Group of Executives Discussing a Sales Opportunity | How to Choose the Best Sales Process Sales Process for Personal Selling

This in-depth, interactive guide helps sales professionals and executives choose the best-fit sales process for their business or organization. If you sell or manage a sales team, it will  help you 1) streamline your options in choosing a sales process by tying them into a narrative, 2) offer a clear rationale to follow in choosing the right sales process for your organization, 3) bring you clarity on what a personal sales process is, if you need one, and if you do, what kind is the best for your needs or the needs of your business or organization, and 4) offer compassionate selling framework that values innate humanness in all parties involved in a sales conversation.

Introduction

If you are a sales professional or a sales executive engaged in personal selling, you probably get overwhelmed with too much information on the topic of a sales process. There is so much information around this subject that sometimes it’s not very easy to figure out what a sales process exactly is and if you need one. If you do need a sales process, you may have also wondered what kind is best for your specific needs or the needs of your business or organization. Finally, if you are the kind of person who cares deeply about people, you may also have been frustrated with the fact that most of the stuff that’s available on this subject seems to dehumanize people who are involved in the process of buying and selling a product or a service.

In this interactive and comprehensive guide, I hope to:

  1. Streamline your options in choosing a sales process by corralling them into five phases of evolution and tying them into a narrative.

  2. Offer a clear rationale to follow in choosing the right sales process for your organization.

  3. Bring you some clarity on what a personal sales process exactly is, if you need one, and if you do, what kind is the best for your specific needs or the needs of your business or organization, and

  4. Offer a compassionate selling framework that values innate humanness in all parties involved in a sales conversation. 

First, you will take a quick quiz to help you figure out all the factors that go into choosing the right sales process. The quiz will also give you a recommendation for the sales process that will be most appropriate for you. If you would like to dive deeper, you will also learn what these sales processes are, the steps they follow, their pros and cons, and some of their similarities and differences. These sales processes are laid out in a narrative form, as an evolutionary process, so that the options available to you are streamlined and organized in manageable phases. Finally, if you are looking to bring a humane dimension to your selling approach, I offer a method that I have developed over the last couple of decades called Compassionate Sales Framework.

Is a "Sales Process" Different from a "Selling Method?"

If you research the topic of sales process, you will come across different terms that may cause some confusion. For the purpose of this guide, we consider them synonymous.


However, there is a bit of a hierarchy in terms of how specific each term is. If we were to look for a hierarchy, I would rank these terms in the following order from the "tightest" to "loosest: "1) Sales System, 2) Sales Process, 3) Sales Method, 4) Sales Framework, 5) Sales Methodology, and 6) Sales Approach. A "system" implies a very specific set of actionable steps while an "approach" is a bigger picture view. Everything else falls in between these two extremes. 


Also, the word "sales" is often interchanged with "selling." For our purpose, we use them pretty much synonymously.  For example, a "sales process" means the same thing as a "selling process." A "sales system" is considered the same as a "selling system." And we make no distinction between a "sales method" and a "selling method." 


To avoid the monotony of repetition in this very long article, I have used these terms somewhat interchangeably.

Who this Guide is Written For

You would be concerned with a sales process if you play the following roles in a business, non-profit, or government organization:

Salesperson: You are responsible for selling a product, a service, or an idea to another human-being, in a series of live-action selling situations. Such situations may include phone conversations, video chats, and in-person, face-to-face meetings. You are in the field, at the front line. doing the things that you need to do to bring in sales.


Sales Manager: You manage the behaviors, activities, and, most importantly, the results of a team of salespeople whose job is to sell products, services, or ideas. You are one step removed from the front-line salespeople who report directly to you.


Sales Director or Vice President: You manage a group of sales managers who report directly to you. You are two or more steps removed from the front-line sales-force.


CEO, President, CFO, or COO: You are the head of a selling organization that needs to bring in sales revenues through personal selling or human-to-human selling. You have a team of sales directors or sales VP's who report directly to you.


CEO or President Who Sells or Manages Salespeople: This is a special case. Small business owners are the engine that keeps our economy humming. You are a business owner of a small or medium-size business who also gets directly involved in front-line selling or directly manages a group of salespeople who do.


Observer, Adviser, or Analyst: In this case, you are primarily involved with observing, reporting on, or analyzing an organization’s sales activities, its behaviors, and its results. Perhaps you are an adviser or a consultant. Perhaps you are a stock analyst or a reporter writing on a business’ sales activities. Or maybe you are an MBA student working on a real-life case study for your masters thesis.

Quiz: Which Sales Process is Best for You?

