. If you find yourself having to overcome objections and persuade and influence at this stage then something has been done wrong earlier in the process (typically old-style 'push' methods have been used).
  6. Close or closing - This must not be old style persuasive 'closing'. This should be modern collaborative and cooperative agreement, using facilitative help where appropriate. Complex buying systems often need a lot of help in arriving at good decisions. Rushing to a traditional sales close is to be avoided. Seek to enable a convergence of different interests within the buying system, in support of the buyer, rather than targeting and working for a single-point 'close'.
  7. After-sales follow-up - Facilitate (and for large contracts 'project-manage' if necessary) the supply or fulfilment/delivery of products/services. Manage client-side and supplier-side people and systems. Assist the client's adoption of the sales solution. Continue to ask facilitative questions in solving problems arising, rather than 're-selling' or justifying issues that are not working properly. This involves plenty of internal selling (to your own organization) and ideally good project management skills. Good sales-people should continue to take full and ultimate responsibility for checking and ensuring proper sales follow-up in every respect, regardless of the fact that typically many supply issues are in theory outside of the sales-person's control.

The above sales process obviously entails a big investment on the part of the sales person, and the selling organisation. Deciding what opportunities warrant such investment is therefore an important part of the process - initially at preparation stage in understanding the depth and breadth and complexity and value of the opportunity, and also at the level of sales strategy in determining relevant prospect identification and qualification criteria, with particular reference to likelihood of success.

The amount of research conducted prior to contact with prospective customer should reflect the value of the opportunity, which is normally related to the size of the prospect organisation, and the typical sales or contract order value. The bigger the opportunity and complexity, the more research is warranted and necessary. Research should be confined to the clear available facts and background information and should not lead the sales person to making assumptions, which defeats the point of using facilitative methods.

This selling and sales training model is more appropriate for business-to-business selling (B2B) than consumer markets because of the higher values and greater complexities involved with B2B selling. However, some aspects of these ideas and methods are certainly applicable to 'consumer' selling (B2C) and will be more so where order values are significant, and where buying decisions are more complex and protracted, for example in selling property and large financial products.

As implied in points 5 and 7 particularly, the sales person should possess strong 'internal selling' capabilities, since much of the facilitative process involves shaping responses and communications and services from the supplier organisation. Significantly, facilitative processes and methods can be used to excellent effect in achieving these things - inside the sales person's organisation, as well as in the customer's organisation. In many situations, especially large-scale B2B selling, the sales-person's facilitative involvement and 'reach' must necessarily extend to partner organisations of the customer, since these are all part of the system that needs to be able to assimilate the eventual solution.

The modern sales person's role is one of coordinating and facilitating an effective sustainable 'fit' between two very complex systems: the supplier's and the customer's. Sales people who can do this possess the greatest selling ability of all. It's useful therefore to incorporate this principle within sales training if you are seeking to build - or help someone else build - a truly effective and sustainable sales organisation.

"Always the beautiful answer which asks a more beautiful question." 
(Edward Estlin Cummings, 1894-1962, poet, written in 1938, adapted for modern times - Cummings originally used the word 'who' instead of 'which'.)

Again, please remember - Sharon Drew's Morgen's Buying Facilitation® is not a technique to add to conventional selling methods for the purpose of 'persuading' or 'influencing' the other person. The integration of 'facilitative' methods within the traditional selling process must be accompanied by the appropriate change in philosophy and 'mind-set'.

The aim is to help people, instead of trying to persuade and influence them.

Tips for Gaining Experience and Learning Sales Skills

For people new to selling or seeking to teach themselves sales skills for a career in selling

If you want to learn selling skills for your own personal purposes, especially if you want to start a career in selling, here are some tips on how best to acquire and teach yourself selling skills, and gain valuable sales experience that will help you in interviews for sales jobs, or perhaps to start your own business.

First improve your understanding of which type(s) of learning and communications styles that you find most effective - look at the Gardner's Multiple Intelligence theory, and the VAK learning styles and Kolb model to get an idea of your own preferred thinking, communicating and learning styles. This will give you good indications as to your most effective selling style as well. Do you prefer to watch (films, videos, other people demonstrating sales and selling)? Do you prefer to experience it, hands on? Do you prefer to read about it (books, online learning and training like the articles above)? Do you prefer to listen (attend talks, lectures, listen to audio-tapes or CD/DVD sales courses)? Do you prefer for example: system and process, numbers and logic, people and feelings, facts and figures, concepts and ideas? Understand your own personality and strengths.

The understanding of thinking and learning styles is also a very useful sales skill in its own right. In learning about your own style, you will appreciate that other people each have their own preferred styles for learning and communicating and receiving information. This relates strongly to the style in which people prefer to receive sales information from a sales person. By learning about this, you have already begun to increase your selling capability - because you are increasing your appreciation of how and why people prefer to make decisions and to buy.

Then consider cost and feasibility of sales training and learning options that meet your most ideal method(s). Research what is available. Much is free or very low cost. Research is also a very important part of the selling skill set.

If you like to read about selling there is a wealth of sales training, selling techniques and related theory information on the internet for free. Books are actually very inexpensive given all that they contain, especially if second-hand, borrowed from friends or from a library. Read all you can about behaviour and communications. Subscribe to sales and selling newsletters, especially to the many good free e-newsletters available from sales and selling websites, and other websites relating to behaviour, business, marketing and communications.

Read the newspapers and business supplements which contain articles about sales and selling. Sales is not just about selling. Sales is about people and relationships, business and marketing, psychology and communications, self-confidence and attitude, belief, ethics and trust, information, quality, equipment, processes, and all of life. Learning opportunities for improving your understanding of selling are all around you, everywhere, on the internet, in books, magazines and articles.

If you like to listen and watch: observe sales people in selling roles - in stores, at exhibitions, and especially when they call at your door, or call you on the phone. Give them time to show you how they sell. Learn from the good and less good things that you see other sales people exhibiting. It's easy to judge whether selling is good or not: did it result in a positive experience or a sale? Or did it result in a negative experience and a feeling that the prospective customer and the seller will never speak again?

Get yourself onto the mailing lists of the sales training organisations. Business and training exhibitions and magazines are very useful for identifying relevant providers and for adding your name to their mailing lists. Look out for free seminars which they use to promote their courses. Attending business and training exhibitions is a good way to meet people in the sales community, to observe sales people a work, and to add your name to their mailing lists.

Attend talks and lectures or courses about selling - many are very low cost - some are free. You will hear about them if you are on the mailings lists of organisations providing them. Also contact your local business chamber or local government business support unit for information about such events.

Observe politicians and business people being interviewed on TV; they demonstrate good and not so good sales techniques when they attempt to persuade, build credibility, answer questions, overcome objections, etc.

Join a debating society. Observe how people 'sell' their ideas and propositions - again you will be able to judge what is effective and what is not. Give yourself experience in public speaking and debating.

Offer to give presentations to local voluntary groups, schools, anywhere that you can practice, learn and get experience of giving presentations. Capability to speak and give sales presentations to groups is largely a question of experience and confidence. This comes from having done it. So start now.

If you like to listen and learn, especially while driving, buy or borrow sales training and communications audio-tapes and CDs and DVDs. Sales and selling learning is not limited to sales techniques - listen to anything about communications and behaviour, personal development and confidence, goals and aims, relationships and psychology, ethics and philosophy, process and systems, equipment and ICT (information and communications technology), marketing and business. All these areas directly relate to and give depth to your sales and selling capabilities.

Aside from all this there is no substitute for experience - actually selling something..

And you do not need anyone to give you a sales job in order to start. Do it for yourself.

This type of learning is the most valuable and well-respected (by future potential employers) of all. And it's free.

Start your own modest sales business - working from home. You'll even make some money from the activity. Start a home business and sell to local consumers and/or business people, depending on your chosen product service. It doesn't matter what it is as long as you have an interest in it and enjoy it, and preferably that it has a reasonable demand and competitive advantage. Of course avoid ridiculous pyramid investment schemes - many exist that exploit people's inexperience and people's desire to get into selling - so be on your guard against these outrageous scams. Do not be persuaded to part with money for stock or the purchase of a franchise or territory, unless you are absolutely sure about what you are doing, and even then, get advice from someone older and wiser.

