sales and selling index – sales terminology, selling history, theories, methods
- Introduction – and some quick tips for sales improvements
- Glossary of Sales and Selling Terms
- The Changing Face of Selling
- Early Selling and Sales Training Ideas
- AIDA and the Hierarchy of Effects
- The Seven Steps of the Sale (also called ‘PSS’ or ‘Professional Selling Skills’)
- The Product Offer – FABs, USPs and UPBs (Features Advantages Benefits, Unique Selling Propositions/Points, Unique Perceived Benefits)
- Consultative Selling, Needs Creation Selling; and ‘SPIN® Selling’
- Open Plan Selling/strategic selling (‘lower-case’ generic selling description)/Strategic Selling® (Miller Heiman registered trade name for Miller Heiman’s sales training methods and products) including telemarketing/telephone ‘script’ for appointment-making, sales introductions, and identifying decision-making contact names and buying processes
- Collaboration, Facilitation and Partnership Selling – including an augmented model of the seven steps of the sale, explaining how facilitative methods might be integrated into traditional patterns
- Beyond ‘Sales Training’ – the modern sales role: strive to be an enabler and facilitator of good outcomes
- Selecting sales training and providers – and training specification selection template
- Selling tips – max 100 words each – contributed by visitors to this page
introduction – sales training and selling methods, techniques, skills
Note that this webpage is a historical overview of sales training and selling theories and models, as well as a training guide.
Naturally some of the older traditional sales techniques and examples need adapting for the modern world.
That said, many of the old structures and principles of selling hold up extremely well with a little thought and adaptation – even the alternative close/leading question – which can usefully be incorporated within Buying Facilitation (again in my personal view and experience) where a prospect might benefit from seeing the issue from two or three important different perspectives.
For example: “Is it easier for you to look at these issues before or after the planning round?..” Or “Is it better for the board to be given a presentation about this, or is the proposition best circulated in advance in a paper?…”
The point is whether the question or technique is helpful and relevant to the process (for the buyer – not just you), rather than whether the technique itself is acceptable or not.
The sales techniques and selling ideas here have all been effective at some stage. Many are still widely used. Think about what you are selling, the market that you’re selling into, the people you meet in the selling process, and use what will help you sell better. If you are managing sales people, the best results generally come if you allow sales people to work to their strengths; in a way that is natural to them.
New sales techniques, sales training and selling methods are continually developing. This free sales training section covers sales and the selling process from its early beginnings, through to the most modern selling techniques and ideas. See for example Sharon Drew Morgen’s Buying Facilitation® selling methods, Cold Calling, and Negotiation.
Sales and selling terms, and early sales and selling theories appear first in this article; the most advanced sales methods and ideas are at the end of the section. While early sales processes still contain some useful techniques and fundamentals, successful selling today relies on modern selling using collaboration, facilitation, and partnership. Tips on selecting sales training providers, sales training programs, selling courses and sales management training are in the sales training providers section.
Successful selling also requires that the product or service is of suitable quality for its target market, and that the selling company takes good care of its customers. Therefore it’s helpful for the sale person (or anyone else in business for that matter) to work for a professional, good quality organization. Product development, design and production, service delivery, and the integrity of the selling company’s organization are also necessary for successful selling, and typically are outside the formal control of the sales person, hence why internal selling is an increasingly important aspect of the modern sales role.Effective sales people are interpreters and translators (and increasingly educators too) who can enable the complex systems of the buying organisation and the selling organisation to work together for the benefit of both.
examples of how to improve your selling skills, processes and sales training
There are many ways to build your knowledge and skills in selling and business. Be selective when choosing sales training – see the tips for selecting sales training providers, sales training methods, courses and programs.
Aside from sales training courses here are some fine examples of other sales improvement concepts, and learning methods and resources.
1. Explore Nudge theory – it’s a powerful concept for understanding how people think and decide, and explains the significance of indirect non-pressurized interventions – as opposed to direct pressure methods. This methodology is especially useful in sales management and marketing, and negotiating too.
2. See Sharon Drew Morgen’s Buying Facilitation® methodology – advanced ideas in sales and selling. Read Sharon Drew Morgen’s remarkable thinking and techniques in her books ‘Dirty Little Secrets’ and ‘Buying Facilitation’. Her ideas are very progressive compared with most other selling theories, and can transform the way you sell and dramatically increase the results you achieve. The philosophy and facilitative methods focus on selling, but transfer extremely well to all relationships and communications, for example managing, coaching – even parenting. See newsalesparadigm.com
3. Download and read the free ebook The Game of Business by Paul Gorman – a wonderful practical guide to business success from a leading business thinker. Paul’s book encompasses modern selling and extends to a complete package of entrepreneurial methods and ideas. With grateful acknowledgements to Paul Gorman.
4. Download and read another superb free ebook – Business Survival and Prosperity Guaranteed – An excellent, very helpful, practical and encouraging guide to starting up a new business, or improving an existing one – (note this is a 15MB pdf file) – with grateful acknowledgements to Paul Hurst.
5. See Ari Galper’s ideas on cold calling, one of the greatest challenges for sales people and sales organizations. Ari Galper’s‘Unlock The Game®‘ programme is a helpful and constructive selling approach for the modern age.
6. Download and read the superb free ebook – Unleash the Power of Consultative Selling – an excellent free 200 page ebook (560KB pdf) by Rich Grehalva on modern selling methods – with grateful acknowledgements to Rich Grehalva.
There are many more good modern ethical sales training and development systems out there. If you’ve had experience of a good modern sales training programme or product, or a particularly effective selling concept please let me know.
