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—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, 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: just because they’ve got questions, that doesn’t mean we have that agreement.
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, Different Titles
Since various groups often use different sales training programs, organizations easily accumulate a number of titles for selling. e.g., SPIN, Solution Selling, Customer-focused Selling, and the title I use: Consultative Selling.
Titles don’t usually inform organizational language that much—they don’t tend to stick after training—so having several floating around doesn’t hurt. What hurts organizational performance is when sales philosophies vary. The glaring current example is “Challenger” selling because its combative approach doesn’t mesh with most other approaches.
It’s not necessary to insist all groups use the exact same program. As long as the various approaches use the same general philosophy, and as long as the various groups recognize that, sales culture has a solid foundation.
Same Level of Respect, Different Methods
One thing that undermines organizational sales performance is the idea some sellers deserve greater respect. This disparity is often based on 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 in using the right method. 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 used 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 of leaping in assumptively)
- 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, as well as shortens a ramp-up period (both of which benefit the organization).
Beware Precise and Organization-wide Process
There are three things to keep in mind on this point:
One: We have to start with the word “process” itself. The word is a bit misleading because it implies something linear and systematic. Selling is rarely those things because humans are involved and it’s important the entire organization embraces this reality.
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 with 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 management tools. Managers should look for and manage skills, not an ability to draw the image 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 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.