If you decide to start your own small sales business - which I urge you to do if you cannot get the experience elsewhere - think carefully about what you want to sell, to whom, and how. Start simply and modestly. Choice of what product/service to sell, and what market to sell to, are also important parts of the selling capability, and so this will also give you valuable experience in choosing good products or services that are worthy of your sales efforts and personal endorsement. You must believe in what you are selling. Look at the marketing section to help you decide what to sell and to whom. Perhaps become an agent for a door to door sales organisation. Perhaps do some telesales work. Start modestly, start learning, and you will have started selling. You will soon develop skills, experience, and confidence that will be desirable to many sales employers, although you might quickly decide that you like the feeling of running your own sales business, and from then on you will never need to find a sales job with an employer, since you have created one of your own. To be successful in selling does not necessarily require an employed sales position. You can do it for yourself if you want to.

Selling is after all mostly how you feel about yourself, and making things happen for yourself. So feel good, and go make something happen.

Successful selling goes beyond 'sales training'

Selling and sales training ideas, courses, programmes, products, etc., are just part of the picture.

Modern selling requires understanding and capabilities that extend way beyond traditional 'sales training' skills.

Modern selling is about life, people, business (and increasingly ethical business and corporate responsibility), communications, behaviour, personality and psychology, self-awareness, attitude and belief. Selling is about understanding how people and systems work, and enabling good outcomes. (By 'systems' I mean organisations and processes and relationships, not just systems in the sense of tools and IT.)

Sales training of course addresses some of these issues, but not all of them.

So consider and learn about other aspects of modern business, management, and self-development that interest you, and extend this principle to your people if you are a sales manager or coach.

Develop your experience and understanding of organisations, management and business - beyond sales training alone - and you will greatly increase your value and effectiveness to employers and clients, and to the organisational and business world generally.

The more you understand about how people think, how organisations work and how they are managed, the more effective you will be.

Look beyond sales training and selling, and strive to become an enabler and a facilitator of good outcomes. This is the role of the modern sales-person. It's a highly valuable, sought-after and transferable capability.

Selecting Sales Training Providers and Programs - Template

There are many different ways to obtain sales training, for yourself, for your sales team and for sales managers.

The template below will help you create a specification and selection process to find the right training methods and providers, and to maximise the agreement and commitment among your team and others involved.

The material above provides useful explanation about different methods of sales and selling, which reflects the many different sales training methods, courses, providers and programs available.

See also the theory, tips and examples for training developmentteam building, and motivation.

When you select your sales training methods and providers it helps to follow a process - and ideally to create a training specification - rather than working purely from instinct. Here are some simple training selection guidelines, in the form of a checklist template, for specifying and choosing sales training courses, sales training programs, methods and providers.

You can of course adapt this template as a checklist and process for selecting any other training providers or support outside of sales training. These principles apply for selecting any sort of team development, training or support.

Specification and selection template

Main question Issues and factors Your answers or comments - cover all relevant points
1. What must your sales training achieve? Be able to write this down in the form of a specification using this template. 
Get input from those with an interest in the sales training (stakeholders). 
Agree this specification with your boss and other stakeholders. 
What will the sales training 'look like' and 'be like'? 
What difference will it make? 
How will you know if it has worked?
2. Who are the stakeholders? Who is affected by the training? 
Who needs to have some input into what it aims to achieve and how? 
What do the trainees and other stakeholders want?
3. What are the timescales? For making the decision? 
For communicating it? 
For the training? 
For the follow-up? 
For the period of impact and assessment?
4. What is your budget? Per head? 
Cost breakdown: venue, accommodation, materials, design, delivery, evaluation and assessment? 
Cost of people's time and travel? 
Cost as a percentage of improved performance?
6. How will you measure the success of your sales training? How will your boss measure it's success? 
How will your people measure it? 
This must be clear and truly measurable. 
The Kirkpatrick model is a wonderfully simple, easy and highly regarded method of identifying and evaluating training aims and effectiveness. It is especially useful for sales training. 
Preferably the cost must be understood in terms of the extra sales and profits that are expected to be derived from the investment. 
If expectations are vague then you will not know that the training has been successful, and you will not be able to hold the provider or the sales training program responsible for clear deliverables and outcomes.
7. What are the preferred learning styles of the sale trainees? Don't guess - ask the trainees - involve them in finding out. 
Use the free VAK and/or multiple intelligence tests
8. What are the characteristics that your sales training provider or method must possess? In light of the above, how would you describe your ideal sales training provider and/or methods? 
Consider the values and philosophy right through to the materials, media, size and scale, delivery and follow-up, and type of service and contact you expect? 
Consider also how the providers will measure and report to you on the progress of the training. 
What flexibilities to change dates and numbers exist? 
What are your contractual commitments? 
What are the payment arrangements? 
What certification or accreditations must apply to the provider, and also to the training outcomes.
9. Where can you find suitable sales training providers? Referrals? 
Directories and listings? 
Past providers who have been successful and well-liked? 
Suggestions from your team? 
Universities - seek out the leading-edge? 
Writers and gurus - aim high - many great people are actually very approachable and not as costly as you might fear. 
How much can the team itself provide? Everyone has something to teach - and people enjoy being given the chance to teach and inspire others. 
Other sister companies and divisions? 
Your customers? Buyers and Directors of your customers are potentially very enthusiastic and very capable teachers of your sales people - and this of course helps develop great relationships too. 
10. How can you assess the quality and suitability of potential sales training providers? Referrals and recommendations? 
Demonstration or guarantees of return on investment? 
11. Can your shortlisted providers meet your people to see what they make of each other? Try to achieve buy-in from your team and offer involvement to them in the selection and decision process? 
Is the provider happy to speculate time getting to know your people, and helping to ensure there is a good fit? 
12. Other points? Ask the potential providers and your team to suggest any other important considerations before selecting your methods and providers.  

Your Sales Tips

Send your best sales tip to have your input and join this list.

Sales tips and techniques like these can be powerful. Ensure you use them ethically and the spirit of good helpful business.

"Treat others the way they would like to be treated." (Sarang Yande, Aug 2012 - This maxim seems like a statement of the obvious at first glance, but much of the time sellers ignore this fundamental principle. The maxim is crucial. Customers/clients/prospects feel immediately unhappy when they are not treated how they want to be, and where this aspect is missing customers generally do not buy, regardless of how good the actual sales proposition is.)

"Develop empathy. Put yourself in the customer's shoes and try to put forward a proposition that you yourself would like to receive." (Thanks V Karmarkar, 4 Aug 2009 - this is an often-quoted sales tip, which we often take for granted, but actually it is rarely practised well. True empathy requires seriously focusing on the other person's needs - not your own - which in today's pressurized times takes a lot of concentration.)

"Slow moving products held in too plentiful stocks can be 'bundled' with a fast-moving product, which involves offering the two products together at an attractive price. This extends value to the customer, and helps to reduce stocks of the slow-moving items." (Thanks A Viswanathan - 2 Jul 2009)

"Large retail outlets can increase sales resource, product expertise and selling activity by inviting suppliers to provide one of their own merchandising/sales personnel to work in the store for an agreed period, potentially on a specially incentivised basis. Even if only for a day a month such cooperation boosts sales capability, and can be increased by involving numerous suppliers." (Thanks C Viswanathan - 2 Jul 2009)

"Towards the end of sale focus on two or three options for the customer, instead of focusing purely on 'the sale'. I always gave the clients two options like 'Can I then look at option A or B for you?'. This way the customer's attention is drawn to two positive choices, and not the 'whether or not to buy' aspect." (Thanks S Balasubramaniam - 23 Jun 2009)

"Sellers typically see just two ways to react to increased costs: increase the sales price to maintain margins; or hold prices and accept lower margins. A simple third option is often overlooked: maintain price and reduce the pack size or net weight of the product, which under certain circumstances can be a useful for customers anyway." (V Seetha - 22 Jun 2009)

(A fourth option is to reduce/spread costs by increasing pack size, maintaining relative unit price, thereby increasing unit value for the customer. Much depends on the type of product and what pack size is beneficial to the customer. The tip above particularly reminds us of the need to be creative in approaching pricing and value, which is especially relevant to negotiation.)