Answer 12 easy questions below and get a recommendation for a sales process that will best serve your business or organization.  

What is Personal Selling?

Let's first figure out what I mean when I say "personal selling," "person-to-person selling," or "human-to-human selling."

The sales landscape has changed dramatically in the last few years. There was a saying in the old days that went something like this: "People buy from people who they like and trust." Is it still true?

Do we still buy from actual humans, much less humans we like and trust? 

Look at the diagram below. It gives you some idea of how buying and selling happens in today's increasingly digital world. 

Quadrant Diagram Human vs Machine Buyers and Sellers

We define "personal selling" as one human-being selling to another human-being in a live-action interaction.

Some things never change. Yes, we do live in a digital world. More and more of our buying and selling happens with bots playing as the intermediary. And this will only increase as time passes. 

But I think there will always be a place for the human touch. An actual person having a live conversation with another person when they buy and sell a product or a service. 

For the purpose of this article, our entire focus is on the orange square in the diagram above - where an actual human-being sells to another human-being in a series of encounters or conversations, at least some of which include live-action dialogue where they talk to each other. That's our focus for this article. 

Machine Selling, Human Buying
A good example of a machine selling to a human-being is a sales-page on a website that ends in a "buy" button. The "machine" here is the sales-page and everything that makes all of its pieces work such as the buttons, the algorithm, the sales copy logic, and all the technological components that make them work. This can also be called digital marketing, which I consider to be different from personal selling. 

Another good example here is a human visitor on a sales-page interacting with a chat-bot on that page. Because the "selling party" here is a machine algorithm, we don't consider it personal selling. Arguably, more and more of our the situations will become machine-to-human selling in the future as technology develops better and smarter bots. 

Human Selling, Machine Buying
An example of this scenario is the author of a website sales-page who is writing for the benefit of the search engine. Because the entity who is being pitched is a computer algorithm, we don't consider someone is writing a sales page human-to-human selling. 

For the purpose of this article, we don't consider copy-writing a personal selling activity for another key reason: The selling activity does not engage two human beings in a live engagement. However, if the person reading the sales page clicks on the chat button in the corner and starts chatting with a live human being, for the context of this article, they have entered into a personal selling situation. 

Machine Selling, Machine Buying
The best example of this situation I can think of is the algorithm-based stock-trading where both a buying party and the selling party are bots. This type of buying and selling may enter the realm of business-to-business buying sometime in the future. But for the purpose of this guide, we don't consider it personal selling.

Personal Selling (Human Selling, Human Buying)
The only situation that we consider personal selling or human-to-human selling is the one in which one or more human beings directly engage in a dialogue with one or more human-beings who are potential buyers, at least one of which interactions is a live conversation where they are required to respond to each other off-the-cuff. This may happen face-to-face or through a telephone call, a video conference, or a smartphone chat. 

Some Examples of Personal Selling


  • A website visitor on a product sales-page who accepts a chat request from a live salesperson.

  • A salesperson making a prospecting phone call to another person. 

  • A retail store salesperson at a big-box retail store selling a refrigerator to a walk-in consumer.

  • A partner in an accounting firm selling an audit project to a mid-size business owner. 

  • A senior partner in a law firm selling Intellectual property protection services to a team of business executives. 

  • A sales team working for an information technology solutions provider selling a local and wide area networking project to the Chief Information Officer of a large multinational business.

  • An owner of a medium-sized advertising agency selling an advertising pilot project to the Vice President of marketing of a large non-profit organization. 

  • An owner of a home design-builder selling a home remodeling project to the husband and wife home owners. 

  • The partners in a small engineering consulting firm selling a large engineering study project to a government agency executive. 

  • A salesperson in a boutique website development company selling a website design and development project to a small business owner.

Definition of Personal Selling

Personal selling is a situation in which one or more human-beings directly engage in a live-action dialogue with one or more other human-beings to explore the possibility of one party buying products, services, or ideas from the other party in exchange for money. 

What is a Sales Process?

To answer this question, let's first ask the Oxford Dictionary the meaning of the word "process:" 

Definition of Process #1: A series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.

If we were to apply this definition to the term "sales process," perhaps we can come up with something like this...

Sales Process Definition #1: A series of actions or steps taken by salespeople with their prospective clients to achieve a sale.

Definition of a Sale: We can further define the word "sale" as an agreement between a buyer and a seller for the buyer to buy the seller's offerings in exchange for money.

You may agree that there is more beyond the classical definition of the word "process." What I am also interested in is the second definition of process...

