Sales As A Spiritual Practice
The sales profession focuses on placing product. While some would disagree and claim it’s based on ‘meeting a buyer’s needs’, it comes down to the same thing: how to get a product placed. And, after being in every aspect of the field since the 70s, it seems to me that placing product, or understanding needs, or providing solutions (with the seller’s product of course) is a near-predatory job: sellers spend their time seeking and following, pitching and positioning, networking and calling – whatever seems necessary to make the sale.
But the model is fraught with guesswork and hope, manipulation, bias, and persuasion, white lies and exaggerations – not to mention highly ineffective when the time spent vs sales closed ratio is examined [sellers waste approximately 40 hours a month on sales that never close, with an average close rate of 7%].
Because of the global nature of our staffing patterns, with decision makers in different time zones, it’s taking 30% longer to close sales these days. As a result, the seller’s job of gathering data, understanding needs, pitching and presenting product data, gets mitigated by time and space. And the very nature of the web makes most pitches and presentations moot. In fact, many buyers know more than sellers.
AS IS, SALES IS UNNECESSARY
Indeed, the job of ‘sales’ is unnecessary – so long as it retains its original focus. But what if we could harness the ‘manpower’ and positioning of the person who is the only company representative to walk between the company and the client, and make sales a spiritual practice.
There is a way to have sellers be true spiritual guides and servant leaders, and not only sell more product, and sell more quickly, but also become part of the buyer’s team with commensurate integrity and values. But we’d have to change what we’re now doing.
What would be the difference between what we’re doing now and what sales would have to become in order to have sales be a spiritual practice? To begin with, we’d have to shift our beliefs about our jobs, our ability to collaborate, and our outcomes. Then we’d have to learn the new skills that would create a collaborative dialogue that would truly serve each end of the equation.
First things first. Let’s start by defining ‘spiritual’. To me it means:
- always having a win-win (there is no such thing as win-lose);
- understanding that the whole is greater than the parts;
- understanding that we are all here to serve each other;
- recognizing that there is no right answer;
- believing that no one has an answer for someone else.
Different from sales, which
- sometimes has a ‘win-lose’,
- believes that the parts might be greater than the whole,
- seeks to serve the buyer but ends up serving the seller,
- has the ‘right’ answer in their solution,
- might have the buyer’s ‘answer’.
Let’s change the focus of sales. Instead of making sales about placing a product/solution, let’s give sellers the role of a facilitator. Let’s make the sales job one of a Guide to leads buyers to their best decisions, based on their own criteria. Then the seller becomes a Servant Leader to the buyer, and the buyer gets to make better, quicker, more congruent decisions – and there will be more buyers, less tire-kickers, better differentiation, and no competition, and sales close in 1/8 the time. And it is a true Servant Leader role at the same time.
What would our jobs look like with this new set of beliefs? Let’s begin by making sure we all agree as to what ‘spiritual’ looks like.
Always have a win-win
Having a win-win means both sides get what they need in equal measure.
I realize that sellers tell themselves that by placing product, there is an automatic win-win. But the dialogue is much, much bigger than product placement or problem resolution. The dialogue must include resolving the entire system that created and maintains the status quo. And it is only when this system is repaired, and the buyer knows how to fix the obvious problem while repairing the bits that got it and keep it that way, does the buyer have a true win.
[How did the Identified Problem (IP) show up as it does? How is it kept in place daily? Why hasn’t it been resolved until now? What are the issues that would have to be managed in order to bring in a new/different solution and not create havoc? What sort of decisions would the decision team need to address to consider a new vendor and solution?]
Until now, sales has handled only the solution end of the equation, not the buying decision end. Yet a complete sales process is not so simple as placing a new solution to resolve what looks like a problem.
Buyers can’t make a decision until or unless buyers address the internal systems that not only created but maintain their status quo. All of the time sellers spend before this happens is misplaced, mistimed, and misguided, leading to the win-lose quality of sales: sales becomes a product/solution push into a closed and idiosyncratic system, rather than a collaborative experience between seller and buyer.
Imagine having a product-needs discussion about moving an iceberg and discussing only the iceberg’s tip. That’s what the conventional sales model does, ignoring the entire range of hidden, unique systems issues that created and maintain the policies, relationships, and rules that make up the status quo.
Having a win-win means that not only will the seller supply the product solution, but the buyer will successfully manage all of the necessary internal decisions and create minimal disruption as they adopt a solution.
Internal issues that buyers must address prior to being able to make a purchase: Must the current vendor relationship be shifted somehow? Does one department, or do people, have to relinquish a job function? What about changes in policy? Or people’s egos? What about historic rules that have kept the Identified Problem in place? Or how have departments and job descriptions evolved so that the status quo is relatively functional – and would need to unravel once a proper solution gets brought in? How do they replace the item or skill that they’ve been using until now and the people or policies or habits around that?