"Recently in a menswear shop I was approached by four separate salespeople who each asked if they could help me. I replied 'No thank you, just looking,' each time. When I worked in retail, I used to approach new customers and would start telling them where things were, or what things were. 'Hello there, men's trousers are through to the left, shirts are straight ahead, suits are next to the shoes, over there. Is it anything in particular you are looking for?' This nearly always caused customers to tell me what they were seeking and allowed me to help them." (R Hepburn - 17 Jun 2009)

"Shops and retailers normally requiring customers to visit personally to pay and take away goods can significantly increase their business by advertising and offering a telephone-ordering and delivery service." (C Viswanathan - 17 Jun 2009)

"My suggestion is to use what I can only describe as the best way to quickly drop down barriers and reduce buyer's remorse which I use with all my customers: Firstly I introduce myself by name and occupation and explain what my job role involves then I follow it up with this one liner: 'My job role is not to sell you anything (customer name); my job is to present you with financial solutions from which you can make an informed decision.' Surprisingly simple yet a highly effective way to bring high customer resistance to a rapport building level." (J Carson-Lee - 9 May 2009)

"Closing time: When it is time to create a commitment from the interested buyer you can either propose something, or you can ask the customer how they want to proceed. If the customer is indecisive, propose. If the customer wants to take charge, ask. Either way, you make it easy for the buyer to buy." (A Lacinai - 10 May 2009)

"I've found a really useful way to deal with a price objection is to ask the customer; 'If we were the same price as (insert other quote here) would you buy from us?' When the customer says yes (which they normally do), ask why. They will then list all the USPs/benefits that sparked their interest in your product and you can explain that your price is what it is because of those benefits they just listed. For most people this convinces them of the value in your product." (A Hollingworth - 11 May 2009)

" 'Diagnose before you prescribe'... Sales people should see themselves as problem solvers, and to solve problems correctly, they must first understand the nature of the problem they intend to solve." (J Pearson - 12 May 2009)

"I read the definition of Marketing by Gurcharan Das: "Marketing is a state of mind, which says, I care for my customer." I always follow that. If you care for your customers, then you will make them comfortable. When you ask probing questions, suggest right products and justify those products, handle objections confidently, closing will be a bit easier. During all these steps, follow-up is a key factor, which many sales-people forget or treat too casually. A systematic and continuous follow-up until the order is closed, and then post purchase, is essential." (R Kowadkar - 22 May 2009) Incidentally, Gurcharan Das is an Indian businessman and writer.

"When a customer says, 'I can't afford it.' I say - 'I am glad you said that... Some of my best customers said the same. Let me show you what I mean...' This enables me to get back into my sales pitch, giving examples. It is a simple and effective (and importantly non-confrontational) way to get back into the pitch after a price objection." (A Swan - 23 May 2009)

"If you are dealing with changing stock - know your inventory." (L Ouaknine - 28 Jul 2009)

And another suggestion from C S Viswanathan, summarised as follows: "Consider making food and refreshments available if you are selling to customers who visit a showroom or retail premises, especially if the buying decision can take a while (for example in relation to weddings, homes and home-making, holidays, vehicles, and other substantial purchases)." (C Viswanathan - 2 Sep 2009)

"Always do what you said you were going to! This will mark you out as different to 90% of your competitors from the start." (T Pizii - 22 Oct 2009)

"When making the cold call - always prepare yourself before speaking to each person, and talk to them as if they are already a valued customer and they know you personally.... smile before you speak to them and imagine they have been waiting for you to call them... In sales training try test telephone calls to each other from a different room and note when the caller is smiling and not smiling... you can feel the difference!" (C Roman - 23 Nov 2009)

"There are two sales tips that will make people rich. All you have to remember about business-persuasion are the two key facets of human personality that come into play when we're being 'sold' to: 1) We all place more importance on the words that come out of our own mouths compared to the words we hear coming out of the seller's, and 2) We all place more importance on the the things we ask the seller to provide compared with the unrequested things that the seller freely offers us. So, when we are selling, our key questioning tactic must be aimed at getting the customer to say what we're dying to 'tell' him. And then to get the customer to ask us if we can provide the solution (which we know is hidden in our bag). Forget the above and you will be forever stuck in 'price-issue Limbo'." (Bob Etherington - Feb 2010)

Bob's points are worth repeating because they are highly significant. Customers are certainly much more influenced by their own words than the seller's words. Customers also are also mucbh more interested in what they ask the seller to provide than what the seller offers, even if the two things are the same. The seller's questioning should always be attempting to help the customer to understand and express what they need, and this usually and naturally causes the customer to ask the seller if the solution can be provided.

The tips above were initially prompted by a 2009 selling tips prize draw offered by, and for which the prize was, the Sales Activator® sales development game system. The winner of the prize draw prize draw was Professor Vijay Karmarkar from Sagar Institute of Research and Technology, Bhopal, India.

Telephone Sales Flexible 'Script'

There is no magic, secret or trickery involved - the process is based on straight-forward logic, and straight open, honest, professional language. It also helps to have done some research before-hand about the company, and to think about what sort of proposition is likely to be of interest, but do not make assumptions of what needs or opportunities will arise.

First you'll normally speak to the person on switchboard. Introduce yourself - full name and company - and ask to be put through to the PA (personal assistant - or secretary) of the director/VP for the function that you believe makes the strategic decision about your offering (if in doubt ask for the PA to the CEO/MD/President/General manager:

" Hello, this is (your full name) from (your company name) - could you put me through to the PA for the (relevant function, eg Sales, Finance, IT, Operations, etc) director/VP, thanks - what is the PA's name please?" (Ask this last thing while you are being put through - it will help you to know the PA's name now and in the future should you call back - this person is there to help his/her boss - don't try to by-pass him/her - ask for their help - that's their job - to be a vital link in the communications between their boss and everyone else).

When put through: "Hello, this is (your name) from (your company name) - is that (name)/are you the PA for the ............. director/VP? (depending on whether you have the PA's name or not.)

If no, ask when/if he/she is available and if applicable if you can be transferred to them. If yes -

Ask the PA: "I wonder if you could help me please?"

PA will normally say: "Sure/I'll try/it depends/what's it about?"

You say,"I'd like to submit a strategic proposition to (company) concerning (briefly describe your area of interest using professional straight language, but do not go into great detail, and try to use a description that is unlikely to attract the response: 'we've already got that covered thanks') - could you tell me to whom I should initially approach that has a strategic view of this?"


"I'd like to open dialogue with (company) about (again describe your area of interest using professional straight language, but do not go into great detail, and try to use a description that is unlikely to attract the response: 'we've already got that covered thanks') - could you advise how best to do this, to whom I should write or speak, and when's the best time to reach them on the phone afterwards?"


"I wonder if you can advise me on what's the best way to find out who, when and how for (company) determines strategy and decides solutions and providers in the area of (again, briefly describe your area of interest using professional straight language, but do not go into great detail, and try to use a description that is unlikely to attract the response: 'we've already got that covered thanks')."

And then take it from there - be guided by the PA. Fitting in with their communications and decision-making processes and systems is as important as your proposition and service, and the PA is the best one to help you begin to understand about this.

Glossary of Sales and Selling Terms

This list is not exhaustive, and is not meant to be an endorsement of any of these techniques or terms.

accompaniment visit/accompaniment report - when a manager or supervisor or trainer accompanies a sales person while working on the sales territory, usually while meeting prospects or customers. Typically the manager would complete an accompaniment visit report on the performance of the sales person, which would be discussed, and suitable follow-up actions or training agreed.

account - a customer, usually a business-to-business organization; a major account is a large organization; a national account is a customer with branches or sites that constitute a nationwide coverage, which typically requires special pricing and senior sales attention.

active listening - term used to describe high level of listening capability and method, in which the sales person actively seeks to understand how the speaker feels, and what their issues are, in which the type of listening extends far beyond common inattentive listening. Related to empathy and Stephen Covey's principles of seeking to understand before attempting to be understood.

added value - the element(s) of service or product that a sales person or selling organization provides, that a customer is prepared to pay for because of the benefit(s) obtained. Added values are real and perceived; tangible and intangible. A good, reliable, honest, expert, informed sales person becomes a very significant part of the selling organization's added value, as perceived by the customer, if not by the selling organization.

advantage - the aspect of a product or service that makes it better than another, especially the one in-situ or that of a competitor.

advertising/advertising and promotion/A&P - the methods used by a company to publicise and position its products and services to its chosen market sectors, including product launches, image and brand building, press and public relations activities, merchandising (supporting and promoting the product in retail and wholesale outlets), special offers, generating leads and enquiries, and incentivising distributors, and agents, and arguably sales people. A&P methods are sometimes described as above-the-line (media advertising such as radio, TV, cinema, newspapers, magazines) or below-the-line (non-'media' methods or materials such as brochures, direct-mail, exhibitions, telemarketing, and PR); advertising agencies generally receive a commission (discount 'kick-back') from above-the-line media services, but not from below the line services, in which case if asked to arrange any will seek to add a mark-up. See the marketing page.