Definition of Process #2: "A natural series of changes." For example, the ageing process. 

If we applied this definition to the term "sales process," we may come up with something like this...

Sales Process Definition #2: "A (natural) series of changes in agreements that a seller and a buyer go through to arrive at a final agreement on whether or not to buy a product or a service in exchange for money."

And there is one more definition of the word "process"...

Definition of Process #3: "A systematic series of mechanized or chemical operations that are performed in order to produce something." For example, ‘the manufacturing process is relatively simple.’

According this definition, we may come up with something like this...

Sales Process Definition #3: "A systematic series of mechanized operations that are performed in order to produce a sale."

The question is: Which definition of the word "process" do we apply to the term "sales process?"

This is an important question, I think. And the way you answer this question may change how you go about making a typical sale and what results you get from such an endeavor.

This may seem like trivial hair-splitting. But I propose to you that it's not. The way we approach our sales activities will change depending on how we view a personal selling process. And the way we approach our sales activities will radically change both the quantity and the quality of the sales results we get.

To really understand this point, let's look at how the sales process was born and how it evolved. 

Sales Process Definition

A (natural) series of changes in agreements that a seller and a buyer go through to arrive at a final agreement on whether or not to buy a product or a service in exchange for money.

The Evolution of a Sales Process

What's the most important thing in a sales process?

The way I see it, it's the people who are involved in it. Perhaps the best way to look at a sales process is as an evolution.

The evolutionary phases of a sales process can be loosely mapped to the evolution of us as humans over the past several centuries.

Interestingly, someone who takes on a new role as a salesperson will also go through these evolutionary phases as she progresses through her sales career and matures in her role over time.

The rest of this section follows the rationale of a sales process from its early stages of formation to its present-day form. 

"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature."

Helen Keller

Evolution Phase I: No Sales Process

When my daughter was about 8-years old, she signed on as a Girl Scout.

Soon after she joined, she brought home some cookies to sell. It was interesting to watch her speak with her potential customers, our neighbors mostly, as she tried to get them to buy her products. 

"What do you do to get people to buy cookies from you?" I asked.

"You ask them if they want to buy the cookies," she explained, "and they either say, 'yes' or 'no.'"

Simple enough.

As I watched her do her routine, something interesting happened. She had some prospective customers who clearly did not want to buy her products. But they did not dare say "no" to a little girl.

What did they do, instead?

They said that they would "think it over."

My daughter was let down easily, without her feelings getting hurt and they got to exit an uncomfortable situation gracefully. 

Occasionally, someone would turn her down flat and it would hurt, as rejections always do.

Over time, she would begin to figure out that there were rewards to selling more of her products. If she wanted those rewards, she would begin to think about how she could sell more of her products consistently and with less and less effort.

To sell more, she may simply talk to more prospects or get some of her previous clients to buy more cookies. But she may also realize that she has to work less, and face less rejections, if she can get more people to say "yes" instead of "no." If she is really good, she may also catch up to the fact that a "think-it-over" is typically a "no," and when she heard it, would try to turn it into a "yes."

She may also get some help from her troop counselors - her sales managers.

Her sales managers may put her through a professional training program. In that program, she would learn how to approach people, bond with them better, present her products in more compelling ways, close more sales, and get more orders.

If the troop leaders want to go overboard, they may even teach her the exact script that they know works best in selling her products. 

A sales process is thus born which, in its most fundamental form, is identical to a professional selling system implemented by a typical selling organization.

Pros and Cons of Having No Sales Process

Pros
  • Spontaneous approach makes prospects feel more comfortable. 
  • Salespeople can bring a sense of creative freedom in their selling approach. 
  • Some salespeople can come up with creative responses to prospects' objections.
  • Salespeople seem more genuine and authentic when they don't follow a script. 
  • Some salespeople would enjoy selling when creative, ensuring better sales results.
  • New best sales practices and can be invented and sales skills developed in the field.
Cons
  • Lessons learned in one selling encounter are lost in the next one. 
  • Salespeople have to re-"invent the wheel" in every selling opportunity, wasting time and effort.
  • Some salespeople would be better off rehearsing responses that are needed often. 
  • No objective barrier to psychologically separate the salesperson from rejections. 
  • Rejections taken personally due to lack of objective barrier, resulting in burnouts.
  • Best practices cannot be taught to new salespeople and sales skills can't be transferred.
Bottom Line:

There are certainly some advantages to not having a sales process: Spontaneity, creativity, and fun can mean more innovative selling practices and sales skills, which in turn can result in increased sales. But there are also some pitfalls to not having a sales process: There is no objective shield to separate a salesperson's inner sense of self-worth from repeated rejections, no way to quickly learn from their own failures and successes, and no way for their managers to pass on the best sales practices to their salespeople. 