Businessballs does not receive a commission from the providers and authors for recommending the sales methods and theories featured in this sales training guide. Amazon book commission goes towards running the website, thank you.
glossary of sales and selling terms
This list is not exhaustive, and is not meant to be an endorsement of any of these techniques or terms. See the notice at the foot of the page.
accompaniment visit/accompaniment report – when a manager or supervisor or trainer accompanies a sales person while working on the sales territory, usually while meeting prospects or customers. Typically the manager would complete an accompaniment visit report on the performance of the sales person, which would be discussed, and suitable follow-up actions or training agreed.
account – a customer, usually a business-to-business organization; a major account is a large organization; a national account is a customer with branches or sites that constitute a nationwide coverage, which typically requires special pricing and senior sales attention.
active listening – term used to describe high level of listening capability and method, in which the sales person actively seeks to understand how the speaker feels, and what their issues are, in which the type of listening extends far beyond common inattentive listening. Related to empathy and Stephen Covey’s principles of seeking to understand before attempting to be understood.
added value – the element(s) of service or product that a sales person or selling organization provides, that a customer is prepared to pay for because of the benefit(s) obtained. Added values are real and perceived; tangible and intangible. A good, reliable, honest, expert, informed sales person becomes a very significant part of the selling organization’s added value, as perceived by the customer, if not by the selling organization.
advantage – the aspect of a product or service that makes it better than another, especially the one in-situ or that of a competitor.
advertising/advertising and promotion/A&P – the methods used by a company to publicise and position its products and services to its chosen market sectors, including product launches, image and brand building, press and public relations activities, merchandising (supporting and promoting the product in retail and wholesale outlets), special offers, generating leads and enquiries, and incentivising distributors, and agents, and arguably sales people. A&P methods are sometimes described as above-the-line (media advertising such as radio, TV, cinema, newspapers, magazines) or below-the-line (non-‘media’ methods or materials such as brochures, direct-mail, exhibitions, telemarketing, and PR); advertising agencies generally receive a commission (discount ‘kick-back’) from above-the-line media services, but not from below the line services, in which case if asked to arrange any will seek to add a mark-up. See the marketing page.
appointment – a personal sales visit to a prospect, usually arranged by phone. See the appointment-making process.
benefit – the gain (usually a tangible cost, but can be intangible) that accrues to the customer from the product or service.
buyer – most commonly means a professional purchasing person in a business; can also mean a private consumer. Buyers are not usually major decision-makers, that is to say, what they buy, when and how they buy it, and how much they pay are prescribed for them by the business they work for. If you are selling a routine repeating predictable product, especially a consumable, then you may well be able to restrict your dealings to buyers; if you are selling a new product or service of any significance, buyers will tend to act as influencers at most. See decision-makers, and the buying techniques page.
buying facilitation® – also known as facilitative buying, generally attributed (and registered) to sales guru Sharon Drew Morgen. Extremely advanced form of personal selling, in which the central ethos is one of ‘helping organizations and buyers to buy’, not selling to them. See collaboration and partnership selling at the end of the section.
buying signal – a buying signal is a comment from a prospect which indicates that he is visualising to whatever extent buying your product or service. The most common buying signal is the question: “How much is it?” Others are questions or comments like: “What colours does it come in?”, “What’s the lead-time?”, “Who else do you supply?”, “Is delivery free?” “Do you use it yourself?”, and surprisingly, “It’s too expensive.”
buying warmth – behavioural, non-verbal and other signs that a prospect likes what he sees; very positive from the sales person’s perspective, but not an invitation to jump straight to the close.
call/calling – a personal face-to-face visit or telephone call by a sales person to a prospect or customer. Also referred to a sales call (for any sales visit or phone contact), or cold call (in the case of a first contact without introduction or notice in writing).
call centre – also called a contact centre (US = center) – a department for outgoing and/or incoming (outbound/inbound) telephone calls to/from customers, commonly now extending to email communications also if useful for customer service, but not extending to email marketing. Call centres can be primarily reactive (inbound) or proactive (outbound – covering telemarketing, telesales, and research), or both. Call centres can be in-house, part of the employed organization, or external, effectively a contractor or an agency. Most modern in-house or long-term out-sourced call centres are effectively customer service centres or departments, containing staff dedicated to telesales and customer services activities. Other types of call centre activities and operations can be concerned more with short-term telesales, telemarketing or market research campaigns. Run well a call/contact centre is a wonderful function. Run poorly call centres are a nightmare for staff and customers alike. Since the 1990s when the call centre function became de-humanised and obsessively cost-driven by many large corporations the nightmare scenario largely applies. Some call/contact centres are now such vast business units that they warrant being ‘off-shored’ (outsourced to countries with lower costs), which generally equates to corporate own-foot-shooting on a truly huge scale. A call centre which is inherently liable to upset customers due to inadequate levels of customer empathy and service is quite obviously utterly self-defeating. Staff turnover is unsurprisingly a major challenge in call centres.
canvass/canvassing – cold-calling personally at the prospect’s office or more commonly now by telephone, in an attempt to arrange an appointment or present a product, or to gather information.
close/closing – the penultimate step of the ‘Seven Steps of the Sale’ selling process, when essentially the sales-person encourages the prospect to say yes and sign the order. In days gone by a Sales person’s expertise was measured almost exclusively by how many closes he knew. Thank God for evolution. See the many examples of closes and closing techniques in the Seven Steps section, but don’t expect to kid any buyer worth his salt today, and using one might even get you thrown out of his office. Use with great care.
closed question – a question which generally prompts a yes or no answer, or a different short answer of just two possible options, compared to open questions, which typically begin with who, what, where, when, etc., and which tend to invite much longer answers.
cold calling – typically refers to the first telephone call made to a prospective customer. More unusually these days, cold calling can also refer to calling face-to-face for the first time without an appointment at commercial promises or households. Cold calling is also known as canvassing, telephone canvassing, prospecting, telephone prospecting, and more traditionally in the case of consumer door-to-door selling as ‘door-knocking’. See the cold calling page.
collaboration selling – also known as collaborative selling and facilitation selling – very modern and sophisticated, in which seller truly collaborates with buyer and buying organization to help the buyer buy. A logical extension to ‘strategic’ or ‘open plan’ selling. See collaboration and partnership selling at the end of the section.
