Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Art of a Sale

This should be required reading for all engineers - - The Art of the Sale: Learning from the Masters About the Business of Life by Financial Times writer Phillip Delves Broughton.  The book contains a wonderful story about an undergraduate engineering entrepreneurial class taught at Princeton University (Professor Dan Nosenchuck).  The class teaches sales techniques (which is remarkable for a university level course, but even more remarkable for an engineering class) - - Sully Sullivan of informercial fame and professional "pitchman" guest lectures!!!

More from the book:

"At its most basic and technical, selling is about understanding a customer's needs and delivering a product to meet them.  There are three pieces to this.  The first is economic: what the customer is willing to pay and the price at which you are willing to sell.  The second is structural, to do with the process of selling.  A quick, one-off sale in a store is very different from months-long sale to a company, where you have to deal with numerous people in various stages.  The final piece is psychological: the battle of wits, personality, and emotion between the seller and the buyer.  In every sale, these three elements are tightly interwoven.  In most retail stores, for example, the salesperson must make quick judgements about who the customer is, what they need from both the product and the sales process, and what they're willing to pay, before he handles their objections and tries to close them on a sale.  One classic formulation of this process is AIDA: attention, interest, desire, and action.  It was first proposed in 1898 by E. St. Elmo Lewis, a writer and early proponent of the educational benefits of advertising.  The salesperson stokes up the customer, gets their attention, then turns interest into desire, and finally gets them to buy.  In a longer sales cycle, the same process is drawn out over weeks and months.  Instead of having to make quick judgements, salespeople can ask questions and try to elicit and develop customer's needs.  "If you need this," they might say, "then you'll also need needing this!"

The big organizational sale is an expansion of these basic steps.  Benson Shapiro and Ronald Posner broke the big corporate sale into eight separate tasks.  The first is to open the process by learning there's a potential sale.  Leads can emerge from cold-calling, referrals, or more sophisticated profiling.  Next, you must qualify your prospect and define the extent of their potential.  Is it a long shot or a slam dunk?  Who needs to be sold and how?  Then comes the sales strategy, in which you plan your campaign, listing your contacts, your meetings, your information and to-dos.  Are you targeting the right people?  Do they have control over the checkbook?  What will you need from your organization to make this happen?  Then you organize the justification for the sale by imagining yourself in the buyer's shoes and figuring out how they can explain this purchase to themselves and their colleagues.  With the planning over, you move into the trenches by pitching your potential client.  By this time, you should have all the relevant decision makers in the room, fully briefed on what this sale is all about.  You take any feedback and return to your own company to gather the resources and people it will take to satisfy the customer.  And then you close.  By this time, it should not be a surprise if the sale is make or not, because you have lived the process for months.  The eighth and final phase is nurturing the account relationship, making sure the customer is happy and keeps buying for years to come."

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