benefit - the gain (usually a tangible cost, but can be intangible) that accrues to the customer from the product or service.

buyer - most commonly means a professional purchasing person in a business; can also mean a private consumer. Buyers are not usually major decision-makers, that is to say, what they buy, when and how they buy it, and how much they pay are prescribed for them by the business they work for. If you are selling a routine repeating predictable product, especially a consumable, then you may well be able to restrict your dealings to buyers; if you are selling a new product or service of any significance, buyers will tend to act as influencers at most. See decision-makers, and the buying techniques page.

buying facilitation® - also known as facilitative buying, generally attributed (and registered) to sales guru Sharon Drew Morgen. Extremely advanced form of personal selling, in which the central ethos is one of 'helping organizations and buyers to buy', not selling to them.

buying signal - a buying signal is a comment from a prospect which indicates that he is visualising to whatever extent buying your product or service. The most common buying signal is the question: "How much is it?" Others are questions or comments like: "What colours does it come in?", "What's the lead-time?", "Who else do you supply?", "Is delivery free?" "Do you use it yourself?", and surprisingly, "It's too expensive."

buying warmth - behavioural, non-verbal and other signs that a prospect likes what he sees; very positive from the sales person's perspective, but not an invitation to jump straight to the close.

call/calling - a personal face-to-face visit or telephone call by a sales person to a prospect or customer. Also referred to a sales call (for any sales visit or phone contact), or cold call (in the case of a first contact without introduction or notice in writing).

call centre - also called a contact centre (US = center) - a department for outgoing and/or incoming (outbound/inbound) telephone calls to/from customers, commonly now extending to email communications also if useful for customer service, but not extending to email marketing. Call centres can be primarily reactive (inbound) or proactive (outbound - covering telemarketing, telesales, and research), or both. Call centres can be in-house, part of the employed organization, or external, effectively a contractor or an agency. Most modern in-house or long-term out-sourced call centres are effectively customer service centres or departments, containing staff dedicated to telesales and customer services activities. Other types of call centre activities and operations can be concerned more with short-term telesales, telemarketing or market research campaigns. Run well a call/contact centre is a wonderful function. Run poorly call centres are a nightmare for staff and customers alike. Since the 1990s when the call centre function became de-humanised and obsessively cost-driven by many large corporations the nightmare scenario largely applies. Some call/contact centres are now such vast business units that they warrant being 'off-shored' (outsourced to countries with lower costs), which generally equates to corporate own-foot-shooting on a truly huge scale. A call centre which is inherently liable to upset customers due to inadequate levels of customer empathy and service is quite obviously utterly self-defeating. Staff turnover is unsurprisingly a major challenge in call centres.

canvass/canvassing - cold-calling personally at the prospect's office or more commonly now by telephone, in an attempt to arrange an appointment or present a product, or to gather information.

close/closing - the penultimate step of the 'Seven Steps of the Sale' selling process, when essentially the sales-person encourages the prospect to say yes and sign the order. In days gone by a Sales person's expertise was measured almost exclusively by how many closes he knew. Thank God for evolution. See the many examples of closes and closing techniques in the Seven Steps section, but don't expect to kid any buyer worth his salt today, and using one might even get you thrown out of his office. Use with great care.

closed question - a question which generally prompts a yes or no answer, or a different short answer of just two possible options, compared to open questions, which typically begin with who, what, where, when, etc., and which tend to invite much longer answers.

cold calling - typically refers to the first telephone call made to a prospective customer. More unusually these days, cold calling can also refer to calling face-to-face for the first time without an appointment at commercial promises or households. Cold calling is also known as canvassing, telephone canvassing, prospecting, telephone prospecting, and more traditionally in the case of consumer door-to-door selling as 'door-knocking'. See the cold calling page.

collaboration selling - also known as collaborative selling and facilitation selling - very modern and sophisticated, in which seller truly collaborates with buyer and buying organization to help the buyer buy. A logical extension to 'strategic' or 'open plan' selling.

commodities/commoditised (products and services) - typically a term applied to describe products which are mature in development, produced and sold in vast scale, involving little or no uniqueness between variations of different suppliers; high volume, low price, low profit margin, de-skilled ('ease of use' in consumption, application, installation, etc). Traditionally the 'commodities' term applies to the 'commodities markets' which trade and set prices for fundamental commodities such as coffee, grain, oil, etc., however in a more generic sales and selling sense the term 'commoditised' refers to a product (and arguably a service) which has become mass-produced, widely available, easy to make, de-mystified, and simplified; all of which is almost invariably associated with a reduction in costs, prices and profit margins, and which also has massive implications for the sales distribution model and methods for taking the product or service to market. Commoditised products are amenable to mass-market and large-scale sales distribution methods and models, as opposed to specialised or high-complexity products, which tend to require closer customer support and greater expertise and advice at the point of selling and installation, and commissioning and application, if appropriate. An electric battery torch is a commoditised product that is freely available, at competitively low price, 'off-the-shelf' at any supermarket (or via the internet); whereas a holographic projector is only available via a specialised supplier, at relatively high cost and profit margin, potentially without a similar competing product, and requires a significant degree of technical advice and support, and possibly user-training. Similarly, a microwave oven is a commoditised product, widely available, inexpensively, off-the-self from a retail store (or via the internet); whereas an integrated commercial kitchen is a specialised system, requiring a high level of sales and selling expertise, support and installation. Commoditised products sell by the millions; specialised products might only sell in hundreds or less. All consumer products and services become commoditised over time. Virtually all B2B products and services become commoditised over time. Colour TV's are cheaper than they were thirty years ago because they've become commoditised. Same can be said for mobile phones, home security systems, computers; even motor cars are becoming genuinely commoditised. In our lifetimes perhaps so too will houses and buildings.

concession - used in the context of negotiating, when it refers to an aspect of the sale which has a real or perceived value, that is given away or conceded by seller (more usually) or the buyer. One of the fundamental principles of sales negotiating is never giving away a concession without getting something in return - even a small increase in commitment is better than nothing. See the negotiation section.

consultative selling (consultation selling) - developed by various sales gurus through the 1980s by David Sandler among others, and practiced widely today, consultative selling was a move towards more collaboration with, and involvement from, the buyer in the selling process. Strongly based on questioning aimed at gaining useful information.

consumer - in the context of selling a consumer typically refers to a private or personal customer or user, as distinct from a business or organizational, or trade customer. Notably we see this term in the acronym B2C, which means 'business-to-consumer', which describes the type of business in which the transaction and relationship is between a business and a private 'domestic' customer. A household insurer, or an estate agent, are examples of B2C sales organizations. Retail is by its nature consumer business. A holiday company is a B2C business. B2B describes 'business-to-business' - which is trade and selling between businesses.

customer - usually meaning the purchaser, organization, or consumer after the sale. Prior to the sale is usually referred to as a prospect.

customer relationship management (CRM) - CRM is now a commonly used term to describe the process of managing the entire selling process within a department or organisation. Computerised CRM systems enable management of prospect and customer details, contacts, sales history and account development. Well known examples of CRM computerised systems are Sage's ACT!, which claims (as at 2006) to be the world's most popular CRM system, and Front Range's Goldmine. Chief elements of a CRM system (or strategy, since the term is used to describe the process and methodology as well as the system) are:

  • Compilation and organisation of data (prospects, customers, product, sales, history, etc)
  • Planning, scheduling and integrating customer development activities and communications
  • Analysis and reporting of all sales related activities and data

Good CRM strategy and systems are generally considered necessary for modern organisations of any scale to enable effective planning and implementation of sales (and to an extent marketing) activities.

cycle - see sales cycle.

deal - common business parlance for the sale or purchase (agreement or arrangement). It is rather a colloquial term so avoid using it in serious company as it can sound flippant and unprofessional.

decision-maker - a person in the prospect organization who has the power and budgetary authority to agree to a sales proposal. On of the most common mistakes by sales people is to attempt to sell to someone other than a genuine decision-maker. For anything other than a routine repeating order, the only two people in any organization of any size that are real decision-makers for significant sales values are the CEO/Managing Director/President, and the Finance Director. Everyone else in the organization is generally working within stipulated budgets and supply contracts, and will almost always need to refer major purchasing decisions to one or both of the above people. In very large organizations, functional directors may well be decision-makers for significant sales that relate only to their own function's activities. See influencer.