commodities/commoditised (products and services) – typically a term applied to describe products which are mature in development, produced and sold in vast scale, involving little or no uniqueness between variations of different suppliers; high volume, low price, low profit margin, de-skilled (‘ease of use’ in consumption, application, installation, etc). Traditionally the ‘commodities’ term applies to the ‘commodities markets’ which trade and set prices for fundamental commodities such as coffee, grain, oil, etc., however in a more generic sales and selling sense the term ‘commoditised’ refers to a product (and arguably a service) which has become mass-produced, widely available, easy to make, de-mystified, and simplified; all of which is almost invariably associated with a reduction in costs, prices and profit margins, and which also has massive implications for the sales distribution model and methods for taking the product or service to market. Commoditised products are amenable to mass-market and large-scale sales distribution methods and models, as opposed to specialised or high-complexity products, which tend to require closer customer support and greater expertise and advice at the point of selling and installation, and commissioning and application, if appropriate. An electric battery torch is a commoditised product that is freely available, at competitively low price, ‘off-the-shelf’ at any supermarket (or via the internet); whereas a holographic projector is only available via a specialised supplier, at relatively high cost and profit margin, potentially without a similar competing product, and requires a significant degree of technical advice and support, and possibly user-training. Similarly, a microwave oven is a commoditised product, widely available, inexpensively, off-the-self from a retail store (or via the internet); whereas an integrated commercial kitchen is a specialised system, requiring a high level of sales and selling expertise, support and installation. Commoditised products sell by the millions; specialised products might only sell in hundreds or less. All consumer products and services become commoditised over time. Virtually all B2B products and services become commoditised over time. Colour TV’s are cheaper than they were thirty years ago because they’ve become commoditised. Same can be said for mobile phones, home security systems, computers; even motor cars are becoming genuinely commoditised. In our lifetimes perhaps so too will houses and buildings.
concession – used in the context of negotiating, when it refers to an aspect of the sale which has a real or perceived value, that is given away or conceded by seller (more usually) or the buyer. One of the fundamental principles of sales negotiating is never giving away a concession without getting something in return – even a small increase in commitment is better than nothing. See the negotiation section.
consultative selling (consultation selling) – developed by various sales gurus through the 1980s by David Sandler among others, and practiced widely today, consultative selling was a move towards more collaboration with, and involvement from, the buyer in the selling process. Strongly based on questioning aimed at gaining useful information.
consumer – in the context of selling a consumer typically refers to a private or personal customer or user, as distinct from a business or organizational, or trade customer. Notably we see this term in the acronym B2C, which means ‘business-to-consumer’, which describes the type of business in which the transaction and relationship is between a business and a private ‘domestic’ customer. A household insurer, or an estate agent, are examples of B2C sales organizations. Retail is by its nature consumer business. A holiday company is a B2C business. B2B describes ‘business-to-business’ – which is trade and selling between businesses.
customer – usually meaning the purchaser, organization, or consumer after the sale. Prior to the sale is usually referred to as a prospect.
customer relationship management (CRM) – CRM is now a commonly used term to describe the process of managing the entire selling process within a department or organisation. Computerised CRM systems enable management of prospect and customer details, contacts, sales history and account development. Well known examples of CRM computerised systems are Sage’s ACT!, which claims (as at 2006) to be the world’s most popular CRM system, and Front Range’s Goldmine. Chief elements of a CRM system (or strategy, since the term is used to describe the process and methodology as well as the system) are:
- compilation and organisation of data (prospects, customers, product, sales, history, etc)
- planning, scheduling and integrating customer development activities and communications
- analysis and reporting of all sales related activities and data
Good CRM strategy and systems are generally considered necessary for modern organisations of any scale to enable effective planning and implementation of sales (and to an extent marketing) activities.
cycle – see sales cycle.
deal – common business parlance for the sale or purchase (agreement or arrangement). It is rather a colloquial term so avoid using it in serious company as it can sound flippant and unprofessional.
decision-maker – a person in the prospect organization who has the power and budgetary authority to agree to a sales proposal. On of the most common mistakes by sales people is to attempt to sell to someone other than a genuine decision-maker. For anything other than a routine repeating order, the only two people in any organization of any size that are real decision-makers for significant sales values are the CEO/Managing Director/President, and the Finance Director. Everyone else in the organization is generally working within stipulated budgets and supply contracts, and will almost always need to refer major purchasing decisions to one or both of the above people. In very large organizations, functional directors may well be decision-makers for significant sales that relate only to their own function’s activities. See influencer.
deliverable(s) – an aspect of a proposal that the provider commits to do or supply, usually and preferably clearly measurable.
demonstration/’demo’/’dem’ – the physical presentation by the sales person to the prospect of how a product works. Generally free of charge to the prospect, and normally conducted at the prospect’s premises, but can be at another suitable venue, eg., an exhibition, or at the supplier’s premises.
demographics – the study of, or information about, people’s lifestyles, habits, population movements, spending, age, social grade, employment, etc., in terms of the consuming and buying public; anyone selling to the consumer sector will do better through understanding relevant demographic information.
discipline – within the context of an organization this is similar to function, i.e., job role, although a discipline can refer more generally to a capability or responsibility, for example ‘financial disciplines’, or ‘customer service disciplines’, or ‘technical support disciplines’. Discipline can of course mean separately ‘control’, others or oneself, which is certainly relevant to sales and selling, but not the reason for its inclusion in this glossary. In business-to-business selling of a complex strategic nature looking at disciplines (capabilities and responsibilities) can help to explore the different ways that people are affected by a change or proposition, which generally accompanies the sale of a product or service.
