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There Is No One-Size-Fits-All in Selling


We are all looking for the magic bullet.


And when we find something we like, something that seems to work, we can become rabid advocates for what we believe is the magic bullet.


But when it comes to sales methodologies, there is no magic bullet and no one-size-fits-all solution. No one training program fits every sales situation, every customer, every company or every seller. That's why we should be adapting and not adopting the latest, greatest techniques.


Recently, I surveyed sales trainers and sales managers. I asked “what selling methodology do you think is most effective?”


Not surprisingly, responses were primarily polarizing. People believe that whatever has worked for them ought to work for everyone and in every situation.


There was no clear winner in this survey. An equal number of people said “relationship selling” as said “challenger selling,” for example (even though those two approaches have been set up as if they cannot co-exist). Lots of people weighed in with their own methodologies, some that are homegrown and some that are well-known… But all that an individual has used extensively in their own career. Most people were absolute in their responses, diehard believers in whatever approach they advocated.


What did surprise me was how few people acknowledged that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.


The problem with this lack of awareness reminds me of Abraham Maslow's quote: "if you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail."


The result, I fear, is that there's a lot of needless hammering going on when it comes to sales training. 


When people prescribe the only solution they know, a lot of malpractice is likely to occur.


I give props to the wise few who said things like this: "'Best' is a combination of cultural fit, management ownership, rep buy-in, execution and sustainability."


I appreciated those who distinguished processes from seller skills. But they were few and far between. Out of several hundred, only a handful said something like "whatever the sales process used, every seller needs to engage with every buyer."


Which leads me to a second body of research, a survey I did last year with sellers and sales managers about sales processes. It's this very point, that process is valued over individual judgment, that causes sellers to feel processes are too robotic. Many sellers reject processes when the steps seem to leave out individual buyers and/or the contributions of the individual sellers.


The very essence of selling is connecting. Selling starts when the seller connects with the buyer. It progresses when the seller is able to connect the dots to clearly demonstrate the link between the seller’s solution and the buyer’s needs. Sales close only when clear and strong connections compel the buyer to take action.

All of this, regardless of process, requires human-to-human interaction.


Since every human, whether it be the human buyer or the human seller, is unique, there can never be a one-size-fits-all approach.


That is not to say that processes are unhelpful. Instead, it is to say that neither the seller nor the buyer should be lost within a process. It is to say that every process must be adaptable to the unique situation and individuals. 


Most importantly, it is to say that sales managers and sales trainers should not put more stock into process steps then they do into individual abilities.


Let me illustrate with an example. One of my colleagues is a diehard believer in S.P.I.N. Selling. It's a fantastic program. It is well-founded in research dating back to the 1970s. It makes for an especially good starting point for sellers who are involved in complex selling. But S.P.I.N. Selling is not the right training program for every seller, and it is not the right approach for every buyer.


Some buyers want to engage in longer and broader conversations then the narrow question framework S.P.I.N. Selling prescribes. Some buyers have a disdain for the kinds of questions and techniques outlined in S.P.I.N. Selling. Some sellers have individual styles that work perfectly well for them given the products they sell and the sales cycle they work with… And these effective styles just don’t easily fit with a S.P.I.N. Selling approach.


It is ludicrous to claim that every seller should use S.P.I.N. Selling or any other program in every situation and with every buyer.


Unfortunately, that's exactly what many sales trainers say. They claim a single process is one-size-fits-all. Further, they prescribe off the shelf training programs with no customization and no consideration of the individuals they are training. No wonder so much sales training falls flat and changes absolutely nothing when the course is completed.


So what's a seller to do? It isn't the answer that's easiest. Sellers should not reject all training because, perhaps, they've had one bad experience with an attempt at one-size-fits-all training. It's also not to assume 100% of the burden for training application, as some sellers try to do. It's unreasonable for a seller to do all the work of adapting a one-size-fits-all program and force fitting it into their own work.


Instead, those who bring in sales training need to be sure it is a good fit for a sales team and individuals on that team. Careful pre-screening and customization to market, experience level, product, sales cycle and sales culture will ensure relevance and effectiveness. Sellers then have a much better chance of being able to adapt what they have learned.


Note the word adapt rather than adopt. Adopting without any level of calibration and without any acknowledgment of the experience a seller already brings is simply not effective. That's robotic process, and savvy sellers will reject the training based on this alone. Wouldn't you?


In order to adapt, sellers need core selling skills. They need foundational skills before they learn sales process or product details. The closest we can get to offering a magic bullet is to offer the raw ingredients – the heavy metals for core strength, the alloys that boost speed and accuracy, and the lubricants that allow the bullet to be shaped by and effective in any selected weapon. 



{#/pub/images/DebCalvertNew.jpg}Written by Deb Calvert, President, People First Productivity Solutions-Author of the DISCOVER Questions book series, Deb has worked as a sales productivity specialist and sales researcher since 2000. She is certified as a Master Sales Coach, Master Trainer, and host of CONNECT! an online radio show for selling professionals where listeners ignite their selling power in just an hour. Deb helps companies to boost productivity through people development. This work includes leadership program design and facilitation, strategic planning with executive teams, team effectiveness work, and performance management program design. 


Do you have a sales question for Deb?  Please visit our Sales Community, she will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


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