deliverable(s) - an aspect of a proposal that the provider commits to do or supply, usually and preferably clearly measurable.

demonstration/'demo'/'dem' - the physical presentation by the sales person to the prospect of how a product works. Generally free of charge to the prospect, and normally conducted at the prospect's premises, but can be at another suitable venue, eg., an exhibition, or at the supplier's premises.

demographics - the study of, or information about, people's lifestyles, habits, population movements, spending, age, social grade, employment, etc., in terms of the consuming and buying public; anyone selling to the consumer sector will do better through understanding relevant demographic information.

discipline - within the context of an organization this is similar to function, i.e., job role, although a discipline can refer more generally to a capability or responsibility, for example 'financial disciplines', or 'customer service disciplines', or 'technical support disciplines'. Discipline can of course mean separately 'control', others or oneself, which is certainly relevant to sales and selling, but not the reason for its inclusion in this glossary. In business-to-business selling of a complex strategic nature looking at disciplines (capabilities and responsibilities) can help to explore the different ways that people are affected by a change or proposition, which generally accompanies the sale of a product or service.

distribution/sales distribution - the methods or routes by which products and services are taken to market. Sales distribution models are many and various, and are constantly changing and new ones developing. Understanding and establishing best sales distribution methods - routes to market - are crucial aspects of running any sales organisation, and any business organisation too. Sales distribution should be appropriate to the product and service, and the end-user market, and the model will normally be defined by these factors, influenced also by technology and social trends. For example, commoditised mass-market consumer products (FMCG - fast-moving consumer goods, household electricals, etc) are generally distributed via mass-market consumer distribution methods, notably supermarkets, but also increasingly the internet. A lesson in changing sales distribution models, and the need for manufacturers and sellers to anticipate changes is found in the switching of book sales and CD sales from retail store distribution to websites, with the resulting demise of many retailers in those sectors. Future changes in sales distribution will see for example music transferring increasingly via online downloads, thus threatening those involved with or dependent upon physical shipping of products. B2B (business-to-business) sales distribution models have their own shape, again dependent on products and services, customer markets, technology, plus other influences such as economical trends, environmental and legislative effects, etc. Examples of B2B sales distribution models are franchising, direct sales forces (employed), direct sales forces (sales agents), telephone sales (call-centres, out-bound and in-bound), the internet (online website businesses), distributors (independent sellers who carry products and services of other manufactuerers and 'principals'), and channel partners and partnering arrangements (prevalent in telecomms and IT sectors).

empathy - understanding how another person feels, and typically reflecting this back to the other person. The ability to feel and show empathy is central to modern selling methods. See the Empathy page. See also NLP (Neuro-Linguitsic Programming).

ethics/ethical selling/ethical business - this would not have appeared in a selling glossary a few years ago, because the line between right and wrong was a mile wide. To certain leaders and companies it still is, although gradually, slowly business and selling is becoming more civilised. Honesty, morality and social responsibility are now crucial elements in any effective selling method, and for any sustainable business. In Spring 2008 someone left a message on my answerphone. The person said he was from 'central government', working on a 'policy piece' about e-learning, and could I give him a call back. I duly called back. After several sidesteps, the 'seller' eventually clarified that the purpose of the contact was to sell me some advertising in a directory, supposedly endorsed or approved by a 'government department'. This is a fine example of unethical selling, and unethical business too, since the seller was clearly following a company script and set of tactics designed to deceive. Unethical business and selling have always been wrong, but nowadays they carry far greater risks for those who behave badly. Consumers are wiser and better informed. Authories and the courts are less tolerant and more senstitive to transgressions. In all respects today poor ethics guarantee personal and business failure. See ethical management and leadership.

FABs - features advantages benefits - the links between a product description, its advantage over others, and the gain derived by the customer from using it. One of the central, if now rather predictable, techniques used in the presentation stage of the selling process.

feature - an aspect of a product or service, eg., colour, speed, size, weight, type of technology, buttons and knobs, gizmos and gadgets, bells and whistles, technical support, delivery, etc.

feel-felt-found - old-style persuasive push/pressure technique for objection handling, dating back to the 1980s and probably earlier, based on the sales-person using a response built around the three 'feel felt found' elements: "I understand how you feel/why you feel that...//Other customers have felt just the same/that...//But (or 'And') when... they have found that..." The technique seeks first to empathise, then in stage two to move the objection into neutral area avoiding direct one-to-one (2nd person, 'you must change your mind') confrontation, and creating an artificial sense of majority experience and opinion, where in the third stage the objection can be countered and the benefits reinforced with supposed large-scale evidence, persuading the buyer that he/she (if failing to buy) is isolated and deprived of the benefits others are enjoying. The method had limited effectiveness a generation or two ago but now the tactic mostly insults people and makes the sales-person look like an idiot.

field - means anywhere out of the sales office. Field sales people or managers are those who travel around meeting people personally in the course of managing a sales territory. To be field-based is to work on the sales territory, as opposed to being office-based.

forecast/sales forecast - a prediction of what sales will be achieved over a given period, anything from a week to a year. Sales managers require sales people to forecast, in order to provide data to production, purchasing, and other functions whose activities need to be planned to meet sales demand. Sales forecasts are also an essential performance quantifier which feeds into the overall business plan for any organization. Due to the traditionally unreliable and optimistic nature of sales-department forecasts it is entirely normal for the sum of all individual sales persons' sales annual forecast to grossly exceed what the business genuinely plans to sell. See targets.

function - in the context of an organization, this means the job role or discipline, eg., sales, marketing, production, accounting, customer service, delivery, installation, technical service, general management, etc. Understanding the functions of people within organizations, and critically their interests and needs, is very important if you are selling to businesses or other non-consumer organizations.

gestation period - sale gestation period typically refers to the the time from enquiry to sale, the Sales Cycle in other words, (see Sales Cycle). Awareness and monitoring of Sale Gestation Period/Sales Cycle times are crucial in sales planning, forecasting and management, for individuals sales teams and sales organizations.

hard contacts - a networking term (differentiating from 'soft contacts') - 'hard contacts' may refer to members of networking groups whose purpose is mutual referral of sales prospects. See fuller definitions in the business networking article.

hard sell - aggressive forceful selling technique, popular in 1960s, and since then among advocates/practitioners of old-fashioned one-way sales methods, using high pressure and cynical tactics to cajole customers to buy. Rarely successful and never sustainable. Contrasts with 'soft sell'.

influencer - a person in the prospect organization who has the power to influence and persuade a decision-maker. Influencers will be generally be decision-makers for relatively low value sales. There is usually more than one influencer in any prospect organization relevant to a particular sale, and large organizations will have definitely have several influencers. It is usually important to sell to influencers as well as decision-makers in the same organization. Selling to large organizations almost certainly demands that the sales person does this. The role and power of influencers in any organization largely depends on the culture and politics of the organization, and particularly the management style of the two main decision-makers. See decision-makers.

intangible - in a selling context this describes, or is, an aspect of the product or service offering that has a value but is difficult to see or quantify (for instance, peace-of-mind, reliability, consistency). See tangible.

introduction - the word introduction has two different main meanings in selling: Introduction refers either to first stage of the face-to-face or telephone sales call (see the 'opening stage' in the Seven Steps of the Sale), or the term means a personal introduction - also called a referral - of the sales person to someone in the buying organisation by a mutual friend or contact. Personal introductions of this sort tend to imply endorsement or recommendation of the seller, and since they are made by an existing contact they help greatly in establishing initial trust. The value and potency of a personal introduction genrally reflects the importance of the introducing person and the strength of their relationship with the buying contact. Networking is essentially based on using (sometimes several quite informal) introductions, to connect a seller with a buyer.

introductory letter - a very effective way to improve appointment-making success, and to open initial dialogue, especially for selling to large organisations. See the introductory letters structure and template examples.

