Martin FairnMartin Fairn, founder and CEO at Gazing Performance Systems
Is selling an art or a science? People who are perceived at being good at selling are seen to have strong inter-personal skills and be ‘a natural’– therefore implying it’s an art. However at the other end of the spectrum it’s possible to conceptualise the process and see the science behind selling – from territory management, market research and all the data and technical aspects to making sure you know your potential customer targets.
At Gazing we don’t actually care whether selling is an art or a science – It has to be treated as a skill; as such I believe it can be improved, taught and transferred. Research has shown that whether you are learning mental or physical skills, the main two determinants of skill acquisition appear to be repetition and specificity. Both are required; one without the other doesn’t work.
In my view selling is really about understanding the buying process. People need to have a clear understanding about what, exactly, this involves – providing clarity around the specific nature of the skill and how it can be acquired.
Here are my seven steps to acquiring the right skills for effective selling:
Tip 1: Have a guiding principle. Don’t concentrate on your own performance; focus on the fact that the decision to buy is actually made within the customer’s mind.
The guiding principle should make sense of the sales process. It is your potential customer’s perception of the product or service that is important, not necessarily yours. The basic knowledge underpinning sales skills should involve what goes on in the customer’s mind rather than your own.
Tip 2: A sales person needs an overall framework or structure that breaks the decision making process down into a few, more manageable chunks.
Each ‘chunk’ needs to represent the different stages or phases that a customer goes through in their mind before committing to a product or service. These chunks can be described as ‘guiding concepts’. They are useful because they initiate our thoughts and actions without getting us bogged down in unhelpful detail.
Tip 3: Within the general framework, it is necessary to have practical detail about how to actually go about interacting with the customer at each stage
A successful methodology ensures there is an overall framework that has a guiding principle, some organising concepts and some practical detail. All of these levels are very important. Often approaches to selling are weak because they lack one of these components. For example, without an organising conceptual overview, the salesperson is left only with a series of questions or techniques, but little assistance in making sense of the responses. Alternatively, they might have the overview, but lack the specific detail about what to actually ask or say, undermining the practical nature of what is required in making a sale.
Tip 4: The more pressured a task, the more structure it needs to have in place to support the process. Sales people need help to keep on track when the pressure hits – and not revert back to old habits
Under stress, being able to perform requires clarity of process. When under pressure, we easily revert to what we are familiar with and if that is an inadequate process, performance levels will consequently be poor. In contrast, having a reliable framework in our minds allows us to follow an established procedure with confidence. We can always veer away from the model if it seems appropriate, but this is done deliberately and the sales person always knows where they are in the process, and so how to return to the usual selling pathways when appropriate. We use a special one-page map that shows how pressure causes us to become diverted away from our key processes. Part of skill acquisition is learning how to cope under pressure.
Tip 5: Breaking down an overall task – such as achieving a sale - into 1) the component parts and 2) the connections between them - gives sales people a framework to increase the likelihood of the successful completion of that task.
Having the right structures in place intensifies the focus and keeps sales people on track. Good frameworks provide both breadth - in general terms, all the stages or steps required for the task to be completed, as well as depth – the practical detail about how to go about completing each step.
In other words, good frameworks have both the overview and the detail. One without the other weakens the practicality of the framework.
Tip 6: Visualise the framework
Frameworks or structures that can be drawn as a diagram are more practical because they are easier to recall, particularly under pressure e.g. a visual prompt in the middle of a sales interaction. We use the ‘map’ metaphor to help guide sales people through the process and give them a point of reference throughout.
Feedback tells us that one-page maps are an extremely efficient way of illustrating a seemingly complex process in a practical and simple way. Individuals are not required to recall thick manuals: they have the framework in their heads.
Tip 7: Practice makes perfect
The final tip comes down to repetition; as I mentioned earlier, research shows that the two key factors behind successfully acquiring new skills are repetition and specificity. My first six tips give you an insight into defining a successful sales process. But once the specifics and structures are established with the help of visual prompts, the key is repeating them over and over until we have ‘over-learned’ them, as this is ‘the way we sell successfully’.
Martin Fairn, Founding Partner and Chief Executive Officer at Gazing Performance Systems
Martin is CEO at Gazing Performance Systems. He has applied his commercial experience and knowledge of how businesses struggle to adapt to pressurised environments, to develop and deliver Gazing’s ‘performance under pressure’ methods and programmes. For further information please see: http://www.gazing.com/