Organizations often say they want a comprehensive or consistent approach to marketing and selling. Their various business groups often say they need something unique. Here’s a look at which things should be the same — and which should not.
Use the Same Basic Definitions
An organization that speaks the same language has good communication and consistent expectations, both of which feed strong performance. Language involved with ‘marketing’ and ‘selling’ should start with which is which. Here are definitions that fit no matter the department, or how simple or complex the products and services:
- Marketing is the stuff we do proactively to gain prospects’ attention, and regain customers’ attention. Marketing tools include advertising, email, mail, calling, and social media (to name just a handful). Marketing also includes responding to inquiries from prospects and customers. This includes responding when someone calls us, emails us, or walks in and asks for information.
- Selling begins once the prospect or customer has agreed to discuss the fit between what they want and what we have to offer. Selling does not begin unless and until we have that agreement. This is true even when someone has approached us with questions and apparent interest.
Why Agreement is the Best Line
No matter how sophisticated or simple the products and services, an assumptive approach generates problems. Using agreement as the gate means employees need to ask for a sales conversation, which helps prevent assumption from the start.
Same Philosophy/Approach, Different Titles
Since various groups often use different sales training programs, organizations easily accumulate a number of titles related to selling. e.g., SPIN, Solution Selling, Customer-focused Selling, and the title I often use: Consultative Selling.
A variety of program titles won’t hurt — titles rarely stick after training — what hurts organizational performance is when sales philosophies/approach vary.
To give your sales culture a solid foundation: make sure all programs use the same general philosophy/approach and make sure the various groups know they are the same.
Same Level of Respect, Different Methods
One thing that undermines organizational sales performance is the idea that some sellers deserve greater respect. This disparity is often based on the amount of knowledge needed and complexity of the sale.
It’s true varying levels of complexity require somewhat different selling methods. However, each sales role has its own challenges and requires skill. This reality must be recognized throughout the organization for there to be a healthy sales culture.
Different Methods, Common Threads
In addition to equal respect, all prospecting and sales methods should have recognizable common threads; such as:
- Using consultative-style cold calling if using a consultative style of selling
- Asking clients and prospects to have a sales conversation (instead assuming agreement)
- Asking questions before making recommendations
- Asking for the business, rather than assuming the sale
Common threads also include easily-translated nomenclature. For example:
- Service reps who are taught to ask a few questions for cross-selling should also be taught that’s sometimes known as “discovery.”
- Those using “discovery” should know that’s simply asking questions.
Ensuring a high number of common threads makes it easier for employees to transition to new sales roles within the company and shortens a ramp-up period, both of which benefit the organization.
Beware Using a Precise Organization-wide Sales Process
There are three things to keep in mind on this point:
One: We have to start with the word “process” itself. Be aware the word is a bit misleading because it can imply something linear and systematic. Selling is rarely those things because humans are involved. That said, as long as the overall message embraces that messiness, “process” is better than “steps” or “stages.”
Two: Different groups tend to need different processes. For example:
- Reps who sell complex services usually need something with more elements than do service reps who cross-sell.
- Some groups reach out proactively: their process should include prospecting (marketing) and selling. Other groups react to opportunities that come to them: their process begins with asking to have a sales conversation.
Three: Some groups do not need a “process” at all. Take a call center rep, for example. They should first help the caller and then transition into selling if the caller is willing to do that. Describing that with some sort of process can make things needlessly complex — which will be counter-productive.
Be Careful With Illustrations
If you search “sales process illustration” you’ll find concentric circles, loops, stuff that’s linear, and flow-charts with arrows pointing hither and yon. Many illustrations (like those charts with arrows) are too busy to be useful. People should be able to get the message at a glance.
Illustrations are most effective when used to help underling concepts sink in. For example: A cycle or loop is a good image if you want reps to continually seek out opportunities to sell to existing customers.
It’s important to note illustrations become counter-productive when used as proxy for performance. Managers should look for evidence of skills, not an ability to draw an illustration and name its parts.
Last but not least, make sure the illustration correctly conveys the concept. The most common error is using a funnel to illustrate what happens with an individual prospect or customer. A funnel only correctly illustrates what happens with a group or pool of prospects or customers.
Define or describe “marketing” versus “selling” the same way throughout the organization. (Again, I recommend using agreement to mark the line between them.)
Training programs may use different titles, but their philosophy and general approach should be the same.
All sales groups should be given the same level of respect.
Though methods and processes often need to differ from group to group, all of them should have easily-recognized common threads.
Invest in training that builds skills needed to carry out the above — not in fancy illustrations and complex processes — and manage for those skills.