LAMP® - Large Account Management Process - sales acronym and methodology for major accounts management developed by Robert Miller, Stephen Heiman and Tad Tuleja in their 1991 book Successful Large Account Management (see the books at the foot of this page). Note that LAMP® and Strategic Selling® methods and materials are subject to copyright and intellectual property control of Miller Heiman, Inc. Also note that LAMP® and Strategic Selling® methods and materials are not to be used in the provision of training and development products and services without a licence.

lead-time - time between order and delivery, installation or commencement of a product or service.

listening - a key selling skill, in that without good listening skills the process of questioning is rendered totally pointless. See the Levels of Listening on the Empathy page.

major account - a large and complex prospect or customer, often having several branches or sites, and generally requiring contacts and relationships between various functions in the supplier and customer organization. Often major accounts are the responsibility of designated experienced and senior sales people, which might be formed into a major accounts team. Major accounts often enjoy better discounts and terms than other customers because of purchasing power leveraged by bigger volumes, and lower selling costs from economies of scale.

marketing - perceived by lots of business people to mean simply promotion and advertising, the term marketing actually covers everything from company culture and positioning, through market research, new business/product development, advertising and promotion, PR (public/press relations), and arguably all of the sales functions as well. It's the process by which a company decides what it will sell, to whom, when and how, and then does it. See the marketing section.

margin/profit margin - the difference between cost (including or excluding operating overheads) and selling price of a product or service. Percentage margin is generally deemed to be the difference between cost and selling price, divided by the selling price ex tax (eg something that costs £1 and is sold for £2 plus tax produces a 50% margin - gross margin that is - net margin is after overheads are deducted).

mark-up - this is the money that a selling company adds to the cost of a product or service in order to produce a required level of profit. Strictly speaking, percentage mark-up refers to the difference between cost and selling price as a factor of the cost, not of the selling price. So a product costing £1 and selling for £2 has been given a mark-up of 100%; (at the same time it produces a margin of 50%).

needs-creation selling - a selling style popularised in the 1970s and 80s which asserted that sales people could create needs in a prospect for their products or services even if no needs were apparent, obvious or even existed. The method was for the sales person to question the prospect to identify, discover (and suggest) organizational problems or potential problems that would then create a need for the product. I'm bound to point out that this is no substitute for good research and proper targeting of prospects who have use of the products and services being sold.

negotiation/negotiating - the trading of concessions including price reductions, between supplier and customer, in an attempt to shape a supply contract (sale in other words) so that it is acceptable to both supplier and customer. Negotiations can last a few minutes or even a few years, although generally it's down to one or two meetings and one or two exchanges of correspondence. Ideally, from the seller's point of view, negotiation must only commence when the sale has been agreed in principle, and conditionally upon satisfactory negotiation. However most sales people fall into the trap set by most buyers - intentionally or otherwise - of starting to negotiate before the selling process have even commenced. See the section on negotiation for negotiating theory, rules and techniques.

NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) - A very accessible branch of psychology developed by Bandler and Grinder in the 1960s. NLP involves language, thinking and communications, and is therefore immensely useful and often featuires in sales training. See the NLP page.

networking - an increasingly popular method of developing sales opportunities and contacts, based on referrals and introductions - either face-to-face at meetings and gatherings, or by other contact methods such as phone, email, social and business networking websites, etc. See the business networking guide.

objection/overcoming objections - an objection is a point of resistance raised by a prospect, usually price ("It's too expensive.."), but can be anything at any stage of the selling process. Overcoming objections is a revered and much-trained skill in the traditional selling process, but far less significant in modern selling. Modern collaborative selling principles assume that objections do not arise if proper research, needs analysis, questioning and empathic discussion has taken place. Also the notion of using techniques or pressure to overcome what may be legitimate obstacles is contrary to principles of modern selling. Modern selling methods tend to identify objections much earlier in the process, and either to filter out the prospect at that stage and abandon the approach, or where objections arise from multiple decision influencers within the buyer organization, to agree collaboratively a strategy with the main contact at the prospective customer for dealing with objection(s) arising.

open/opening - the first stage of the actual sales call (typically after preparation in the Seven Steps of the Sale). Also called the introduction.

opening benefit statement/OBS - traditionally an initial impact statement for sales people to use at first contact with prospect, in writing, on the phone or face-to-face - the OBS generally encapsulates the likely strongest organizational benefit typically (or supposedly) derived by customers in the prospect's sector, eg., "Our customers in the clothing retail sector generally achieve 30-50% pilferage reduction when they install one of our Crooknabber security systems..." - N.B. The OBS is a relatively blunt instrument for modern selling - use it with extreme care for fear of looking like a total twerp.

open plan selling - a modern form of selling, heavily dependent on the sales person understanding and interpreting the prospect's organizational and personal needs, issues, processes, constraints and strategic aims, which generally extends the selling discussion far beyond the obvious product application; (in a way, it's rather like combining selling with genuinely beneficial, free, expert consultancy). In 'open plan selling' the seller identifies strategic business aims of the sales prospect or customer organization, and develops a proposition that enables the aims to be realised. The proposition is therefore strongly linked to the achievement of strategic business aims - typically improvements in costs, revenues, margins, overheads, profit, quality, efficiency, time-saving and competitive strengths areas. There is a strong reliance on seller having excellent strategic understanding of prospect organization and aims, market sector situation and trends, and access to strategic decision-makers and influencers. Open Plan Selling is also underpinned by strong ethical principles, notably honesty and the premise that persuasion and influence are unhelpful, and in this respect the methodology relates somewhat to modern ideas of facilitating and helping, as primarily featured in Buying Facilitation. The term Open Plan Selling was coined (to the best of my knowledge) by British consultant and trainer Stanley Guffogg.

open question - a question that gains information, usually beginning with who, what, why, where, when, how, or more subtly 'tell me about..' - as distinct from a closed question, for example beginning with 'Is it...?' or 'Do you...?' etc., which tend to glean only a yes or no answer.

package - in a selling context this is another term for the product offer; it's the whole product and service offering at a given price, upon given terms.

partnership selling - very modern approach to organizational selling for business-to-business sales.

perceived - how something is seen or regarded by someone, usually by the prospect or customer, irrespective of what is believed or presented by the seller, ie what it really means to the customer.

pipeline - see sales pipeline.

positioning - more a marketing than sales term, although relevant to experienced and sophisticated sellers, and related to targeting - positioning refers to how a product/service/proposition is presented or described or marketed in relation to the market place - with reference to customers, competition, image, pricing, quality, etc. Positioning basically refers to whether a proposition is being sold appropriately - in the right way, to the right people, at the right time, in the right place, and at the right price. A potentially brilliant business can fail because its products are not positioned properly, which typically manifests as sales people being unable to sell successfully. There might be little or nothing wrong with the sales people and their skills, and the product/service, but the venture fails because the positioning is wrong. Conversely, good positioning can rescue a less than brilliant product/service. Effective selling is not only about quality and skills - its about suitability of targeting.

preparation - in the context of the selling process this is the work done by the sales person to research and plan the sales approach and/or sales call to a particular prospect or customer. Almost entirely without exception in the global history of selling, no call is adequately prepared for, and sales that fail to happen are due to this failing.

presentation/sales presentation - the process by which a sales person explains the product or service to the prospect (to a single contact or a group), ideally including the product's features, advantages and benefits, especially those which are relevant to the prospect. Presentations can be verbal only, but more usually involve the use of visuals, commonly bullet-point text slides and images on a computer display or projected onto a screen. Can incorporate a video and/or physical demonstration of the product(s). See the presentation training section.

product - generally a physical item being supplied, but can also mean or include services and intangibles, in which case product is used to mean the whole package being supplied.

product offer - how the product and/or service is positioned and presented to the prospect or market, which would normally include features and/or advantages and also imply at least one benefit for the prospect (hence a single product can be represented by a number of different product offers, each for different market niches (segments or customer groupings). One of the great marketing challenges is always to define a product offer concisely and meaningfully.

proposal/sales proposal - usually a written offer with specification, prices, outline terms and conditions, and warranty arrangements, from a sales person or selling organization to a prospect. Generally an immensely challenging part of the process to get right, in that it must be concise yet complete, persuasive yet objective, well specified yet orientated to the customer's applications. An outline proposal is often a useful interim step, to avoid wasting a lot of time including in a full proposal lots of material that the customer really doesn't need.

proposition - usually means product offer, can mean sales proposal. The initial proposition means the basis of the first approach.

professional selling skills - see PSS

PSS - 'Professional Selling Skills' - highly structured selling process pioneered by the US Xerox (and UK Rank Xerox) photocopier sales organization during the 1960s, and adopted by countless business-to-business sales organizations, normally as the 'Seven Steps of the Sale', ever since. PSS places a huge reliance on presentation, overcoming objections and umpteen different closes. Largely now superseded by more modern 'Open Plan' two-way processes, but PSS is still in use and being trained, particularly in old-fashioned paternalistic company cultures. The regimented one-way manipulative style of PSS nowadays leaves most modern buyers completely cold, but strip it away to the bare process and it's better than no process at all.

prospect - a customer (person, organization, buyer) before the sale is made, ie a prospective customer.

