Seduced by Sales Models: It’s Not the Club It’s the Golfer

woman golfer golfing silhouetteHave a look from the 30,000 foot level at all the sales models on parade. Spread out below you, reaching to the horizon, you’ll find venerable models like Consultative Selling, Solutions Selling, SPIN Selling, Customer-focused Selling, High Probability Selling, Customer-Centric Selling, Fearless Selling, Provocative Selling, Action Selling, Challenger Selling, and so forth. 

Looking over this sales smorgasbord, the Big Message we get is that Models Matter. Unfortunately, the great sales model debate has a lot in common with debates about the best diet; most can work if well-executed, but there are no free-lunch panaceas out there.

To Buy is Human

Buying sales programs is really no different from buying anything else. Think of buying as a subcategory of being influenced or persuaded. Robert Cialdini laid out the drivers years ago, in his masterful Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. They include scarcity (“act now, supply limited…”), liking (“Justin Bieber wears it…”), authority (“he’s written books!”), social proof (“everyone’s doing it”), and reciprocity (“try a free sample..”).

These principles can be played out on either a one-off transactional basis (think late-night infomercials), or as foundational to long-term B2B relational buying approaches (I emphasize reciprocity as being at the heart of trust, for example). But while the guts of sales programs may emphasize longer-term initiatives, the sale of those programs themselves is often done transactionally.  

Thus a systems integrator or a manufacturer of cooling systems may want a sophisticated selling system; but the process for selecting that system feels more like buying a car or choosing a diet!  And woe to the small business people among us; not only are we faced with conflicting claims, they collectively suggest you can have it all, now. And we so want to believe it. 

Bottom line results; lower waistlines in 10 days; better lead generation; a shapelier butt; categorize your customers this way; eat your favorite foods; watch your closing rate increase; watch the pounds melt away. 

We’re familiar with the struggle about whether or not to click on the latest Vegematic offer (or iPhone goodie, in my case); but are we prepared to deal with the seductive idea that sales programs offer a panacea for what ails us?

The Key to Life is…

I know people who have found that the Key to Life is, respectively: family, Catholicism, a good diet, Alcoholics Anonymous, yoga, money, Buddhism, cognitive psychotherapy, Jesus, GTD, and a good steak. Take your pick. I once heard that there is nothing that is true for all human beings. 

What I take from this is, “many paths to the same goal.” I don’t know about the steak or the money people, but the nirvana that many of the others find through their various routes sounds remarkably similar to the nirvana of others. The parable of the blind men and the elephant comes to mind. 

True Believers notwithstanding, this suggests that the path we take is less important then the way we travel it. Are you executing the system with good intent, or are you trying to pick up girls who hang around the yoga studio? Are you willing to put in the time, or do you blame the therapist when you find you’re still angry? Are you asking the Lord for acceptance, or, along with Janis Joplin, for a Mercedes Benz? 

The Keys to Sales Effectiveness

Solution selling talks about finding latent pain. SPIN selling tells you to spend more time asking questions before jumping to solutions. Challenger selling tells you about the value of having a point of view. Consultative selling teaches that clients buy solutions they have a hand in creating more than those they don’t. All great ideas. 

It’s the blind men and the elephant all over again.  

The choice of a model is not irrelevant. FIrst and foremost, you should go with one that feels right to you. Factors to take into account include your customers’ buying process, your value proposition, your industry, your own and your organization’s strengths and weaknesses, and a few other items.  But I would argue the choice of model is not the critical choice that the models’ purveyors would have you believe.

So what makes the difference? Execution f the basics.  I’m not a huge fan of sports metaphors, but Vince Lombardi surely got it right when he reportedly started each season by saying, “Men, this is a football,” and proceeded to emphasize the  blocking and tackling fundamentals (a metaphor which is redundant in the case of football). 

What are the fundamentals in selling? Reasonable people can differ, but I’d suggest they include listening skills, a good work ethic, empathy, imagination, problem definition and problem-solving skills, and a secure ego. I also suspect all those traits end up as prominent in all the sales models. 

I once played golf with my brother in law. I used rented clubs. After mis-hitting a drive, I made a disparaging comment about the driver. He took the driver from me and nailed a shot well down the middle of the fairway.  He didn’t say a word. He didn’t have to. It’s not the club, it’s the golfer – much as we all might like to think otherwise. 

(An earlier version of this post appeared in RainToday.)

3 replies
  1. Richard
    Richard says:

    Great post, Charlie. I particularly like the “many paths to the same goal” analogy. I imagine walking from the north pole to the south pole–we may each start off in opposite directions but will both get to the same destination in about the same time.

    Reply
  2. David Lambert
    David Lambert says:

    Charles, you’re absolutely right about intent. You can have the best model in the world, but if the intent is manipulation of a buyer towards your goal, they’ll see right through it.

    Models have a place though, particularly if they include simple to remember acronyms. Many (if not most) people know WHAT to do to build trusted relationships. What I hear over and over again is that they need help in the HOW.

    Reply
  3. Nils Montan
    Nils Montan says:

    Over my longish life, I studied many, many systems, programs, paths, etc. I always ended up in the same place. As Jon Kabat-Zinn once reminded us, “wherever you go, there you are.” That’s why I have always loved the concept of trust based selling. Get yourself out of the way and concentrate on the client!

    Reply

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