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Thursday, December 20, 2007

The process of sales (not?)

Charles H. Green in his provocative Trusted Advisor blog has published a post that I think is truly important in defining sales and marketing practices. In "Why your sales process is bad for sales" he advocates that systematizing and measuring everything -- going by the numbers -- dehumanizes sales work, and disconnects it from the core essential quality of effective sales practice -- the quality of relationships. You can't force everything into metrics; into quotas, into measurable statistics, he argues, especially since the process of defining the sales initiative by the 'numbers' defeats the very best in sales work.

Comments to this blog, including something of a 'who's who' list of marketing and sales gurus such as Ford Harding, either agree, disagree, or share mixed feelings about this interpretation. They suggest that quantification is possible; that subtle interpretations and nuances can be measured, and that you can't take the measuring process out of sales work without failing to understand its essential nature.

Underlying all of this of course are arguments such as whether sales are best conducted on a commission basis, or by salary, whether teamwork and community are more or less important than individual initiative, and whether great sales can be achieved without a degree of sensitivity and understanding that transcends the mechanistic and overly structured 'systems' of business.

Green writes:

Selling is not at root, despite what web-searches will tell you, about process. It is about people and relationships and trust. We are in most cases far, far past the point of significant value-add by linking systems. And in getting there, we have run roughshod over the value-add by human connections.
In a comment, Tom "Bald Dog" Varjan ( says:

In my experience, sales managers love managing by numbers because it's easy. It's a lot easier to tweak numbers than creating an energised culture in which salespeople are naturally inspired to improve both the quality and the quantity of their relationships that, in time, can lead to high-calibre client relationships.

To create such a culture is the hard part. A culture that attracts such people while keeping the others out.

But I believe this also requires the adjustment of the compensation system. Personally I believe that the commission structure is adversarial to the client’s interest. We must be able to enter a discussion with a prospect with a total detachment from “getting the deal”. A well-thought No must be an accepted answer. Sadly, in traditional sales, it’s a sign of failure. It’s even taught at sales programmes: Either you win by selling the prospect or the prospect wins by not buying. It’s a win-lose scenario which is wrong.

I believe that trust from prospects significantly increases when they realise that we’re not going for the deal but participating in a decision process.

Like any important issue, you will find people with varying views and impressions -- and I think in many cases everyone will be right.

But I will try to outline some thoughts here.

At the very highest level, at the level of the truly huge sale; the sales that define and shape industries, that make or save businesses, that change or redirect public culture, the salesperson achieves success through sensing and capturing the essence of relationships; of values, of personal connectivity. But these one-on-one interactions, often at the highest level, are melded with analysis, research, polling data, information, and insights from science. These can be measured, and are.

I think mechanistic, ritualistic, 'by the numbers' techniques work in many cases -- otherwise, there would be no cold calls, no telemarketers, no door-to-door canvassers; no time-share commission salespeople. But these types of selling processes need to be connected to something else; and that is the sales representative's underlying ability and trust to form relationships with clients and the community at large.

Equally, some 'great' salespeople are so effective at the process of selling -- of building relationships within the selling structure -- that they forget the larger picture; how the selling effort integrates with broader objectives and values. for these representatives, some numbers, some controls, some guidance is vital.

Sure, we need the numbers, we need to measure results, and we need to build trust and integrity in our relationships with our clients.

It seems, in the end, the very best salespeople manage to make the relationships work so well that they don't need to think about the numbers -- but indeed they prove their success by achieving results. And these most certainly can be measured.


Sonny Lykos said...

Reading about "The process of sales (not)?" was interesting. I say that because several years ago I created a document entitled "The Process" that was sent to a potential customer so they would receive it prior to our first sales meeting with them.

It's purpose was to educate them as to the "process" of remodeling and how our own company handled that process, from the first sales meeting to the end of the project. I wanted to project some of the problems remodelers had with homeowners as to the realities of remodeling. I'll email you a pdf copy and you'll better understand what I'm talking about. It also addressed the bad habit contractors have had for centuries of giving free estimates. We started charging not for a free "estimate" which is really just a ball park price, but for a detailed Proposal, but I used the term SCA instead - a "Specification and Cost Analysis".

I realize that the potential buyer equates "estimate" with a detailed "Proposal" and wanted to clarify and change the term to meet reality. An estimate is just that - an estimate, not an exact price, whereas an SCA is what it states and involves many hours, if not days, of time and work to create. As such they cannot be free.

Construction Marketing Ideas said...

The document Sonny sent me is a classic of well-written material to prepare clients for a renovation project; I will (upon receiving permission) relate about it in a new posting soon.