puppy dog sale/puppy dog close - a method of selling or closing a deal whereby you let the customer try the product or service for free without commitment, for a limited period, in the confidence that once they live with it they won't want to give it up - just like giving someone have a puppy for a day. These days the puppy dog approach would ideally extend to giving the prospective customer some education and support about looking after the puppy so that they understand and are prepared for the changes that come with a new puppy.

questioning - the second stage of the sales call, typically after the opening or introduction in the Seven Steps of the Sale, but also vital to modern selling methods too, notably collaborative/facilitative selling. A crucial selling skill, and rarely well demonstrated. The correct timing and use of the important different types of questions are central to the processes of gathering information, matching needs, and building rapport and empathy. Questioning also requires that the sales person has good listening, interpretation and empathic capabilities. See the empathy page, specifically the levels of listening.

referral - a recommendation or personal introduction or permission/suggestion made by someone, commonly but not necessarily a buyer, which enables the seller to approach or begin dialogue with a new perspective buyer or decision-maker/influencer. Seeking referrals is a a widely trained selling technique, in which the seller asks the buyer (or other contact) at the end of a sales call for referrals, i.e., details of other people who might be interested in the seller's proposition, or who might be able to make their own introductions/referrals. This latter scenario effectively equates to networking.

rem - common slang for remainder or remnant in any business which deals with end-of-line, left-over, or otherwise non-standard-stock items which typically are handled and disposed at attractive terms to minimise waste and write-offs.

research/research call - the act of gathering information about a market or customer, that will help progress or enable a sales approach. Often seen as a job for telemarketing personnel, but actually more usefully carried out by sales people, especially where large prospects are concerned (which should really be the only type of prospects targeted by modern sales people, given the need to recover very high costs of sales people).

retention/customer retention - means simply keeping customers and not losing them to competitors. Modern companies realise that it's far more expensive to find new customers than keep existing ones, and so put sufficient investment into looking after and growing existing accounts. Less sensible companies find themselves spending a fortune winning new customers, while they lose more business than they gain because of poor retention activity. (The hole in the bucket syndrome, where it leaks out faster than it can be poured in.)

sales cycle - the Sales Cycle term generally describes the time and/or process between first contact with the customer to when the sale is made. Sales Cycle times and processes vary enormously depending on the company, type of business (product/service), the effectiveness of the sales process, the market and the particular situation applying to the customer at the time of the enquiry. The Sales Cycle time is also referred to as the Sale Gestation Period (ie from conception to birth - enquiry to sale). The Sales Cycle in a sweet shop is less than a minute; in the international aviation sector or civil construction market the Sales Cycle can be many months or even a few years. The funnel diagram and sales development process on the free resources section show the sales cycle from a different perspective, (and actually prior to enquiry stage). A typical Sales Cycle for a moderately complex product might be:

  1. Receive enquiry
  2. Qualify details
  3. Arrange appointment
  4. Customer appointment
  5. Arrange survey
  6. Conduct survey
  7. Presentation of proposal and close sale

sales forecasts - also called sales projections, these are the predictions that sales people and sales managers are required to make about future business levels, necessary for their own organisation to plan and budget everything from stock levels, production, staffing levels, to advertising and promotion, financial performance and market strategies.

sales funnel - describes the pattern, plan or actual achievement of conversion of prospects into sales, pre-enquiry and then through the sales cycle. So-called because it includes the conversion ratio at each stage of the sales cycle, which has a funneling effect. Prospects are said to be fed into the top of the funnel, and converted sales drop out at the bottom. The extent of conversion success (ie the tightness of each ratio) reflects the quality of prospects fed into the top, and the sales skill at each conversion stage. The Sales Funnel is a very powerful sales planning and sales management tool. A diagram of a typical basic Sales Funnel appears on the free resources section. Also referred to as the Sales Pipeline.

sales report - a business report of sales results, activities, trends, etc., traditionally completed by a sales manager, but increasingly now the responsibility of sales people too. See the sample monthly sales report template (MSExcel format), or as a PDF version of the same report template. A sales report can be required weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually, and often includes the need to provide sales forecasts.

sales pipeline - a linear equivalent of the Sales Funnel principle. Prospects need to be fed into the pipeline in order to drop out of the other end as sales. The length of the pipeline is the sales cycle time, which depends on business type, market situation, and the effectiveness of the sales process.

sector/market sector - a part of the market that can be described, categorised and then targeted according to its own criteria and characteristics; sectors are often described as 'vertical', meaning an industry type, or 'horizontal', meaning some other grouping that spans a number of vertical sectors, eg., a geographical grouping, or a grouping defined by age, or size, etc.

segment/market segment - a sub-sector or market niche; basically a grouping that's more narrowly defined and smaller than a sector; a segment can be a horizontal sub-sector across one or more vertical sectors. See the marketing page.

service contract - a formal document usually drawn up by the supplier by which the trading arrangement is agreed with the customer. Also known as trading agreements, supply agreements, and other variations. See the section on service contracts and trading agreements.

soft contacts - a networking term (used to differentiate from 'hard contacts' people and groups) - 'soft contacts' may refer to networks/groups of loose and flexible nature. See 'hard contacts' and more details about both terms in networking situations within business networking section.

soft sell - an old term referring to a gentle style of selling, not necessarily subtle or two-way/facilitative/modern, instead 'soft sell' refers simply to the absence of pressure and urgency.

solutions selling - a common but loosely-used description for a more customer-orientated selling method than the Seven Steps; dependent on identifying needs to which appropriate benefits are matched in a package or 'solution'. The term is based on the premise that customers don't buy products or features or benefits - they buy solutions (to organizational problems). It's a similar approach to 'needs-creation' selling, which first became popular in the 1970s-80s. Solutions selling remains relevant and its methods can usefully be included in the open plan selling style described later here, although modern collaborative and facilitative methodologies are becoming vital pre-requisites.

SPIN® and SPIN® Selling - A popular selling method developed by Neil Rackham in the 1970-80s: SPIN® is an acronym derived from the basic selling process designed and defined by Rackham: Situation, Problem, Implication, Need, or Need Payoff. More detail about SPIN® and SPIN® Selling appears in the SPIN® chapter of this page. Note that SPIN® and SPIN SELLING® methods and materials are subject to copyright and intellectual property control of the Huthwaite organisations of the US and UK. SPIN® and SPIN SELLING® methods and materials are not to be used in the provision of training and development products and services without a licence.

steps of the sale - describes the structure of the selling process, particularly the sales call, and what immediately precedes and follows it. Usually represented as the Seven Steps of the Sale, but can be five, six, eight or more, depending whose training manual you're reading.

Strategic Selling® - when used in upper case and/or in the context of Miller Heiman's Strategic Selling® methodology (which features in their books of the same name, first published in 1985) the Strategic Selling® term is a registered and protected product name belonging to the American Miller Heiman training organisation - so be warned. LAMP® and Strategic Selling®methods and materials are subject to copyright and intellectual property control of Miller Heiman, Inc., and again be warned that LAMP® and Strategic Selling® methods and materials are not to be used in the provision of training and development products and services without a licence.

strategic selling - you will also hear people (me included) referring to 'strategic selling' in a generic sense, and not specifically referring to the Miller Heiman methods and materials. In a generic 'lower case' sense, 'strategic selling' describes a broad methodology which began to be practised in the 1980s, literally 'strategic' by its nature (the principles involve taking a strategic view of the prospective customer's organisation, its markets, customers and strategic priorities, etc), which is described above and referred to as 'open plan selling'. When using the 'strategic selling' terminology in a training context you must be careful therefore to avoid confusion or misrepresentation of the Miller Heiman intellectual property. If in any doubt don't use the 'strategic selling' term in relation to providing sales training services - call it something else to avoid any possible confusion with the Miller Heiman products.

tangible - in a selling context this describes, or is, an aspect of the product or service offering that can readily be seen and measured in terms of cost and value (eg., any physical feature of the product; spare parts; delivery or installation; a regular service visit; a warranty agreement). See intangible.

target/sales target - in a sales context this is the issued (or ideally agreed) level of sales performance for a sales person or team or department over a given period. Bonus payments, sales commissions, pay reviews, job gradings, life and death, etc., can all be dependent on sales staff meeting sales targets, so all in all sales targets are quite sensitive things. Targets are established at the beginning of the trading year, and then reinforced with a system of regular forecasting and reviews (sometimes referred to as 'a good bollocking') throughout the year. See forecasting.

