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The Sales Executive's Dilemma

Most sales executives have agonized over the effectiveness of their company's sales process and its inability to produce optimum sales results. Many keep tweaking their process with changes based on their own experience and prior knowledge, or an understanding of what highly successful companies in their own industries have done.

Others hire expert consultants and trainers, most of whom recommend a logical, state-of-the-art sales process intended to improve the company's sales productivity. Many of those plans have worked well enough to justify the time, effort, and expense…however, many more have not.

Many experts conduct a "best sales practices survey" as part of the development of the company's new standard sales process. It consists of interviewing 1 to 2 percent of the company's best salespeople to identify the sales process they use. In addition to the interviews, the experts may get the top salespeople together to create a consensus on the one "best sales process" that all in the organization should use.

Then, the experts combine the consensus of interviewee's process, which have been corroborated by the best salespeople, with their own logical sales process. The result becomes the new standard sales process. Next, the sales force is trained and the new process is implemented.

Upon measuring the ROI of the new sales process, however, top management is very often dissatisfied with the results. So what went wrong? By way of an answer, let me share this anecdote…

I graduated from college over 50 years ago—in 1955, to be precise. At the time, sales instruction focused on "needs selling," which was in turn based on the Attention, Interest, Desire, Conviction and Action (AIDCA) Buying Decision Model. This model was remarkably similar to Consultative Selling, Solution Selling, SPIN Selling, Value Selling, and similar systems of today. All of the above are designed to lead the minds of prospects through each step of the buying decision model in order to get them to buy.

After graduation, I was hired by one of America's big five manufacturers of forklift trucks. I broke all the company records for the number of prospecting calls and the number of sales presentations made each week. I was also the star of the weekly sales meetings; I knew the right the answers to virtually every sales question.

But four months later, I was no closer to selling a forklift truck than on the day I was hired, and I was getting very discouraged. I told my sales manager I was quitting and planning to go into a different line of work. Luckily, he had a better idea.

Bob Faulk, the leading salesperson in North America for the company, worked in our office. The sales manager asked Bob to let me go out on sales calls with him, so I could watch how he put into practice what I learned in school.

On our first day together, Bob went on only one sales appointment. It was his fourth visit to this prospect and it took over three hours to complete. That day, Bob closed an order 16 times greater than the annual quota for each of the company's salespeople. During the time with that customer, there was very little he did which resembled anything I had learned in school, or anything that appeared in the dozens of sales books I had read. Even his mindset was very different from other salespeople's.

Bob was jubilant when we drove out of the customer's parking lot. "Did you see how I used the 'alternative choice close?'" he asked.

Taking out my notes, I read to him what he did and said, "That was not the alternative choice close."

"Than I was 'closing on minor points.'"

"There were no minor points."

"Then what did I do?"

"Bob, I have never learned or read about anything resembling what you did to close that sale."

"Maybe I invented a new closing technique."

Bob continued to use many sales processes of his own invention during the subsequent sales visits I observed. Each time we talked about what he did, he continued to confuse his sales processes with traditional sales techniques.

Bob Faulk was the first of hundreds of top salespeople I've observed over the years. Correlation of all that observational data proves he and most of the best salespeople unknowingly invented all the parts of a new sales model.

Most top salespeople I studied developed their processes experientially, intuitively, independently, and—like Bob Faulk—unknowingly. Therefore, there is no commonly understood sales jargon to communicate what they do. That's why the best salespeople can seldom accurately describe how they sell.

That is why it has been so difficult for most sales executives to discover, define, and teach their sales force how their best salespeople actually sell. Most of the best salespeople use a relatively simple linear sales process and mindset that is relatively easy to train, track, supervise, and coach. However, there is no one sales process that works for all companies. Each company should develop their own customized process.

Objective observational research, where there are no preconceived ideas about what your best salespeople do, or should do, can reveal your company's most effective sales process. A small group of salespeople testing the resultant process can quantify its ROI…and in the process, finally solve the sales executive's dilemma.

Jacques Werth is president of High Probability Selling.