distribution/sales distribution – the methods or routes by which products and services are taken to market. Sales distribution models are many and various, and are constantly changing and new ones developing. Understanding and establishing best sales distribution methods – routes to market – are crucial aspects of running any sales organisation, and any business organisation too. Sales distribution should be appropriate to the product and service, and the end-user market, and the model will normally be defined by these factors, influenced also by technology and social trends. For example, commoditised mass-market consumer products (FMCG – fast-moving consumer goods, household electricals, etc) are generally distributed via mass-market consumer distribution methods, notably supermarkets, but also increasingly the internet. A lesson in changing sales distribution models, and the need for manufacturers and sellers to anticipate changes is found in the switching of book sales and CD sales from retail store distribution to websites, with the resulting demise of many retailers in those sectors. Future changes in sales distribution will see for example music transferring increasingly via online downloads, thus threatening those involved with or dependent upon physical shipping of products. B2B (business-to-business) sales distribution models have their own shape, again dependent on products and services, customer markets, technology, plus other influences such as economical trends, environmental and legislative effects, etc. Examples of B2B sales distribution models are franchising, direct sales forces (employed), direct sales forces (sales agents), telephone sales (call-centres, out-bound and in-bound), the internet (online website businesses), distributors (independent sellers who carry products and services of other manufactuerers and ‘principals’), and channel partners and partnering arrangements (prevalent in telecomms and IT sectors).
empathy – understanding how another person feels, and typically reflecting this back to the other person. The ability to feel and show empathy is central to modern selling methods. See the Empathy page. See also NLP (Neuro-Linguitsic Programming).
ethics/ethical selling/ethical business – this would not have appeared in a selling glossary a few years ago, because the line between right and wrong was a mile wide. To certain leaders and companies it still is, although gradually, slowly business and selling is becoming more civilised. Honesty, morality and social responsibility are now crucial elements in any effective selling method, and for any sustainable business. In Spring 2008 someone left a message on my answerphone. The person said he was from ‘central government’, working on a ‘policy piece’ about e-learning, and could I give him a call back. I duly called back. After several sidesteps, the ‘seller’ eventually clarified that the purpose of the contact was to sell me some advertising in a directory, supposedly endorsed or approved by a ‘government department’. This is a fine example of unethical selling, and unethical business too, since the seller was clearly following a company script and set of tactics designed to deceive. Unethical business and selling have always been wrong, but nowadays they carry far greater risks for those who behave badly. Consumers are wiser and better informed. Authories and the courts are less tolerant and more senstitive to transgressions. In all respects today poor ethics guarantee personal and business failure. See ethical management and leadership.
FABs – features advantages benefits – the links between a product description, its advantage over others, and the gain derived by the customer from using it. One of the central, if now rather predictable, techniques used in the presentation stage of the selling process.
feature – an aspect of a product or service, eg., colour, speed, size, weight, type of technology, buttons and knobs, gizmos and gadgets, bells and whistles, technical support, delivery, etc.
feel-felt-found – old-style persuasive push/pressure technique for objection handling, dating back to the 1980s and probably earlier, based on the sales-person using a response built around the three ‘feel felt found’ elements: “I understand how you feel/why you feel that…//Other customers have felt just the same/that…//But (or ‘And’) when… they have found that…” The technique seeks first to empathise, then in stage two to move the objection into neutral area avoiding direct one-to-one (2nd person, ‘you must change your mind’) confrontation, and creating an artificial sense of majority experience and opinion, where in the third stage the objection can be countered and the benefits reinforced with supposed large-scale evidence, persuading the buyer that he/she (if failing to buy) is isolated and deprived of the benefits others are enjoying. The method had limited effectiveness a generation or two ago but now the tactic mostly insults people and makes the sales-person look like an idiot.
field – means anywhere out of the sales office. Field sales people or managers are those who travel around meeting people personally in the course of managing a sales territory. To be field-based is to work on the sales territory, as opposed to being office-based.
forecast/sales forecast – a prediction of what sales will be achieved over a given period, anything from a week to a year. Sales managers require sales people to forecast, in order to provide data to production, purchasing, and other functions whose activities need to be planned to meet sales demand. Sales forecasts are also an essential performance quantifier which feeds into the overall business plan for any organization. Due to the traditionally unreliable and optimistic nature of sales-department forecasts it is entirely normal for the sum of all individual sales persons’ sales annual forecast to grossly exceed what the business genuinely plans to sell. See targets.
function – in the context of an organization, this means the job role or discipline, eg., sales, marketing, production, accounting, customer service, delivery, installation, technical service, general management, etc. Understanding the functions of people within organizations, and critically their interests and needs, is very important if you are selling to businesses or other non-consumer organizations.
gestation period – sale gestation period typically refers to the the time from enquiry to sale, the Sales Cycle in other words, (see Sales Cycle). Awareness and monitoring of Sale Gestation Period/Sales Cycle times are crucial in sales planning, forecasting and management, for individuals sales teams and sales organizations.
hard contacts – a networking term (differentiating from ‘soft contacts’) – ‘hard contacts’ may refer to members of networking groups whose purpose is mutual referral of sales prospects. See ‘soft contacts’ and fuller definitions in the networking situations of the business networking article.
hard sell – aggressive forceful selling technique, popular in 1960s, and since then among advocates/practitioners of old-fashioned one-way sales methods, using high pressure and cynical tactics to cajole customers to buy. Rarely successful and never sustainable. Contrasts with ‘soft sell’.
influencer – a person in the prospect organization who has the power to influence and persuade a decision-maker. Influencers will be generally be decision-makers for relatively low value sales. There is usually more than one influencer in any prospect organization relevant to a particular sale, and large organizations will have definitely have several influencers. It is usually important to sell to influencers as well as decision-makers in the same organization. Selling to large organizations almost certainly demands that the sales person does this. The role and power of influencers in any organization largely depends on the culture and politics of the organization, and particularly the management style of the two main decision-makers. See decision-makers.
intangible – in a selling context this describes, or is, an aspect of the product or service offering that has a value but is difficult to see or quantify (for instance, peace-of-mind, reliability, consistency). See tangible.
introduction – the word introduction has two different main meanings in selling: Introduction refers either to first stage of the face-to-face or telephone sales call (see the Opening stage in the Seven Steps of the Sale), or the term means a personal introduction – also called a referral – of the sales person to someone in the buying organisation by a mutual friend or contact. Personal introductions of this sort tend to imply endorsement or recommendation of the seller, and since they are made by an existing contact they help greatly in establishing initial trust. The value and potency of a personal introduction genrally reflects the importance of the introducing person and the strength of their relationship with the buying contact. Networking is essentially based on using (sometimes several quite informal) introductions, to connect a seller with a buyer.
introductory letter – a very effective way to improve appointment-making success, and to open initial dialogue, especially for selling to large organisations. See the introductory letters structure and template examples.
