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Sales Training Course

18 Říjen 2010 Žádný komentář

Selling is a wonderful profession when approached ethically, constructively and helpfully.

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

This sales training guide attempts to summarize 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.

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. See the notice at the foot of the page.

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.

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.

appointment – a personal sales visit to a prospect, usually arranged by phone.

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

buying signal – a buying signal is a comment from a prospect which indicates that he is visualizing 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 colors 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 – behavioral, 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.

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’

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. Computerized CRM systems enable management of prospect and customer details, contacts, sales history and account development. Well known examples of CRM computerized 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 organization 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 organizations of any scale to enable effective planning and implementation of sales (and to an extent marketing) activities.

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.

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.

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.

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 license.

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.

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.

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 (egg 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 popularized 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.

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 features in sales training.

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

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, egg., "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 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.

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).

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, i.e. a prospective customer.

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 realize 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 (i.e. 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. 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 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

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.

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. the changing face of selling – sales methods continually change

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.

values/expectations of the sales organization and the selling process

The columns compare traditional old-style selling versus modern selling ideas.

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.

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 relationships. 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. 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.

early selling and sales training ideas

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 favors 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-practiced) 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.


AIDA is the original sales training acronym, from the late 1950s, when selling was first treated as a professional discipline, and sales training began. AIDA is even more relevant today. 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 empathize 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 behavior 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.1980′-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

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/fulfill/deliver/admin

the seven steps of the sale in summary

1. planning and preparation (the seven steps of the sale – 1)

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

  • 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

2. introduction/opening (the seven steps of the sale – 2)

  • 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 (the seven steps of the sale – 3)

  • 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

  • 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?

  • 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

4. presentation (the seven steps of the sale – 4)

  • 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.

  • 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 (the seven steps of the sale – 5)

  • 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?" 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

  • 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.

  • 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 (the seven steps of the sale – 6)

  • 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 (the seven steps of the sale – 7)

  • 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 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 (also called ‘sales proposition’)

FABs (features advantages benefits)
USPs (unique selling propositions/points)

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.


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.

the (seven) steps of the sale augmented with ‘facilitative’ methods:

  1. planning and/or preparation including preparation of facilitative questions (research is also useful to avoid wasting time asking about things that can be researched first)

  2. introduction or opening, using facilitative questions

  3. questioning (obviously using facilitative questions – helping to identify the buying criteria – for the good of the buyer, not the sales-person)

  4. presentation or proposition (only after prospect is ready for it)

  5. overcoming objections/negotiating – more appropriately these days using facilitative questioning and assistance to shape the proposition, and the prospect’s ability (and the capability of prospect’s organisation and systems) to assess, agree and integrate the proposition – if you are trying to overcome objections and persuade and influence at this stage then something’s wrong

  6. close or closing - not old style persuasive ‘closing’ – this should be modern collaborative cooperative agreement – using facilitative help where appropriate – complex systems need help in arriving at good decisions

  7. after-sales follow-up - facilitating supplier fulfilment and client adoption of proposition or solution – involves plenty of internal selling and ideally good project management skills – good sales-people should continue to take responsibility for checking and ensuring proper sales follow-through

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 organization. Significantly, facilitative processes and methods can be used to excellent effect in achieving these things – inside the sales person’s organization, as well as in the customer’s organization. In many situations, especially large-scale B2B selling, the sales-person’s facilitative involvement and ‘reach’ must necessarily extend to partner organization 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 organization.

Selling books and authors 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 – SPIN Selling® – Neil Rackham’s best-selling book on selling, SPIN® 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.

Ing. Ivan Vobořil Ivan Vobořil

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