What Does it Mean to Sell?

And What Matters Most?
What You Sell or How You Sell

time-to-sellHave you ever watched a professional team sport where the coach wasn’t right on the sidelines observing and coaching?

A coach’s job isn’t to score points, runs or goals; it’s to improve the performance of players through observations, feedback, and coaching.

The same applies to your sales team. Too many sales managers expect top producers to meet sales goals without their observation, feedback and coaching. Many sales leaders I meet expect top salespeople to exceed revenue quota without the valuable input of professional coaching.

Sticking with the sports analogy, no coach would consider putting a player on the field without a playbook. However, in my travels, I see few organizations with sales playbooks or sales processes in place.

Studies like CSO Insights’ Sales Transformation Guide show the importance of a sales process embedded with a game plan. In my experience, top performing companies follow sales processes, albeit formal or random processes. CSO Insights, through its work in the Sales Transformation Guide, outlines four types of processes:

Level 1—Random Process: Your company may be perceived as being anti-process, though what you lack is a single-standard process. Essentially, sales reps do their own thing, their own way.

Level 2—Informal Process: Your company exposes your salespeople to a sales process and indicates that they’re expected to use it, but usage is neither monitored nor measured.

Level 3—Formal Process: Your company regularly enforces the use of a defined sales process (sometimes religiously). You conduct periodic reviews of the process to see how effective it is and make changes based on that analysis.

Level 4—Dynamic Process: Your company dynamically monitors and provides continuous feedback on sales reps’ use of your formal sales process. You also proactively modify the process when you detect key changes in market conditions: the emergence of new competitors, changes in governmental regulations, or shifts in the economy.

Going beyond the process, CSO Insights collected data on the question, “What does it mean to sell?”  It then presented the levels of relationship model (see Figure 1).

Vendors rank at the lowest level, the base of the pyramid. One level up, the preferred supplier appears. Another level up, you see the rank of consultant; the term applies whether in your title or not. At the upper levels, notice contributor and, the ultimate position of partner (today also called trusted advisor). In reality, many more individuals and firms operate at the lower levels of the relationship scale than at the upper levels.


Figure 1. The pyramid represents both levels of relationship and relative numbers of firms operating at each level. Source: CSO Insights

As companies move up the pyramid, business invigorates and that leads directly into CSO’s definition of selling:  Establishing and elevating relationships over time.

Another observation: At the base of the pyramid, sales are more tactical, at mid-level strategic, and at the upper level political. At the base of the pyramid, sales are characterized by transactions (rapid, repetitive, routine), while at the upper levels sales are interactions (complex, creative, and protracted).

Because of the rapid, repetitive and routine nature of tactical sales, they lend themselves to technology processing (kiosks, ATMs, e-commerce). In other words, the base of the pyramid constantly falls to technology. Increasingly, experienced sales reps should avoid these tactical sales and focus on higher-level sales work.

Now, if you take the sales processes and the relationship scale and put them together, we can get a sense of areas we need to improve.


Figure 2. A firm’s location in the SRP matrix and where they want to move also to suggest what changes and processes need to be implemented to move successfully.

Does any of this really matter? To answer, look at four specific performance metrics: percent of revenue attainment, percentage of reps meeting or beating quota, forecast accuracy, and total rep turnover.


Source: CSO Insights: Moving up in Level of Relationship and Level of Process Implementation Pays Real Dividends.

Whether you want to move from transactions to interactions, tactics to strategy, or define higher-level relationships in another way, the data and anecdotal evidence support the assertion: What you sell is less of a sustainable competitive differentiator than How you sell.

We invite you to consider where your sales organization resides on the relationship scale? How do your buyers perceive your sales team?  What benefits would you gain from stepping up your game?

Here’s a simple first step. Take a few minutes to compare your (or your team’s) daily sales activities against the High-Payoff Activities Checklist on our website in the Resources section. By observing and measuring your sales team’s day-to-day activities, you’ll soon learn the whereabouts of hidden opportunities for worthwhile improvement. Then, by all means, offer the training your sales team craves.

In the words of champion boxer Oscar de la Hoya:

“There is always space for improvement, no matter how long you’ve been in the business.”

See you on the upside,


For more information, go to www.pleinairestrategies.com
Or call William L. MacDonald in San Diego at PleinAire Strategies LLC at 760.340.4277 or 213.598.4700

News Alert

MERGE 2.0, read my latest book, now released by the publisher and available on Amazon to purchase.  Learn everything you need to know to book revenue in the new realities of B2B professional selling.

And, if you’re not a reader and prefer interactive learning, take our MERGE 2.0 online learning course.  Go here for more info.

Thoughts and Comments

Copyright PleinAire Strategies, All Rights Reserved

Please accept our free offer for the entire 14-module MERGE 2.0 Sales Training Course (Retail value $495) for the next 60 days.

Use promo code free2020

Register for Free Now