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The art and the science of sales

Recently I have been discussing with people I meet and work with, why selling seems to be a dirty word and the paradox that exists in much of business today that nobody wants to be called a salesperson or a "rep" (with all kinds of titles being used to "hide" the role such as business development manager, account manager, account executive, account consultant and even titles such as client engagement specialist!) and yet on the other hand it seems that everyone is involved in selling (even if they don't admit to it). Why don't people involved with the lifeblood of a business, bringing in and developing sales want to be associated with "selling" in their job titles? I believe that it's really difficult to be effective at something if you don't believe in it, or are proud of what you do...so why hide from the fact that you are responsible for selling?

Of course much of this sense that sales is a dirty word is a result of the stereotypes associated with selling in the old days...you know, before we had the internet, search engines, smart phones and social media, when the salesman had the product knowledge and used this to control the transactional process. We now live in a era where the buyer is in control and selling has evolved; web sites and digital content provide a much greater transparency to buyers which means that old style stereotype (if it ever really did exist) no longer works. In those "good old days" the role of anyone involved in selling was about personality, relationships and a bit of product knowledge thrown in. The focus of any training would be primarily on the product knowledge as this was unique to any particular business and the skills involved in the relationship part of the sales transaction had to be either learned through doing or (as one manager I had believed) you were born with them! In this era the sales training industry that grew focused on classroom training, delivering models of selling, use of motivational theory and creating the go-getting salesman. It's fair to say in this era (which, let's be honest has only been coming to an end in the past decade or so), selling was more about the art of selling more than the science.

So, where are we now? Well, customers no longer need salespeople to learn about a company's offering or even to place an order, buyers are empowered. Anyone now involved in selling has to have a wide range of business skills and acumen, they need to be able to handle and interpret complex data in order to both help buyers and to work across functional boundaries within internal organisations. In fact, many salespeople struggle more with working through their own organisations that those of their customers. As a result more roles and individuals within most organisations are being pulled into the sales process, whereas in the past selling was something that was done "outside" or within the customer's organisation. All of this means that anyone involved directly with selling (winning business, developing existing business, growing clients, cross selling) requires a much wider range of skills - a much more blended and balanced menu of art and science. It also means that many people in organisations (especially small and medium ones which are leaner and survive on flexibility) also require development in the art and science of sales.

The art of selling can be taught and developed across organisations to bring a sales focus - this includes the ability to construct sales conversations that build an understanding for anyone that interacts with external organisations (customers, clients) of the challenges, issues, views and opinions they have, an ability to connect and build relationships that add value to both selling and buying organisations, and to foster a deep curiosity of the world that our customers live in.

The context of much of the art of sales now has to overlap with its science - largely here I mean the detail of the sales process an organisation has built and how that interacts with the customer buying process. Ideally anyone that participates in any element of that process should understand what their role it, how it impacts on others and what the replicatable behaviours are in each element of the process. It involves a deep appreciation of the metrics of the sales process so that the sales result is the output of successfully following the process.

Of course, to achieve success not only do people with a responsibility for delivering sales results (or contributing to them) have to ackowledge they are indeed "in sales" , they also need to develop the blend of art and science. I argue this requires development of an effective sales process and the consistent coaching of the blend of skills required for each element of that process and for all the roles that participate in a business's sales process, not just those that have a business card that has the title "salesperson".