Experiment – Which Sales Approach is Really More Effective?

I haven’t been completely transparent in some of my recent articles.   I have continued to urge readers how important it is to sell using a consultative, buyer-focused methodology and a formal, structured sales process.  This helps to shorten the sales cycle, increase closing percentages and most importantly, differentiate, allowing you to sell value instead of price. Well, at least that’s what I have been writing…

What have I really been doing?

A secret experiment.

What if I was wrong about what I’ve been writing?  What if buyers should dictate the process?  What if we should sell the way buyers want to buy?  What if inbound leads should be handled in a more transactional way?  What if we should use a judgment-based approach instead of structured sales process?

I never want to be in a situation where I’m writing, coaching, consulting or training about a sales topic, but not actually doing those things myself.  And the same is expected from every professional on my team.  How else can we possibly keep it real for our clients?

During the past 90 days, I have been secretly selling multiple ways.  On one third of our opportunities, I have been selling the way we teach – using a formal, structured sales process with a consultative approach.  On another third of our opportunities (inbound leads),  I have experimented with a more transactional approach, although even that has a consultative element because I can’t help but ask some good questions.  It simply means that I show and tell much earlier than normal.  With the remaining third of our leads, I have experimented with allowing the buyer to dictate the process.   My buyer-dictated approach included a little push-back because I can’t allow a potential client to take the wrong approach to a solution.

Want to know what happened?  Look at the table below:

Sales Experiment

Did I have a bias?  You might think so, but nobody wants to get the business, regardless of approach, more than me.

One thing you don’t see in the table is average contract size.  While it can be measured, we don’t provide a specific thing that can be compared across processes.  And the services we do provide have more to do with the size of a sales force, their financial resources and the scope of work that we need to provide.  That said, the size of the contracts, when compared with the potential of the opportunities, was proportionately smaller with approaches 2 and 3.

Another thing you don’t see in the table is that we were with decision makers in each of our structured, consultative opportunities, but weren’t always able to accomplish that with all of the opportunities in the other two categories.  Before you jump to conclusions, we need to consider the chicken and the egg.  Which came first?  Did we default to the consultative approach when we were able to reach decision makers and the transactional approach when we weren’t?  No.  Our approach dictated whether we were able to speak with decision makers.  When we took the consultative approach, it was easy to get decision makers to participate in the conversation.  When we took a buyer-driven or transactional approach, it was nearly impossible to get decision makers involved in our discussions.

Proponents of the other approaches might argue that there are some products and services that are better suited for their favorite approaches.  I agree.  But as I have said before, if you don’t have a product that is under $200, if you aren’t the cheapest, if you aren’t the industry leader, or if you aren’t the logical or safe choice in your space, then you are an underdog and the underdog needs to outsell everyone else.  If your company needs to outsell the competition, you’ll need to do it using a formal, structured sales process with a consultative approach or you’ll find yourself with unreliable forecasts, a longer than necessary sales process, smaller deals and a lower closing percentage.