I recorded a podcast with Andy Paul, Mike Bosworth, and Vince Beese. Andy started by addressing the idea that some people, mainly on LinkedIn, believe that sales theory is less valuable than practical, tactical, and actionable advice. This poor thinking stems from people with low attention spans, those who understand sales effectiveness on a surface level but cannot grasp anything deeper. These kinds of people would rather watch the movie Troy than read Thucydides.
Despite all the complaints against it, theory is crucial to sales. It is the foundation of your B2B sales methodology and the associated strategies, tactics, and actions. It is also the genesis of any advantage your sales methodology creates. Theory is where strategy begins.
Hal Brands, the editor of The New Makers of Modern Strategy: From the Ancient World to the Digital Age, writes:
“There is no substitute for strategy. Strategy is what allows us to act with purpose in a disordered world; it is vital to out-thinking and out-playing our foes. Without strategy, action is random and devoid of direction; power and advantage are squandered rather than deployed to good effect.”
Brand goes on to explain that strategy at the highest level is synergy, which is the combination of multiple tools and resources to achieve a person or organization’s paramount goals. Synergy is effective because it incorporates creativity and power, which are both necessary to succeed in competitive situations.
Brand cites Allan Millet and Williamson Murray, the authors of Military Effectiveness: “Good strategic choices provide an opportunity to recover from tactical shortcomings; serial strategic errors are far less forgiving.”
Theory and Practice
My sales books delve into my theories, the sales methodologies that support them, and the strategies and tactics that flow from them, but I’ll summarize those ideas here.
In my first book, The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need, my working theory was that B2B sales had changed so much that it required a new B2B sales competency model. The outdated models did not include business acumen, strategy for sales reps to lead their clients, or any mention of change management. Most of the competency models I had seen at that time didn’t include the character traits to succeed in sales, so I addressed those as well. The focus of the first chapter is self-discipline, with strategies that temper the autonomy of a sales role, ensuring salespeople do the right thing in the right way at the right time.
In The Lost Art of Closing: Winning the 10 Commitments That Drive Sales my theory was that buyers and decision-makers rejected the legacy approaches largely because they follow a linear sales process. I noticed that the sales process was typically nonlinear, with companies inviting more internal people to participate in purchase decisions.
Having taken Neil Rackham’s advice in SPIN Selling, I had practiced linking one meeting to the next, being flexible to allow my contacts to pursue the conversation that would allow them to move forward. The major strategy in this powerful methodology is called the trading value rule—the idea that when you ask a client to make a commitment, you must explain how it benefits them.
The tactics and the talk tracks are included in the book, making it easier to facilitate the buyer’s journey while preventing your client from straying too far off the path by avoiding difficult conversations.
Eat Their Lunch: Winning Customers Away from Your Competition started with pure theory, an idea I called Level Four Value Creation. My theory in that book is that buyers rejected a conversation about the salesperson’s company, their clients, or the solutions they were taught were the variables to success.
My theory is that value creation in the sales conversation is a solid predictor of winning the client’s business. There are quite a few strategies that support this theory, including the idea that it’s best to start the conversation about the strategic outcomes the client needs. That is the fourth level of value, and the most important. Another major strategy relates to capturing mindshare, with the theory that you need to create value by educating your client about the decision they face. The tactic that allows you to capture mindshare is an executive briefing. The third strategy improves discovery. It is based on the theory that salespeople miss the root cause of the client’s problems. The fourth major sales strategy is around building consensus. This is important because buyers struggle to get the buy-in they need from their teams. This collection of sales strategies allows salespeople to steal their competitors’ clients, something that works well for competitive sales situations.
In Elite Sales Strategies: A Guide to Being One-Up, Creating Value, and Becoming Truly Consultative my theory is that salespeople need to be One-Up, meaning they should present themselves as experts and authorities. This comes from the idea that salespeople have more experience than their clients because they help people and companies improve their results on a daily basis. Buyers, however, infrequently make major decisions to change. The second theory in this book is that discovery is no longer limited to the salesperson learning what they need to know. It also includes asking questions to help clients learn what they need to know to succeed in reaching their goals.
The major strategy in Elite Sales Strategies is information disparity, the most powerful strategy available to B2B sellers. Information disparity allows them to share their business acumen, their knowledge, and their experience to create value for their clients. All the strategies and tactics in this book are derived from this major strategy.
A Word about Theory and Practice
Anyone with a sales methodology must have a theory that informs their strategies and tactics. You should be able to understand why you are using the strategies, how they create a strategic advantage, and how they work to win deals.
It matters what and how you practice. By understanding the theory behind the methodology, you improve your practice. Those who don’t believe that theory is necessary are incorrect and should work to gain a richer understanding of how sales works and what it means to your sales results.