LAMP® – Large Account Management Process – sales acronym and methodology for major accounts management developed by Robert Miller, Stephen Heiman and Tad Tuleja in their 1991 book Successful Large Account Management (see the books at the foot of this page). Note that LAMP® and Strategic Selling® methods and materials are subject to copyright and intellectual property control of Miller Heiman, Inc. Also note that LAMP® and Strategic Selling® methods and materials are not to be used in the provision of training and development products and services without a licence. See LAMP® and Strategic Selling® copyright details below.
lead-time – time between order and delivery, installation or commencement of a product or service.
listening – a key selling skill, in that without good listening skills the process of questioning is rendered totally pointless. See the Levels of Listening on the Empathy page.
major account – a large and complex prospect or customer, often having several branches or sites, and generally requiring contacts and relationships between various functions in the supplier and customer organization. Often major accounts are the responsibility of designated experienced and senior sales people, which might be formed into a major accounts team. Major accounts often enjoy better discounts and terms than other customers because of purchasing power leveraged by bigger volumes, and lower selling costs from economies of scale.
marketing – perceived by lots of business people to mean simply promotion and advertising, the term marketing actually covers everything from company culture and positioning, through market research, new business/product development, advertising and promotion, PR (public/press relations), and arguably all of the sales functions as well. It’s the process by which a company decides what it will sell, to whom, when and how, and then does it. See the marketing section.
margin/profit margin – the difference between cost (including or excluding operating overheads) and selling price of a product or service. Percentage margin is generally deemed to be the difference between cost and selling price, divided by the selling price ex tax (eg something that costs £1 and is sold for £2 plus tax produces a 50% margin – gross margin that is – net margin is after overheads are deducted).
mark-up – this is the money that a selling company adds to the cost of a product or service in order to produce a required level of profit. Strictly speaking, percentage mark-up refers to the difference between cost and selling price as a factor of the cost, not of the selling price. So a product costing £1 and selling for £2 has been given a mark-up of 100%; (at the same time it produces a margin of 50%).
needs-creation selling – a selling style popularised in the 1970s and 80s which asserted that sales people could create needs in a prospect for their products or services even if no needs were apparent, obvious or even existed. The method was for the sales person to question the prospect to identify, discover (and suggest) organizational problems or potential problems that would then create a need for the product. I’m bound to point out that this is no substitute for good research and proper targeting of prospects who have use of the products and services being sold.
negotiation/negotiating – the trading of concessions including price reductions, between supplier and customer, in an attempt to shape a supply contract (sale in other words) so that it is acceptable to both supplier and customer. Negotiations can last a few minutes or even a few years, although generally it’s down to one or two meetings and one or two exchanges of correspondence. Ideally, from the seller’s point of view, negotiation must only commence when the sale has been agreed in principle, and conditionally upon satisfactory negotiation. However most sales people fall into the trap set by most buyers – intentionally or otherwise – of starting to negotiate before the selling process have even commenced. See the section onnegotiation for negotiating theory, rules and techniques.
NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) – A very accessible branch of psychology developed by Bandler and Grinder in the 1960s. NLP involves language, thinking and communications, and is therefore immensely useful and often featuires in sales training. See the NLP page.
networking – an increasingly popular method of developing sales opportunities and contacts, based on referrals and introductions – either face-to-face at meetings and gatherings, or by other contact methods such as phone, email, social and business networking websites, etc. See the business networking guide.
objection/overcoming objections – an objection is a point of resistance raised by a prospect, usually price (“It’s too expensive..”), but can be anything at any stage of the selling process. Overcoming objections is a revered and much-trained skill in the traditional selling process, but far less significant in modern selling. Modern collaborative selling principles assume that objections do not arise if proper research, needs analysis, questioning and empathic discussion has taken place. Also the notion of using techniques or pressure to overcome what may be legitimate obstacles is contrary to principles of modern selling. Modern selling methods tend to identify objections much earlier in the process, and either to filter out the prospect at that stage and abandon the approach, or where objections arise from multiple decision influencers within the buyer organization, to agree collaboratively a strategy with the main contact at the prospective customer for dealing with objection(s) arising.
open/opening – the first stage of the actual sales call (typically after preparation in the Seven Steps of the Sale). Also called the introduction.
opening benefit statement/OBS – traditionally an initial impact statement for sales people to use at first contact with prospect, in writing, on the phone or face-to-face – the OBS generally encapsulates the likely strongest organizational benefit typically (or supposedly) derived by customers in the prospect’s sector, eg., “Our customers in the clothing retail sector generally achieve 30-50% pilferage reduction when they install one of our Crooknabber security systems…” – N.B. The OBS is a relatively blunt instrument for modern selling – use it with extreme care for fear of looking like a total twerp.