targeting - this has a different meaning to the usual noun sense of target (above). Targeting is a marketing term - very relevant and important for sales people and sales managers too - which refers to the customers at which the selling effort is aimed, hence targeting. In this respect the term relates to 'target markets', or 'target sectors'. This is the customer aspect within 'positioning' of a product or service or proposition. Targeting is represented by the question: Who will buy the product/service? Deciding targeting on a company scale is normally the responsibility of a marketing department or agency, but each sales person and sales team as huge potential to develop and refine their own local targeting - so as to aim their efforts at the sectors or customers which will produce the greatest results. For example - and many sales people, especially self-employed providers and traders - completely ignore the fact that sales generally come more easily from existing or previous customers than prospective new customers to whom the supplier is completely unknown. Similarly size of prospective customer is another largely overlooked aspect of targeting. Any business will naturally have more amenable sectors of potential customers than other parts of the market. Targeting is the process by which the selling organization maximises its chances of engaging with the most responsive and profitable customers.

telemarketing - any pre-sales activity conducted by telephone, usually by specially trained telemarketing personnel - for instance, research, appointment-making, product promotion.

telesales - selling by telephone contact alone, normally a sales function in its own right, ie., utilising specially trained telesales personnel; used typically where low order values prevent the use of expensive field-based sales people, and a recognisable product or service allows the process to succeed.

tender - a very structured formal proposal in response to the issue of an invitation to tender for the supply of a product or service to a large organization or government department. Tenders require certain qualifying criteria to be met first by the tendering organization, which in itself can constitute several weeks or months work by lots of different staff. Tenders must adhere to strict submission deadlines, contract terms, specifications and even the presentation of the tender itself, and usually only suppliers experienced in winning and fulfilling this type of highly controlled supply ever win the business. It is not unknown for very successful tendering companies to actually help the customer formulate the tender specification, which explains why it's so difficult to prise the business away from them.

territory - the geographical area of responsibility of a sales person or a team or a sales organization. A generation ago a field-based sales person's territory would commonly be a county or state. Now in this globalized age, where so much selling is done online and remotely by telephone rather than by expensive face-to-face selling, field-based sales people's territories are much bigger, and can be entire countries or continental regions.

territory planning - the process of planning optimum and most cost-effective coverage (particularly for making appointments or personal calling) of a sales territory by the available sales resources, given prospect numbers, density, buying patterns, etc., even if one territory by one sales person; for one person this used to be called journey planning, and was often based on a four or six day cycle, so as to avoid always missing prospects who might never be available on one particular day of the week.

trial close - the technique by which a sales person tests the prospect's readiness to buy, traditionally employed in response to a buying signal, eg: prospect says: "Do you have them in stock?", to which the sales person would traditionally reply: "Would you want one if they are?" Use with extreme care, for fear of looking like a clumsy desperate fool. If you see a buying signal there's no need to jump on it - just answer it politely, and before ask why the question is important, which will be far more constructive.

unique/uniqueness - a feature that is peculiar to a product or service or supplier - no competitor can offer it. See the marketing section for more detail about developing unique selling propositions. Uniqueness is a much overlooked aspect of selling. The vast majority of sales organizations focus their efforts on selling 'me too' products and services, where inevitably discussions tend to concentrate on price differences, whereas the most enlightened and progressive sales organizations strive to develop unique qualities in the propositions, which dramatically reduces competitive pressures.

UPB - unique perceived benefit - now one of the central strongest mechanisms in the modern selling process, an extension and refinement of the product offer, based on detailed understanding of the prospect's personal and organizational needs. A UPB is your USP from the customer's perspective, in other words, what your USP means to your customer, which is a very different way of approaching selling than from the traditional angle of seller-oriented USPs. It's essential to discuss your offering in these terms with your customer.

USP - unique selling point or proposition - this is what makes the product offer competitively strong and without direct comparison; generally the most valuable unique advantage of a product or service, for the market or prospect in question; now superseded by UPB.

variable - an aspect of the sale or deal that can be changed in order to better meet the needs of the seller and/or the buyer. Typical variables are price, quantity, lead-time, payment terms, technical factors, styling factors, spare parts, back-up and breakdown service, routine maintenance, installation, delivery, warranty. Variables may be real or perceived, and often the perceived ones are the most significant in any negotiation. See the section on negotiation.

Books, Articles, and Resources Referenced on this Page

Sharon Drew Morgen - Dirty Little Secrets (2009) - builds on her previous work. A modern selling classic.

Sharon Drew Morgen - Buying Facilitation®&(ebook - 2003) - will fundamentally change the way you sell - and communicate with people.

Sharon Drew Morgen - Selling with Integrity (1997) - powerful ideas for the modern age.

Sharon Drew Morgen - Sales on the Line (1993) - the best book ever on telephone selling? Probably.

Neil Rackham - SPINSelling®- Neil Rackham's best-selling book on selling, which first announced the SPIN®Selling process. There are different editions and prices (1988 and 1995) and audio books.

Dale Carnegie - How to Win Friends and Influence People - Dale Carnegie's 1937 classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People is still a best-selling book on sales and persuasion. You'll benefit by augmenting the thinking within it with the modern ideas about facilitative communications and methods.

Heiman, Sanchez, Tuleja - The New Strategic Selling - The 1985 classic selling book (Strategic Selling) 'introduced' the win-win concept of selling, updated for the 21st century as The New Strategic Selling®. Again, you'll benefit by augmenting the thinking within it with modern facilitative ideas.

Miller, Heiman, Tuleja - Successful Large Account Management - Miller Heiman's 1991 LAMP® large account management and selling methodology classic, again, updated for the modern age. Again, you'll benefit by augmenting the thinking within it with modern facilitative ideas.

Good modern sales people tend to be more rounded and grounded people than a generation ago. Expectations, especially among professional and corporate customers, demand that sales people are mature, ethical, responsible, and have an appreciation of business beyond the selling process and traditional sales role. As such, if you want to be a great sales person, then learn about business and organisations as widely as you can.

The following articles and resources on selling and business will help you to do this, starting with three excellent free ebooks, kindly offered by their authors to the Businessballs audience:

  • Business Survival and Prosperity Guaranteed - by Paul Hurst - a helpful practical encouraging guide to business start-up and improvement (note this is a 15MB pdf file) - with grateful acknowledgements to Paul Hurst
  • The Game of Business by Paul Gorman - wonderful practical guide to business success from a leading business thinker - with grateful acknowledgements to Paul Gorman
  • Unleash the Power of Consultative Selling - by Rich Grehalva - excellent free 200 page e-book on modern selling methods - with grateful acknowledgements to Rich Grehalva - your feedback on this ebook direct to Rich would be appreciated, thank you.
  • See Sharon Drew Morgen's Buying Facilitation® - it is probably the most advanced and effective sales methodology for selling and business today, and while the techniques focus on selling, the methodology and principles transfer well to all kinds of other relationships and communications. More information and materials at
  • See Ari Galper's ideas in the Cold Calling acticle. Ari's 'Unlock The Game®' sales training programme is based on open honest sales methodology and integrity - especially useful in effective cold-calling.

There are many more good modern ethical sales training and development systems out there. If you've had experience of a good modern sales training programme or product, or a particularly effective selling concept please let me know.

Businessballs does not receive a commission from the respective providers and authors for recommending the sales methods and theories featured in this sales training guide. Amazon book commission and Google advertising revenues go towards running the website, thank you.

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Please note: Where known, trademarks and intellectual property of other people and organizations have been acknowledged. If you spot any omissions let us know via the 'contact us' page and we'll insert the acknowledgement as applicable.

Sales Activator® is a registered trademark of Trainique Ltd.

Buying Facilitation® is a trademark of Sharon Drew Morgen.

Unlock the Game® is a trademark of Ari Galper.

SPIN® and SPIN Selling® trademark details: The copyright rights in Neil Rackham's book, SPIN Selling, are owned by Huthwaite, Inc. ( Depending upon the geographic territory, the rights in the trademarks SPIN® and SPIN SELLING® are owned by either Huthwaite, Inc. or Huthwaite International ( Note that SPIN® and SPIN SELLING® methods and materials are not to be used in the provision of training and development products and services without a licence.

LAMP® and Strategic Selling® copyright details: LAMP® and Strategic Selling®methods and materials are subject to copyright and intellectual property control of Miller Heiman, Inc. LAMP® and Strategic Selling® methods and materials are not to be used in the provision of training and development products and services without a licence. See for details.

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