“If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing.”

W. Edwards Deming

Evolution Phase II: Traditional (or Reactive) Sales Process

Most professional salespeople's world is not that different from my daughter's.

When they enter the profession, they "wing it."  

After a while, they start thinking about how they can reap the maximum reward for the minimum amount of effort. As they get some experience, they begin to spot some patterns and ultimately devise a process, a system, or a method to optimize their activities.

Often, their management aids the process by providing training - formal or informal - in systems, processes, and methods that have worked well for them.

As a salesperson goes from having an "ad-hoc" or "wing it" approach to a systematic approach in selling, much is gained, but so much is also lost.

There is more predictability and control over many unpredictable variables in the sales world. The salesperson gets more efficient, gets more done in less amount of time and has a much better command and control over her work-day.

But she also loses the innocence and authenticity that would build deep, trusting relationships with her prospects. As she builds a sales process, she also loses the spontaneity that would give her fulfillment in her work.

Perhaps the most important element in any buying and sales process is the trust that a prospect or a client would have in a salesperson.

In most buying-selling situations, the salesperson is viewed with a bit of skepticism as prospects know that the salesperson is trying to "sell them something." So the two parties are already starting from a position of distrust.

When a salesperson chooses to sell systematically, this feeling of distrust is magnified further.

Often creativity, spontaneity, and authenticity are forever lost in selling organizations that choose to graduate from the "no-sales-process" approach to selling and install heavy systems and processes.

In such organizations, many salespeople go from being their natural, genuine selves to being mechanical-sounding salespeople that prospects avoid. Many fail to make their sales-quota. Some lose passion for their work, burn out and change professions. 

Ultimately, the sales process that was supposed to help them become successful in sales becomes one of the primary causes for their failure.

Traditional Sales Process is Common-sense

The first sales process that most salespeople would intuitively come up with is something that I call a traditional sales process. Us humans have been buying and selling for a very long time, perhaps even from the time when we did not have a concept of currency.

Imagine the time when a caveman who had leftover meat from his fresh kill thought he could trade it for something else with neighbor, may be some firewood.

What would he do to convince his neighbor?

The first thing he most likely may do is have a conversation about random things like weather. In traditional sales philosophy, this stage is called establishing bonding and rapport.

Then he would talk about the fresh kill he has made and how good a thrill it was. He may talk about his family dinner the night before and how delicious the meat was. In a traditional sales process, this is called Presentation. In short, it involves talking about, or presenting, the features and benefits of a product. 

Next, he would propose that perhaps his neighbor would like to trade the meat for some of his firewood. In traditional sales process, this is called Closing the Sale. The firewood in this example is the money. If the neighbor - the potential client - sees the value of the trade, he may ask how much firewood he would like and for what quantity of the meat. If they come to an immediate agreement, they would make the deal and close the sale. 

But in many cases, they might have some disagreement on how much meat should be exchanged for what quantity of the firewood. The neighbor may also push back on some of the purported benefits of the meat. In traditional sales philosophy, these are called Sales Objections. If the neighbor wants to back out of the deal, he may say "no." But most likely he will say something like "let me think about this," or "let me speak to my wife," and then exit the situation. 

The two neighbors have now entered into the process of Handling Stalls and Objections. Our caveman friend may try to overcome the objections and stalls by making more convincing arguments. They will go back and forth like that and may eventually come to an agreement to do the trade.

Or our caveman salesman may eventually give up or look for someone else to do the trade with. If he is the thinking kind, he may even use some of the same steps he used in the sales process with his neighbor.

Traditional Sales Process Steps

1
Establish Bonding and Rapport

Make the prospect feel comfortable by making a small-talk. Some of the techniques that are taught in this step are making a good eye-contact, having a firm handshake, and commenting on the pictures on the prospect's desk and the objects or their walls to perhaps find some common ground that will ease the conversation. 

2
Qualify the Prospect

This could simply mean that the salesperson chooses some situation in the world of prospective client where their products or services are relevant. They may ask some questions to make sure that the prospects needs their products and services. This stage is also called Need Identification or Requirements Gathering stage in some complex, business-to-business selling situations. 

3
Present a Product or a Service

In this step, the salesperson presents his or her products or services to the prospect. In the initial stages of evolution, presentations were mainly focused on the features of the products. A more evolved version of the presentation focuses on the benefits of the products and services and sometimes the "pains points" they will resolve. 