open plan selling – a modern form of selling, heavily dependent on the sales person understanding and interpreting the prospect’s organizational and personal needs, issues, processes, constraints and strategic aims, which generally extends the selling discussion far beyond the obvious product application; (in a way, it’s rather like combining selling with genuinely beneficial, free, expert consultancy). In ‘open plan selling’ the seller identifies strategic business aims of the sales prospect or customer organization, and develops a proposition that enables the aims to be realised. The proposition is therefore strongly linked to the achievement of strategic business aims – typically improvements in costs, revenues, margins, overheads, profit, quality, efficiency, time-saving and competitive strengths areas. There is a strong reliance on seller having excellent strategic understanding of prospect organization and aims, market sector situation and trends, and access to strategic decision-makers and influencers. Open Plan Selling is also underpinned by strong ethical principles, notably honesty and the premise that persuasion and influence are unhelpful, and in this respect the methodology relates somewhat to modern ideas of facilitating and helping, as primarily featured in Buying Facilitation. The term Open Plan Selling was coined (to the best of my knowledge) by British consultant and trainer Stanley Guffogg. See Open Plan Selling.
open question – a question that gains information, usually beginning with who, what, why, where, when, how, or more subtly ‘tell me about..’ – as distinct from a closed question, for example beginning with ‘Is it…?’ or ‘Do you…?’ etc., which tend to glean only a yes or no answer.
package – in a selling context this is another term for the product offer; it’s the whole product and service offering at a given price, upon given terms.
partnership selling – very modern approach to organizational selling for business-to-business sales – see collaboration and partnership selling.
perceived – how something is seen or regarded by someone, usually by the prospect or customer, irrespective of what is believed or presented by the seller, ie what it really means to the customer.
pipeline – see sales pipeline.
positioning – more a marketing than sales term, although relevant to experienced and sophisticated sellers, and related to targeting – positioning refers to how a product/service/proposition is presented or described or marketed in relation to the market place – with reference to customers, competition, image, pricing, quality, etc. Positioning basically refers to whether a proposition is being sold appropriately – in the right way, to the right people, at the right time, in the right place, and at the right price. A potentially brilliant business can fail because its products are not positioned properly, which typically manifests as sales people being unable to sell successfully. There might be little or nothing wrong with the sales people and their skills, and the product/service, but the venture fails because the positioning is wrong. Conversely, good positioning can rescue a less than brilliant product/service. Effective selling is not only about quality and skills – its about suitability of targeting.
preparation – in the context of the selling process this is the work done by the sales person to research and plan the sales approach and/or sales call to a particular prospect or customer. Almost entirely without exception in the global history of selling, no call is adequately prepared for, and sales that fail to happen are due to this failing.
presentation/sales presentation – the process by which a sales person explains the product or service to the prospect (to a single contact or a group), ideally including the product’s features, advantages and benefits, especially those which are relevant to the prospect. Presentations can be verbal only, but more usually involve the use of visuals, commonly bullet-point text slides and images on a computer display or projected onto a screen. Can incorporate a video and/or physical demonstration of the product(s). See the presentation training section.
product – generally a physical item being supplied, but can also mean or include services and intangibles, in which case product is used to mean the whole package being supplied.
product offer – how the product and/or service is positioned and presented to the prospect or market, which would normally include features and/or advantages and also imply at least one benefit for the prospect (hence a single product can be represented by a number of different product offers, each for different market niches (segments or customer groupings). One of the great marketing challenges is always to define a product offer concisely and meaningfully.
proposal/sales proposal – usually a written offer with specification, prices, outline terms and conditions, and warranty arrangements, from a sales person or selling organization to a prospect. Generally an immensely challenging part of the process to get right, in that it must be concise yet complete, persuasive yet objective, well specified yet orientated to the customer’s applications. An outline proposal is often a useful interim step, to avoid wasting a lot of time including in a full proposal lots of material that the customer really doesn’t need.
proposition – usually means product offer, can mean sales proposal. The initial proposition means the basis of the first approach.
professional selling skills – see PSS
PSS – ‘Professional Selling Skills’ – highly structured selling process pioneered by the US Xerox (and UK Rank Xerox) photocopier sales organization during the 1960s, and adopted by countless business-to-business sales organizations, normally as the ‘Seven Steps of the Sale’, ever since. PSS places a huge reliance on presentation, overcoming objections and umpteen different closes. Largely now superseded by more modern ‘Open Plan’ two-way processes, but PSS is still in use and being trained, particularly in old-fashioned paternalistic company cultures. The regimented one-way manipulative style of PSS nowadays leaves most modern buyers completely cold, but strip it away to the bare process and it’s better than no process at all.
prospect – a customer (person, organization, buyer) before the sale is made, ie a prospective customer.
puppy dog sale/puppy dog close – a method of selling or closing a deal whereby you let the customer try the product or service for free without commitment, for a limited period, in the confidence that once they live with it they won’t want to give it up – just like giving someone have a puppy for a day. These days the puppy dog approach would ideally extend to giving the prospective customer some education and support about looking after the puppy so that they understand and are prepared for the changes that come with a new puppy. See Level 5: education/information-led selling in the development of selling overview.
questioning – the second stage of the sales call, typically after the opening or introduction in the Seven Steps of the Sale, but also vital to modern selling methods too, notably collaborative/facilitative selling. A crucial selling skill, and rarely well demonstrated. The correct timing and use of the important different types of questions are central to the processes of gathering information, matching needs, and building rapport and empathy. Questioning also requires that the sales person has good listening, interpretation and empathic capabilities. See the questioning section. And see empathy, including the levels of listening.
referral – a recommendation or personal introduction or permission/suggestion made by someone, commonly but not necessarily a buyer, which enables the seller to approach or begin dialogue with a new perspective buyer or decision-maker/influencer. Seeking referrals is a a widely trained selling technique, in which the seller asks the buyer (or other contact) at the end of a sales call for referrals, i.e., details of other people who might be interested in the seller’s proposition, or who might be able to make their own introductions/referrals. This latter scenario effectively equates to networking.
rem – common slang for remainder or remnant in any business which deals with end-of-line, left-over, or otherwise non-standard-stock items which typically are handled and disposed at attractive terms to minimise waste and write-offs.