Having a win-win means that all of these issues get resolved first so the buyer is free to make a good policy decision. It’s not about product, problem, or need.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts
There are several pieces to the puzzle here. There is
- the buyer and the system the buyer lives in, including people, policies, job titles, egos, relationships, politics, layers of management, rules, etc.
- the historic issue (the Identified Problem) that needs a solution and still resides relatively comfortably (or they would have changed it already) within the buyer’s system
- the seller and the seller’s product
- the seller’s relationship with the buyer
- the purchase and implementation and follow up.
The sum of all of these parts is the Whole. And each of the parts must work congruently together for there to be a win-win.
Generally in sales, sellers see the IP, recognize their solution can fix it, and go about creating a relationship that appears trustworthy (along with the product data), so the buyer will choose them for the fix. But because the sale is solution based, they are left out of the entire internal decisioning process that the buyer goes through and instead wait for the call to come in.
For the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts, the seller and buyer must work together at both ends of the decision cycle: the first decisions to manage, regulate, and resolve the systems issues that created the problem, keep it in place, and need to change in order to accept a fix, and then the final decisions on product features that meld the seller’s solution into the buyer’s solution design.
We are all here to serve each other
Right now, sellers believe they are meant to serve the buyer through their product placement. And what if that were expanded to serving them by being neutral navigators to their decision. Additionally, imagine the buyer serving the seller. What would all that look like?
By inviting the seller onto the buyer’s decision team, by offering the seller respect, by choosing the seller’s solution, the buyer is serving the seller. By helping the buyer line up their internal decisions and to recognize all of the issues that need to be resolved before any change can happen, and by supplying a fairly priced and supported product, the buyer and seller are serving each other.
And when this occurs, and both recognize the value of the other, price is never an issue. And the sale is made quickly, with no competitive issues.
There is no right answer
Sellers often believe that buyers are idiots for not making speedy decisions, or, worse, for not choosing their product. The solution seems obvious to sellers who have seen the same ‘problem’ so many times. But they have never gone beyond the tip of the iceberg as they don’t have the skills, the tools, or the motive.
It’s necessary for us to expand the definition of a buying decision to include management of the people, policies, relationships, and history – the systems issues – that keep the buyer’s status quo in place and are responsible for the Identified problem. Until now, sales has only concentrated on product placement and the surrounding issues that sellers feel they need to manage to sell. This includes managing gatekeepers, closing techniques, objection handling, for example. What they never realized is that once buyers can figure out the necessary underlying systems decisions, they have nothing to object to, will close themselves, and everyone involved knows what to do (therefore no gatekeeper problems or competition issues).
Working with the buying decision in addition to the product sale eschews having the ‘right answer’ and replaces it with having the ability to support the buying decision.
No one has anyone else’s answer
As per the previous discussion, by adding decision support to the seller’s tool kit, no one is working with answers: everyone is working together to uncover the right questions, and make collaborative decisions that will serve everyone.
THE NEW WAY
Buying Facilitation™ is a collaborative decision making model that sellers use to help buyers recognize, align, and manage all of the internal, and sometimes unconscious, systems issues that need to be addressed before any change is possible. Until now, buyers have fumbled around, doing it themselves: they get to their answers eventually, and the time this takes is the length of the sales cycle.
What Buying Facilitation™ does is codes and sequences the unconscious decision making issues that people filter through on their way to some sort of change or decision. Make no mistake: until they do this, they will take no action. Until you know when or how or if you are ready to move, you will not abruptly purchase a new house, or car, etc. on a whim. When there are others involved, an intricate dance happens in which buy-in occurs before action is taken. And whether someone is purchasing a lipstick or a hammer, a house or a horse, and whether a team is purchasing new software or training, there are unconscious criteria that need to be addressed before any change will take place.
What’s been missing from sales has been the concept of systems. Each buyer lives within a system of rules and roles, policies and relationships that both create and maintain the status quo. As seller’s our tools have helped us help buyers recognize the Identified Problem (IP) and how the seller’s solution could manage the IP. But the buyer has remained on their own, figuring out how to make their decisions. And sellers sit and wait for the call back, occasionally getting on the phone and leaving helpless messages.
Now we have a new model that sits on top of the product decision portion of the sale and leads buyers through their internal sequence of decisions. They need to do this anyway – with a seller or on their own. But now, using Buying Facilitation™, sellers can actually be a part of the process from the first call. And become servant leaders.
No longer do we need to just sell: we can actually serve the buyer buy aiding the unconscious decision process without bias and without manipulation.
Indeed, sales can be a spiritual practice.