A common question asked at every sales training programme is: ‘What is a sale?’ Even when asked of veteran salespeople, the answers are varied and not clear. There is definitely no common understanding. It gets worse if one were to ask, ‘What is the process of a sale?’
Often, salespeople identify with only the final act of booking order and getting the payment. Sales results are just that—only results, quite akin to the lab reports that one gets when the doctor orders some blood tests. Each person’s blood reports reflect a lifestyle and the functioning of the various parts of the body and its organs. As people vary in the way they live, eat or drink, their reports are rarely alike. The results give the doctor the direction to plan a strategy that will produce in the patient a more favourable result by changing the process of living.
Another analogy is to confuse the harvest of a farmer with the nature of farming. Every harvest is a function of various farming activities that the diligent farmer undertakes through the year. It starts with ploughing the field. He then sows the seed and has to irrigate, weed, protect against pests, use fertilizers and hope that the crop gets the right amount of sunshine days, moisture and care. When finally the crop is ready, there is a happy time of harvest. Depending on the system of farming, he gets the results of his toil.
If the harvest was below the expectation, a review is done to ensure that the harvest the following year meets the targets. No farmer worth his salt would leave his fields to the vagaries of nature and turn up only at cropping time. Yet this is what salespeople seem to do. They assemble at month-end and start to call upon the phone potential customers on whom they can dump material. Perhaps, if there was a sales system which was piously followed, there would be no need to hustle at month-end.
Why is there no regard for a system among sales teams? Sales policies do not substitute for a sales process. When no process is defined, there is scope for everyone to do what they like. When members of the sales team follow their heart and get sales to come what may, mayhem comes. So, what really comprises a sales process?
The essence of a sales process is to know how a customer goes about deciding on what to buy. This is the Holy Grail of the salesperson’s quest, to know what moves her to buy. Easy to say, but it is hard to do it. Most sales trainers believe that there are certain minimum actions to be completed and the order is in the bag. There really is a step-by-step process. Knowing this gives the salesperson the confidence that the task of making a sale is not just bravado but also a system of doing a job right, every time.
Most robust sales training programmes talk about this delicate process. In the Huthwaite Groups’ SPIN Selling system, by Neil Rackam, there are four simple stages in the selling process.
- The first is to ask the ‘Situation’ questions. This is to have salespeople ask the customer for information of facts that will give a lead to locate a customer’s potential problem area. An example is ‘Please tell me what the situation you face today is.’
- The next step is to identify the ‘Problem’ with a question like ‘How often does this happen?
- The third step is the ‘Implication’ question. Here the salesperson tries to assess the extent of impact the problem has if not solved. An example is ‘How much has this problem affected you, in productivity or cost?’
- The fourth and last part of the SPIN Selling system tries ‘Needs Pay-off’ question. Here the salesperson tries to assess the benefit to the customer, with the problem being solved.
There are critics of the SPIN process of selling, but it is robust and clearly lays out a path for understanding the nature of sales. Carew International, USA, has the classic Positional Selling process, yet another effort to establish a process of selling that will make this a profession. More about that is discussed in the chapters ahead.