research/research call – the act of gathering information about a market or customer, that will help progress or enable a sales approach. Often seen as a job for telemarketing personnel, but actually more usefully carried out by sales people, especially where large prospects are concerned (which should really be the only type of prospects targeted by modern sales people, given the need to recover very high costs of sales people).
retention/customer retention – means simply keeping customers and not losing them to competitors. Modern companies realise that it’s far more expensive to find new customers than keep existing ones, and so put sufficient investment into looking after and growing existing accounts. Less sensible companies find themselves spending a fortune winning new customers, while they lose more business than they gain because of poor retention activity. (The hole in the bucket syndrome, where it leaks out faster than it can be poured in.)
sales cycle – the Sales Cycle term generally describes the time and/or process between first contact with the customer to when the sale is made. Sales Cycle times and processes vary enormously depending on the company, type of business (product/service), the effectiveness of the sales process, the market and the particular situation applying to the customer at the time of the enquiry. The Sales Cycle time is also referred to as the Sale Gestation Period (ie from conception to birth – enquiry to sale). The Sales Cycle in a sweet shop is less than a minute; in the international aviation sector or civil construction market the Sales Cycle can be many months or even a few years. The funnel diagram and sales development process on thefree resources section show the sales cycle from a different perspective, (and actually prior to enquiry stage). A typical Sales Cycle for a moderately complex product might be:
- receive enquiry
- qualify details
- arrange appointment
- customer appointment
- arrange survey
- conduct survey
- presentation of proposal and close sale
sales forecasts – also called sales projections, these are the predictions that sales people and sales managers are required to make about future business levels, necessary for their own organisation to plan and budget everything from stock levels, production, staffing levels, to advertising and promotion, financial performance and market strategies.
sales funnel – describes the pattern, plan or actual achievement of conversion of prospects into sales, pre-enquiry and then through the sales cycle. So-called because it includes the conversion ratio at each stage of the sales cycle, which has a funneling effect. Prospects are said to be fed into the top of the funnel, and converted sales drop out at the bottom. The extent of conversion success (ie the tightness of each ratio) reflects the quality of prospects fed into the top, and the sales skill at each conversion stage. The Sales Funnel is a very powerful sales planning and sales management tool. A diagram of a typical basic Sales Funnel appears on the free resources section. Also referred to as the Sales Pipeline.
sales report – a business report of sales results, activities, trends, etc., traditionally completed by a sales manager, but increasingly now the responsibility of sales people too. See the sample monthly sales report template (MSExcel format), or as a PDF version of the same report template. A sales report can be required weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually, and often includes the need to provide sales forecasts.
sales pipeline – a linear equivalent of the Sales Funnel principle. Prospects need to be fed into the pipeline in order to drop out of the other end as sales. The length of the pipeline is the sales cycle time, which depends on business type, market situation, and the effectiveness of the sales process.
sector/market sector – a part of the market that can be described, categorised and then targeted according to its own criteria and characteristics; sectors are often described as ‘vertical’, meaning an industry type, or ‘horizontal’, meaning some other grouping that spans a number of vertical sectors, eg., a geographical grouping, or a grouping defined by age, or size, etc.
segment/market segment – a sub-sector or market niche; basically a grouping that’s more narrowly defined and smaller than a sector; a segment can be a horizontal sub-sector across one or more vertical sectors. See the marketing page.
service contract – a formal document usually drawn up by the supplier by which the trading arrangement is agreed with the customer. Also known as trading agreements, supply agreements, and other variations. See the section on service contracts and trading agreements.
soft contacts – a networking term (used to differentiate from ‘hard contacts’ people and groups) – ‘soft contacts’ may refer to networks/groups of loose and flexible nature. See ‘hard contacts’ and more details about both terms in networking situationswithin business networking section.
soft sell – an old term referring to a gentle style of selling, not necessarily subtle or two-way/facilitative/modern, instead ‘soft sell’ refers simply to the absence of pressure and urgency.
solutions selling – a common but loosely-used description for a more customer-orientated selling method than the Seven Steps; dependent on identifying needs to which appropriate benefits are matched in a package or ‘solution’. The term is based on the premise that customers don’t buy products or features or benefits – they buy solutions (to organizational problems). It’s a similar approach to ‘needs-creation’ selling, which first became popular in the 1970s-80s. Solutions selling remains relevant and its methods can usefully be included in the open plan selling style described later here, although modern collaborative and facilitative methodologies are becoming vital pre-requisites.
SPIN® and SPIN® Selling – A popular selling method developed by Neil Rackham in the 1970-80s: SPIN® is an acronym derived from the basic selling process designed and defined by Rackham: Situation, Problem, Implication, Need, or Need Payoff. More detail about SPIN® and SPIN® Selling appears in the Consultative Selling and Needs Creation Selling methodssection. Note that SPIN® and SPIN SELLING® methods and materials are subject to copyright and intellectual property control of the Huthwaite organisations of the US and UK. SPIN® and SPIN SELLING® methods and materials are not to be used in the provision of training and development products and services without a licence. See SPIN® copyright details.
steps of the sale – describes the structure of the selling process, particularly the sales call, and what immediately precedes and follows it. Usually represented as the Seven Steps of the Sale, but can be five, six, eight or more, depending whose training manual you’re reading.
