The time honored debate of ‘selling as art’ versus ‘selling as science’ continues unabated. I attended a sales training seminar recently where the proceedings went totally awry when one attendee vehemently and vociferously argued the ‘art’ perspective – only to harangued and castigated by his peers in the room.
In truth of course sales is a science – but practiced artfully.
Webster defines science as ‘a systematically organized body of knowledge on a particular subject‘, and I think that this definition applies equally well to sales best practices. The difference however is that most targets of scientific study are less mercurial than the environment in which a sales person finds himself every day. In sales, targets move from one day to the next, and what you needed to know yesterday is not necessarily enough to help you progress the deal today. Buyers change, budgets change, competitors change – and as we are too well aware this week – economic conditions change.
The Science of Contextual Selling
The most effective sales professionals I have seen tend to go about their jobs in a scientific way, doing research, following standard operating procedures and best practice, and always validating their results – but they change the parameters of their ‘scientific experiment’ according to the context in which they are operating.
Gartner predicts that by 2013, 45% of applications that are specific to supporting mobile users will be context aware … and the bulk of the (contextual) information will be part of the Web. In previous posts I’ve alluded to some of the examples that exist today in social networks, collaboration systems, intelligent sales effectiveness solutions and online competitive analysis sources. You see contextual selling in action every time you visit Amazon (people who bought this were also interested in that). Google Adwords is another very tangible example.
One of our (well advanced) research projects will identify what you need to know to get to the next stage in a sale based just on what you’ve learned so far. It will advise as to how to sell to a particular buyer profile, based on the information it ‘knows’ about the buyer, and it will help you to influence a buyer by interacting with the ‘cloud’ of social networks to see how you can influence the buyer.
In a sales learning context, we are firm supporters of the Performance Based Learning approach to supplement traditional learning. If I’m faced with a competitive situation – that’s when I need to learning about effective Competitive Strategies. ‘Learning to Perform’ is generally most effective than ‘Learning to Learn’ and when applied in context of the specific sales situation, it truly extends the Kirkpatrick learning model – at least for sales professionals. We have seen usage, adoption and effectiveness levels that achieve 600% more efficacy than purely traditional models.
Community information (e.g. Plaxo), community participation (e.g. LinkedIn Discussion Groups), internal collaboration forum, and performance based learning platforms are all examples of how the science of sales can by greatly accelerated by application of the science in context, based on real-time interactive information. These tools are already being used by your most effective competitors – and if you haven’t yet had the opportunity to investigate, maybe it’s time to dip you toe in the water.