4
Close the Sale

In this step, a proposal is made, either verbal or in writing, to exchange the product or service for a sum of money. 

5
Handle Stalls and Objections

If the agreement is not immediately reached, the prospective client often comes back with a different proposition. In most likely scenario, the prospect will ask a lot of questions and the salesperson would try to satisfy those questions with answers. In the end, the prospect may say 1) "yes, let's go forward," 2) "no, we are not going to buy," or (most likely) 3) "we will think about it." If it's not a "yes," the salesperson would try to find out why and try to overcome their objections in order to make the sale.

Pros and Cons of a Traditional Sales Process

Pros
  • Brings some order to the salespeople's unpredictable world so they know what actions to take. 
  • Gives salespeople an exact set of behaviors to exhibit, making their work more predictable. 
  • Makes the buying process more predictable for a prospect so they know what to expect when buying something. 
  • Makes it easier for sales managers to train salespeople in certain sales skills and behaviors they expect. 
  • Makes it easier for managers to hire for certain sales skills. 
  • Makes it easier for managers to hold salespeople accountable for certain sales behaviors that are known to produce results. 
  • Both parties know that they are in a process of buying and selling, giving them a sense of security and comfort.
Cons
  • Removes the guileless innocence from the salesperson's behaviors. 
  • Makes Salespeople predictable to the prospects because they are familiar with the moves a salesperson makes. 
  • Projects sales professionals as stereo-typical salespeople, which makes them less trustworthy. 
  • The sales results may actually go down because prospects often avoid stereo-typical salespeople. 
  • Makes certain ineffective sales behaviors a "sacred cow" tradition even though they don't actually work in the real world. 
  • May propagate the false idea that some sales behaviors work even when they don't, wasting time, energy and efforts. 
  • Sales dialogue may deteriorate into a demoralizing state of "may be" where neither party knows where they are. 
Bottom Line:

A traditional sales process can bring a level of order and predictability to the art and craft of selling. But it can also enhance the unhelpful stereo-type of a pushy sales person and make the selling process ineffective. Because the traditional sales process is reactive by nature, it also takes longer to close sales and often makes the selling process exhausting both for the salespeople and the buyers. It can engage both parties in a drawn out battle of raising and answering stalls and objections and successive levels of negotiating by positional bargaining.

"Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none."

 William Shakespeare

Evolution Phase III: Non-traditional (or Proactive) Selling Systems

The traditional sales process has many flaws, mainly due to the fact that it's fundamentally the same process that we have been using since the dawn of civilization. Traditional selling methods are reactive in nature and set up the two parties in a confrontational posture.  

Modern sales training industry has been well-aware of this phenomenon.

They know that salespeople are seen with skepticism. Prospects don't trust salespeople to do what's best for the prospects. When a salesperson sells in a systematic way, especially when she plays out the stereo-typical role of a pushy salesperson, a prospect can "see her coming" from miles away.

To counteract this, the sales training industry created a series of non-traditional sales processes.

The fundamental idea behind non-traditional sales processes is that after decades of being manipulated, lied-to and "sold," prospects have caught up with all the traditional moves that a salesperson makes.

Non-traditional processes are meant to implement an alternative "system" where the salesperson sells in a way that's the opposite of what's expected in salesy behavior. 

For example, a traditional salesperson is expected to always expect and get a "yes" in a selling situation. So they have many "closing techniques" that allow them to build on successive "yeses." A non-traditional salesperson would often expect and go for a "no," knowing that she would more often get a "no" than a "yes," making it look like that she has the prospects' best interest at heart, all the while maneuvering to get the sale.

Even with a non-traditional sales system, just as in a traditional system, a prospect is played and manipulated, expected to respond as a static, predictable machine. What's forgotten is that prospects are human beings with extraordinary capacity to sense danger signals coming from a killer salesperson and adapt instantly and on-the-spot, whether they are being sold with a traditional system or a non-traditional system. 

In the end, both systems retain their shortcomings, all of which culminate into one simple fact: They magnify an already existing cynicism that a prospect has for a salesperson and further drives a wedge between them, making it difficult, if not impossible, to create a mutually trusting business relationship.

In many ways, a non-traditional sales process is more dangerous, especially when applied without the intention to do what's best for the prospect. I have seen too many salespeople abuse their psychological advantage with non-traditional sales processes - because they are quite powerful - and use it as a tool for psychological and emotional manipulation, similar to what a psychiatrist would do with his "power" with a client.

This can - and often does - backfire on salespeople, causing many unintended negative consequences, often leading to failure in their jobs or even in their careers. 

