Story added:

Tom Bird
Tom Bird: all about change.

Isn’t sales just about change management, asks author of Brilliant Selling, ?

When you think about it, there is very little that is new in sales. If we strung every story about rapport-building or asking questions together I am sure we could reach the moon and back!

In my view there are lots of different ways to sell and engage with the selling process, but, fundamental to success, is a cooking pot that contains remarkably few ingredients that add up to any one of a number of successful recipes. Beliefs, prioritisation and rapport are all in the pot but something that is not considered as regularly in articles is the fact that selling is about change and, to some extent, a salesperson has to be good at change management.

Where sales training falls short

In a very real way, I believe selling is about change – it’s about getting a prospect to change their situation in some way by buying our product or using our service. The change may be minimal and short term – buying a new wallet for example – or it might be much more fundamental and long-term – maybe buying a new gas turbine technology.

Basic sales training covers areas such as being interested in the prospect, asking open questions, qualifying them at every stage (and so on) but, if I think about when I have really been successful in my selling – especially in ‘solution’ sales, it has been because I have dealt with the fundamental issue of change. Some sales-process elements, such as identifying a need and building the ‘pain’, touch on the issue of change but don’t really deal with it completely.

The change equation

A while back, I came across a great equation which I have found useful. I delivered a programme on sales leadership a couple of years ago and one of the speakers came in with this equation about managing change and it immediately struck me that it hit at the heart of effective selling:

Sustainable change = Pressure to Change + A clear & shared vision + the ability to change + the first steps to change.

If any one of these components is not present, or even more importantly, the prospect is not fully aware of them, then our chances of a successful sale diminish – especially where the sale is complex.

Now, like many salespeople, I like to think that I have a proven and successful approach that contributes to the results that I achieve. But this little equation did cause me to ask a question: to what extent do I really focus on these things when I am selling compared with talking about my product or service?

If I am being brutally honest, the answer is ‘not all the time’! I can get caught up in the ‘what’ I am selling rather than the ‘why’ would they buy. I can lose sight of the fact that I might be able to motivate a person while I am in front of them but that motivation needs to remain in place long after I have gone. That person may need to convince others about the decision to buy. Like any ‘change’ we need the impact to be lasting and not just immediate.

Components of change

So, what if any one of these four components of change is not present? Let’s look at each in turn:

  • Pressure to change – It’s not enough to have a pressure to change, the prospect needs to fully engage with that pressure. If they do not engage, then the change will not be a priority and it will lessen the chance of others seeing the benefit. Without the positive benefit of our product or service being clear in terms of the benefit to the business of having it or the pain associated with not having it, other things will take priority instead of our product or service
  • A clear & shared vision – In addition to a reason for change, there needs to be a very clear vision for how the new situation will look/sound/feel. How will things be different (hopefully for the better!) with our product or service in place? If this component is absent (but the other three are present) then you may get a quick start but it will lack follow-up and continuation and it is more likely to fall at the first hurdle. Again, we need to help ensure that everyone connected with the use of (or benefit from) our product or service shares this clear vision
  • The ability to change – If our prospect does not feel they have the ability to change then, even if the other three components of change are present, it will lead to frustration. What does this mean to us in our sales work? We need to probe and explain how the prospect will engage in practice with the new product or service. If a clear vision is about ‘what’ the future will look like, then ability is about ‘how’ the prospect and their colleagues will engage – they need to feel comfortable that they can adapt and work with the product we are selling. It is easy for us to take this element for granted and we may sell once to a prospect if we don’t cover it off. However, you need this element in place if a repeat sale or long-term relationship is important to you
  • The first steps to change – Without giving someone clear first steps towards the change you want to bring about you will have an uncoordinated approach – potentially very dangerous in a sales situation where you want to influence an outcome that will work for both you and the prospect. You need to be clear on articulating the steps that you want the person to take.

Complex solutions

So why is all of this important in sales? Well, if you are selling anything that may be considered ‘strategic’ or providing a complex solution that requires some form of change to take place within your client or their organisation, then I don’t think you can be fully effective without addressing each of the four components of this equation. How you address them will vary with what you are selling and to whom you are selling it but you cannot ignore the need to be proactive in making it easy for the prospect (and those connected with the ‘change’ you are seeking to bring about) to engage with the change.

Lost sales

Ever lost a sale because your prospect said the people he needed to ‘sell it to’ were not convinced? Ever been told that the prospect had decided to ‘leave things as they are for now’? Ever had a sale that you closed but left the client feeling less than satisfied?

At one level, the salesperson could put these down to not building a compelling enough reason to buy or not managing expectations. My suggestion is that, if we change our perspective from one of selling to one of change management, we would minimise these issues.

I heard someone on the radio today say there were three types of person: those who made things happen, those who watched things happen and those who continually ask ‘What the hell just happened?’. A big part of effective selling is being proactive – making change happen. And thinking about selling as change management is one thing that can definitely make the difference!

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