It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it

The best way of selling, especially in an economic slump, is something sales directors do not always agree on, writes Paul Myles


Since the economic fall-out following 2008, the company executives’ list of buzz words has included “sales model”, a clearly defined process or methodology to boost the effectiveness of a salesforce’s penetration of the market.

Finding out which model being used by business is the best and most effective is anything but objective, with vested interests within the sales recruitment, training and coaching agencies aligning themselves with different solutions.

First of the modern approaches currently in use is Professor Neil Rackham’s SPIN® model, from the UK research psychologist’s 1980s best-selling business title SPIN Selling, where he outlines the sales process of turning a perceived implied need for a product or service into an imperative need using a formula of four types of questions.

His sales training company, Huthwaite International, boast an impressive list of top multinational clients, including Dell, Fujitsu, Motorola, Standard Life and UPS. His company claims SPIN® has produced a 13 per cent increase in gross profit, a 15 per cent increase in turnover during two years post-training and a 63 per cent increase in new client acquisitions.

Thomas Anjou, head of the Academy of Sales and Marketing at Swedish telecoms giant Ericsson, says he chose the SPIN® model after considering up to 30 different alternatives, adding: “This was the best one that was research-based. Most of the others were experience-based, which, to us, was not as appealing.”

The global economic slowdown has pushed business thinking towards refining processes still further and the next “step forward” gaining momentum is the US’s CEB model outlined in its tome.

You need to probe the client to understand the pains which are causing their perceived needs

The findings from an ongoing study of more than 15,000 stakeholders identified five types of salespeople, but only one, “the Challenger”, was consistently effective in the face of a nervous market. After implementing the Challenger model, CEB client, energy and utility company Cameron, saw record bookings in its Surface Systems Division for the third quarter of 2011 and global revenue rise 28 per cent against the previous year.

In the UK, Raj Jobanputra, capabilities manager of sales and marketing for BP, says he is about to apply the Challenger model to his sales teams to help the company’s products stand out from its competitors.

“What Challenger can do is actually enhance how we articulate our offer by basing it on a really good piece of insight. So we’re looking at cases where our key customers see value of beyond just us providing a product or service,” he says.

In its study of successful sales behaviours, UK training specialist Silent Edge observed 800 sales professionals in live sales meetings and discovered that three distinctive types, accounting for 37 per cent of the study group, were consistently effective despite the economic challenges.

Silent Edge claims sales boosts, including 450 per cent business growth in six months for a Cable & Wireless team lifting sales from £750,000 to £4 million, and a 20 per cent hike across 160 sales people working at MBNA’s Irish call centre.

“You need to probe the client to understand the pains which are causing their perceived needs,” says chief executive Russell Ward. “Then build your value propositions which must state clear return on investment and have associated anecdotes which articulate taking the pain away.”

But not all the theory makers in the sales industry are sold on sales models and methodology. Richard Kenny, managing director of the human performance management consultants TSA Europe, which lists Babcock Communications among clients, believes the lack of sales knowledge on UK boards of directors is forcing sales directors to seek a quick-fix by jumping on the latest gimmick available to buy-in as a “cure-all”.

“What happens is, the poor old sales director is getting bashed over the head and what he then does is look for the panacea, such as a sales model, training or coaching,” he says.