Steps in a Non-Traditional Selling System

1
Show Up as a Trusted Adviser

The salesperson exhibits behaviors that sets her apart from the stereo-typical salesperson. Such salsey behaviors include talking excessively, being overbearing, feigning interest in the prospect's personal life, and being overtly subservient to the prospect. Instead, the salesperson is genuinely interested in the prospects's professional issues that pertain to her expertise. Also, they ask gentle yet probing questions and listen - and understand - deeply. 

2
Qualify Deeply

Qualification includes one or more of the following three factors: 1) compelling problems that needs to be solved - often felt and expressed emotionally, 2) access to financial resources to pay for solving those problems, and 3) the authority - or access to people with authority - to sign on the purchase order for making the final purchase decision. When done well, most of the objections raised by prospects in the selling process would get answered by the end of this step. 

3
Present the Solution

The solution is presented that specifically addresses one or more problems shared by the prospect. Because most of the objections that could be raised were already raised and answered in the qualification step, there is no need or little need to address them in this step. 

4
Secure the Sale

An agreement is made to finalize the sale. In some of the non-traditional selling processes, the salesperson makes sure that the prospect does not intend to back out from the sale. If such a possibility exists, the salesperson compels the prospect to raise those objections so that the prospect's buyer's remorse does not crop up later. 

Pros and Cons of Non-traditional Sales Systems

Pros
  • If done with skill, the salesperson is seen as a trusted adviser, not a pushy salesperson.
  • When done skillfully, non-traditional sales techniques are quite powerful and will improve almost all aspects of selling. 
  • Sales results can improve with skillful application of non-traditional selling methods.
  • It can result in higher sales at better margins, with less effort and can shorten the length of a sales cycle. 
Cons
  • The efforts to be seen as a trusted adviser can backfire if not done with fine skills or overdone.
  • Requires finely developed skills that can backfire and short-circuit the sale if done prematurely or recklessly.
  • A step-by-step, systematic approach to selling can be a turn-off for the prospects who are expecting a genuine conversation. 
  • It can result in a short-circuited sales process where the prospect ends the sales call prematurely. 
Bottom Line:

Non-traditional selling methods can improve a business or organization's sales results. They can increase sales revenues, improve profit margins, shorten the sales cycle length, and make the selling process less stressful and more inspiring. But they also increase the risk that the sales process goes off the rails prematurely if not done with with a certain finesse and skill.

Similarities and Differences: Traditional and Non-traditional Sales Processes

Comparison: Traditional vs Non-traditional Sales Methods

Asking Questions Versus Answering Questions

Closing Techniques: Handling Stalls and Objections Versus Eliminating Stalls and Objections

Examples of Traditional and Non-traditional Selling Methods

Presence: Eager to Please Versus a Trusted Adviser

Present to Close Versus Present to Solve Problems

Sales Motivation Versus Sales Psychology

Talking Versus Listening

"A consistent thinker is a thoughtless person, because he conforms to a pattern and thinks in a groove."

J. Krishnamurti

Evolution Phase IV: Compassionate Selling Framework

While they are useful, sales processes, whether traditional or non-traditional, fall short of delivering on their promise for a very simple reason: They enhance and magnify the already existing sense of distrust and cynicism that a buyer has for the salesperson.

A system is mechanical, static, and lifeless. The prospect is organic, dynamic, and alive. A system is built on the assumption of making things predictable, controllable, and changeless. A human being thrives on the notions of spontaneity, creativity, and change.

Sure, there are some predictable elements about human beings, their personality traits, for example. But even those predictable elements are not static, they are dynamic, as every individual shows up differently in a given situation or at a given time.

There are two problems that arise out of a mechanical or mechanistic sales process: 1) the prospective customers feel manipulated, and 2) the salesperson feels constrained, strait-jacketed or confined. It sucks the motivation and energy of the salesperson to have to follow a strict systems of process of selling. And if a salesperson is showing up without energy and motivation, it's safe to bet that their prospects won't feel inspired or positive about the conversation that's about to happen or is already taking place. 

A sales process helps. But not entirely. A spontaneous approach is also good. But only up to a point. In my experience, the best approach to selling is one which encompasses the best of both approaches - systematic and spontaneous - but adds an additional dimension that's lacking in both approaches.

This third dimension is the salesperson's ability to be aware or present so that she can tap into her innate abilities and act in ways that are congruent with the demands of the selling situation.

