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The Only Opening Move in Sales and the Lure of Novelties

Anthony Iannarino
Post by Anthony Iannarino
February 12, 2011

In the game of chess, White moves first. There are twenty opening moves available to White, or so it appears. In reality, there are far fewer moves that create an advantage and lead to the possibility of winning the game.

Countless games have been played, recorded, and studied by the masters, and there is one opening move that is most often chosen by master chess players. That move is 1. e4. By moving the King’s pawn two squares forward, White begins an attempt to control the center of the board and opens up the ability to use the Queen and the Bishop (two powerful pieces).

Most other opening moves are considered novelties, and most will result in a loss against someone who knows the game.

In business-to-business and major account sales, there are also very few opening moves that create a real strategic advantage and the possibility of winning. The best move is discovery and diagnosis.

Strategy and Your Sales Process

Effectiveness in sales is found through executing the fundamentals and obeying the iron laws of sales, plain and simple.

Like chess, countless sales calls have been made, the results recorded, and the outcomes studied. The novelties have also been tried and observed, and they have been removed from any thoughtful sales process—there really isn’t any reason to do what most often fails. Somehow, this doesn’t seem to prevent some people from trying.

Some salespeople believe that they can forego the real discovery and diagnosis work because they recognize their dream client’s common problems for which they have solutions. Other salespeople believe that their process begins when they receive and invitation to participate in a request for proposal. A few still believe that they can successfully pitch products and solutions.

These novelties have all been tried, and they have been proven far less successful than doing the heavy lifting that is real discovery work. There is the occasional exception when they work, usually when you are playing against someone who doesn’t know how to play. But an occasional win using a novelty does not make you a master; it makes you lucky.

But without creating the advantage of really understanding what your dream client needs and their vision of the right solution, you put yourself in a vulnerable position—and one in which your competitors who know the game can easily defeat you.

Your sales process starts with discovery, diagnosis, and understanding because it is what works: diagnose, and then prescribe.

The Lure of Novelties

The reason novelties are so alluring is because they appear to allow you to do something different, something easier.

Novel, non-sales process approaches appeal to you because they seem to mean that you don’t have to get in and develop the relationships long before you need them.

They are appealing because they suggest that you don’t have to ask for the commitments that are difficult to gain, like access to decision-makers, decision-influencers, buying committee members—and all the information that they possess and that you need.

Novelties entice you with the idea that you can be a show horse instead of a plow horse and still win major accounts. You can’t.

The masters are masters because they have great command of the fundamentals. To win in sales, stick the fundamentals of good selling, follow your sales process, and save your novelties for the middle game, where your creativity and resourcefulness will surely be needed.


What does your sales process recommend as your opening move? Why does it start here?

What strategic advantage do you gain later in the game by opening correctly? What do you give up in the way of advantages by trying novelties?

Why don’t the masters open with different variations and novelties?

What makes someone a master? Are they a master because they are always doing something different and unique? Or, is it because they have mastered the basics that most people find too difficult and too boring?

Sales 2011
Post by Anthony Iannarino on February 12, 2011

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an author of four books on the modern sales approach, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. Anthony posts here daily.
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