Strategic Selling® – when used in upper case and/or in the context of Miller Heiman’s Strategic Selling® methodology (which features in their books of the same name, first published in 1985) the Strategic Selling® term is a registered and protected product name belonging to the American Miller Heiman training organisation – so be warned. LAMP® and Strategic Selling®methods and materials are subject to copyright and intellectual property control of Miller Heiman, Inc., and again be warned that LAMP® and Strategic Selling® methods and materials are not to be used in the provision of training and development products and services without a licence. See LAMP® and Strategic Selling® copyright details below.
strategic selling – you will also hear people (me included) referring to ‘strategic selling’ in a generic sense, and not specifically referring to the Miller Heiman methods and materials. In a generic ‘lower case’ sense, ‘strategic selling’ describes a broad methodology which began to be practised in the 1980s, literally ‘strategic’ by its nature (the principles involve taking a strategic view of the prospective customer’s organisation, its markets, customers and strategic priorities, etc), which is described below and referred to as ‘open plan selling’. When using the ‘strategic selling’ terminology in a training context you must be careful therefore to avoid confusion or misrepresentation of the Miller Heiman intellectual property. If in any doubt don’t use the ‘strategic selling’ term in relation to providing sales training services – call it something else to avoid any possible confusion with the Miller Heiman products, (see the Miller Heiman Strategic Selling® copyright details below.
tangible – in a selling context this describes, or is, an aspect of the product or service offering that can readily be seen and measured in terms of cost and value (eg., any physical feature of the product; spare parts; delivery or installation; a regular service visit; a warranty agreement). See intangible.
target/sales target – in a sales context this is the issued (or ideally agreed) level of sales performance for a sales person or team or department over a given period. Bonus payments, sales commissions, pay reviews, job gradings, life and death, etc., can all be dependent on sales staff meeting sales targets, so all in all sales targets are quite sensitive things. Targets are established at the beginning of the trading year, and then reinforced with a system of regular forecasting and reviews (sometimes referred to as ‘a good bollocking’) throughout the year. See forecasting.
targeting – this has a different meaning to the usual noun sense of target (above). Targeting is a marketing term – very relevant and important for sales people and sales managers too – which refers to the customers at which the selling effort is aimed, hence targeting. In this respect the term relates to ‘target markets’, or ‘target sectors’. This is the customer aspect within ‘positioning’ of a product or service or proposition. Targeting is represented by the question: Who will buy the product/service? Deciding targeting on a company scale is normally the responsibility of a marketing department or agency, but each sales person and sales team as huge potential to develop and refine their own local targeting – so as to aim their efforts at the sectors or customers which will produce the greatest results. For example – and many sales people, especially self-employed providers and traders – completely ignore the fact that sales generally come more easily from existing or previous customers than prospective new customers to whom the supplier is completely unknown. Similarly size of prospective customer is another largely overlooked aspect of targeting. Any business will naturally have more amenable sectors of potential customers than other parts of the market. Targeting is the process by which the selling organization maximises its chances of engaging with the most responsive and profitable customers.
telemarketing – any pre-sales activity conducted by telephone, usually by specially trained telemarketing personnel – for instance, research, appointment-making, product promotion.
telesales – selling by telephone contact alone, normally a sales function in its own right, ie., utilising specially trained telesales personnel; used typically where low order values prevent the use of expensive field-based sales people, and a recognisable product or service allows the process to succeed.
tender – a very structured formal proposal in response to the issue of an invitation to tender for the supply of a product or service to a large organization or government department. Tenders require certain qualifying criteria to be met first by the tendering organization, which in itself can constitute several weeks or months work by lots of different staff. Tenders must adhere to strict submission deadlines, contract terms, specifications and even the presentation of the tender itself, and usually only suppliers experienced in winning and fulfilling this type of highly controlled supply ever win the business. It is not unknown for very successful tendering companies to actually help the customer formulate the tender specification, which explains why it’s so difficult to prise the business away from them.
territory – the geographical area of responsibility of a sales person or a team or a sales organization. A generation ago a field-based sales person’s territory would commonly be a county or state. Now in this globalized age, where so much selling is done online and remotely by telephone rather than by expensive face-to-face selling, field-based sales people’s territories are much bigger, and can be entire countries or continental regions.
territory planning – the process of planning optimum and most cost-effective coverage (particularly for making appointments or personal calling) of a sales territory by the available sales resources, given prospect numbers, density, buying patterns, etc., even if one territory by one sales person; for one person this used to be called journey planning, and was often based on a four or six day cycle, so as to avoid always missing prospects who might never be available on one particular day of the week.
trial close – the technique by which a sales person tests the prospect’s readiness to buy, traditionally employed in response to a buying signal, eg: prospect says: “Do you have them in stock?”, to which the sales person would traditionally reply: “Would you want one if they are?” Use with extreme care, for fear of looking like a clumsy desperate fool. If you see a buying signal there’s no need to jump on it – just answer it politely, and before ask why the question is important, which will be far more constructive.
unique/uniqueness – a feature that is peculiar to a product or service or supplier – no competitor can offer it. See themarketing section for more detail about developing unique selling propositions. Uniqueness is a much overlooked aspect of selling. The vast majority of sales organizations focus their efforts on selling ‘me too’ products and services, where inevitably discussions tend to concentrate on price differences, whereas the most enlightened and progressive sales organizations strive to develop unique qualities in the propositions, which dramatically reduces competitive pressures.
UPB – unique perceived benefit – now one of the central strongest mechanisms in the modern selling process, an extension and refinement of the product offer, based on detailed understanding of the prospect’s personal and organizational needs. A UPB is your USP from the customer’s perspective, in other words, what your USP means to your customer, which is a very different way of approaching selling than from the traditional angle of seller-oriented USPs. It’s essential to discuss your offering in these terms with your customer. The UPB acronym and concept was developed by The Marketing Guild, who specialise in practical, innovative, and effective sales and marketing.
USP – unique selling point or proposition – this is what makes the product offer competitively strong and without direct comparison; generally the most valuable unique advantage of a product or service, for the market or prospect in question; now superseded by UPB.
variable – an aspect of the sale or deal that can be changed in order to better meet the needs of the seller and/or the buyer. Typical variables are price, quantity, lead-time, payment terms, technical factors, styling factors, spare parts, back-up and breakdown service, routine maintenance, installation, delivery, warranty. Variables may be real or perceived, and often the perceived ones are the most significant in any negotiation. See the section on negotiation