She can draw from either a systematic approach or a spontaneous approach. She can choose components of either a traditional sales process or a non-traditional one. Or she can do something entirely different that does not fit the mold of any conventional ways of doing things. This way, she keeps her training, her skills, and her expertise but also has access to her inherent creativity and her inner guidance system, which allow her to make the right choices in a given situation.

This framework, which I like to call Compassionate Selling Process, adds one dimension back to selling that was "removed" in systematic selling: Human Awareness. Bear in mind, when a salesperson is compassionate, she is not only compassionate to the prospect, but also to herself. 

The fact is, it's impossible to remove human awareness from any activity because our awareness is an integral part of who we are. It's pretending that it does not exist and relying on a "system" to do our thinking for us that's the cause of the sales problems that lead to so many failures in sales.

The only way to have a long term success for a salesperson is to make her awareness her most important asset in a selling situation and letting it guide her in making important decisions along the way.

Systematic Selling (Traditional or Non-traditional) Vs Compassionate Selling

How the Prospect is Viewed

How the Salesperson is Viewed

Selling Approach

Anatomy of Compassionate Selling

Perhaps the best way to look at compassionate selling is as flowing water.

How does water respond to the forces it encounters? In the manner that's perfectly appropriate to the situation.

A flow of water can be flexible yet powerful, spontaneous yet restrained, playful yet purposeful. A body of water can be deep or shallow and flow as fast or as slow as required by the circumstances. Water can refresh and replenish, relax and rejuvenate, inspire and exhilarate all who come in touch with it.

No two streams of water are alike.

You might argue that a stream of water is quite chaotic. Yet, every stream has some elements that give it a structure: banks, river-bed and the flowing water. A stream, just like many of nature's forces, is a perfect combination of chaos and order. A stream of water also has underlying governing intelligence that directs its movement and its existence. This  governing intelligence - you may call it laws of physics - determines such factors as the water's tendency to move from a higher plane to a lower plane, its speed and its strength.

One way to look at Compassionate Selling is to look at a cross-section of the flow of water.

The two banks represent the seemingly opposing principles in all of nature's creation. Chaos and Order. Strategy and Technique. Practices and Principles. The bedrock represents the unifying but transcendent principle in all of nature's creation which could be called Presence, Intelligence or Life Force. It could be observed that in human beings, the source of this intelligence is awareness or consciousness.

Chaos >> Intelligence << Order

Practices >> Presence << Principles

System >> Awareness << "Wing It" 

Strategies >> Inherent Talent << Techniques

Compassionate Selling includes systematic selling but also allows the chaotic nature of spontaneity, creativity and freedom. It allows a salesperson to do what she needs to do in any given situation, even if the system does not call for it or it may seem to go against the system. The element that allows her to choose the right action in every given moment is her awareness.

We don't have to look at Compassionate Selling as yet another sales process. Perhaps, a better way to look at it is a way of selling. It's designed to preserve the predictability and consistency of a sales process while allowing the spontaneity and in-the-moment responsiveness of an ad-hoc approach. But most importantly, it's built on the bedrock of being in the moment and being acutely aware of the dynamics of a selling situation.

The key to making compassionate selling work is not in the process of selling itself but in the person who will use it - the salesperson.

Just like there are barriers that prospects put up to a salesperson, there are barriers that a salesperson needs to deal with within herself. The extent to which she will be able to help her prospect deal with his barriers is governed by the number of barriers she has broken within herself.

Seven Locks to Sales Success

In the world of water travel, "locks" are often used for vessels to cross between differing levels of water.

In such situations, a section of water temporarily holds the vessel where it's brought to the required level by raising or lowering the water level. The analogy applies quite well to a potential client and a salesperson. A selling situation is like the section of water between locks where the prospect and the salesperson resolve their differences and come to a level of understanding about doing business. 

Over the years, I have come to identify 7 distinct barriers or blocks that prospects put up in most selling situations. These blocks are instinctive and often sub-conscious. But they are powerful as they draw from the prospects' survival instincts honed through centuries of evolution and passed down from generation to generation.

The good news is that these blocks can also be turned to "locks" which are a series of mutual agreements or understandings. These locks cement an increasingly more trusting relationship between the two parties, resulting in a conclusion that's best for both parties, which may or may not be a sale. (In the latter case, it may be found that it does not make sense for the two parties to do business with each other.)

Presented below are 7 such blocks and what they look like when they are turned into locks or mutual agreements.

7 Steps of Compassionate Selling Process

1
Physical Distance
  • Block 1: Physical Distance
  • Lock 1: Physical Meeting

Salesperson provides, through her message in her marketing and prospecting efforts, one or more compelling reasons for the prospect to want to request a contact with her. 

2
Energy Mismatch
  • Block 2: Energy Mismatch
  • Lock 2: Energy Matched

Salesperson gets in tune with the prospect by being aware of the prospect's preferred ways of communicating and adjusting until there is a match.

3
Emotional Distance
  • Block 3: Emotional Distance
  • Lock 3: Emotional Closeness

Prospect closely guards his emotions from the salesperson. 

4
Intellectual Fog
  • Block 4: Intellectual Fog
  • Lock 4: Intellectual Clarity

Intellectual rationale is used by both the salesperson and the prospect to deal with true and important issues such as money, decision makers and details of how exactly the salesperson will fix a problem or supply the needed solution.

5
Diverging Values
  • Block 5: Diverging Values
  • Lock 5: Converging Values

An agreement is reached about values, boundaries and guidelines that are important to both parties within which the salesperson and the prospect will work with each other. 

6
Undervalued Uniqueness
  • Block 6: Unvalued Uniqueness
  • Lock 6: Valued Uniqueness

Prospect does not see or appreciate the unique value that the salesperson brings to him, compared to the competition. 

7
"Me Against You"
  • Block 7: "Me Against You"
  • Lock 7: "Me And You"

A sense of togetherness is reached where instead of feeling like two opposing parties, the two people feel like they are on the same side of the table. A sale is often consummated at this stage. 

Pros and Cons of a Compassionate Sales Framework

Pros
  • Allows a salesperson to blend the best aspects of traditional, non-traditional sales methods or even not use them at all.    
  • Allows a salesperson to start with their existing levels of selling skills or even no skills at all. 
  • Allows a gradual evolution of a personal selling approach and sales skills. 
  • Makes selling a pleasant, joyful journey even with occasional setbacks. 
  • Allows salespeople to achieve peak levels of sales success while enjoying the process. 
Cons
  • Requires deeper understanding of selling systems, higher mastery of selling skills, and deeper self-awareness. 
  • Requires a higher level of commitment to mastering the art of sales over a long period. 
  • Requires a willingness to gradually learn the skills that will make them successful. 
  • Requires a higher level of commitment to self-development and self-reflection. 
  • Requires a commitment to learning and readiness to seek help and connect with others. 
Bottom Line:

Compassionate selling allows driven and motivated salespeople who deeply care about others to achieve peak levels of selling success while enjoying the process of selling. However, it also requires a higher level of commitment to self-reflection and self-development. 

"To know oneself is to study oneself in action with another person."

Bruce Lee

Evolution Phase V: Build Your Own Sales Process

If you have surveyed the sales landscape and come away dissatisfied with what's available in the marketplace, you may have to develop your own sales methods.

Needless to say, this will require a tremendous level of commitment to knowing the craft of selling and buying as well as self-development. 

Pros and Cons of Forging Your Own Selling Methods

Pros
  • Because you built it, you own it, which means you are an expert at using it.
  • May require little financial investment in buying and learning one off-the-shelf selling process. 
  • You will be more enthusiastic in using your sales process because you built it yourself. 
  • You may be able to sell it to others and make it an additional source of revenues for your business. 
Cons
  • Will require a tremendous amount of time, effort and energy, not just in developing the framework but also in trying and failing in the real world. 
  • Will most likely cost equal or more in time, effort and energy spent. 
  • You will have to get a buy-in from your salespeople or will have to involve them in developing it, making it a very costly and risky affair. 
Bottom Line:

Developing your own sales process will make you more enthusiastic in using it, at least initially because it's your own creation. But it can also be a time consuming affair that can cost you many business opportunities as go through many trials and failures that are inevitable in developing something from scratch. 

The Evolution of Selling Systems is Cyclical

It's important to note that the evolution of selling systems is a cyclical process.


As a business, an organization, a sales team or even an individual salesperson matures, they would eventually introduce their own ideas and approaches to their sales processes. Once they have invented their own selling methods, they may begin to feel that some of the best ideas come from having no sales process.


When this realization hits, the selling organization has begun its next revolution in building a sales process that works for them. 

Five Phases of Sales Process Evolution Displayed as a Wheel

Which Approach to Selling Appeals to You the Most?

Your turn! Consider some of the questions below and feel free to chime in!


  • Did you take the quiz? What was your recommendation? 
  • Do you agree or disagree with your recommendation?
  • Which sales process appeals to you the most? 
  • What is your one takeaway from this guide? 
  • Do you have any questions, comments or ideas on how you can use this guide to improve your sales results? 

Please share below...