The Truth Behind Linear Selling
Sean works for a major telecom company.
During one of our coaching sessions, he told me, “I’ve been diligent about following the sales process that my company believes is required to make a sale — but, for some strange reason, my prospects don’t want to fit into that process.
What am I doing wrong?”
Sean’s comment struck me because it spoke to years of traditional selling programs that promote linear selling — moving prospects along from one step to another until they say yes — as a “guarantee” of sales success.
But there’s an inherent conflict here.
Linear selling says that you have to impose a predetermined structure on building a relationship — but that’s by definition an unstructured process!
Suppose that the “next step” isn’t what the prospect wants?
“Wait a minute,” you might say. “What matters most is that I put as many prospects as possible into my sales process, and hopefully some of them will turn into sales.”
If you’re thinking that way, it’s definitely time for you to consider a different way of thinking.
Of course you can make sales using linear selling — but you’ll never know how many sales you’re losing week after week because you’re wearing the “blinders” of traditional selling.
If we fail to tune in to the natural rhythm of trust-building when two strangers become involved in developing a relationship…or if we try to force prospects into our process, we make the relationship about us and not them, whether we intend to or not.
And prospects sense that and pull back, because structured, linear sales processes don’t recognize the human elements required to build the relationships that ultimately lead to sales.
Before a sale can happen, prospects need to feel that you’re comfortable moving at their pace and their process.
If you try to force changes in that process, you’ll only set off alarms that will pigeonhole you with the negative stereotype of “salesperson.”
That’s why I advised Sean to work on becoming aware of the milestones that prospects set and that will guide his path to a sale.
He needed to learn to build enough trust with prospects that they would feel comfortable telling him the truth of their process and their decision making path.
“I totally accept the principles behind what you’re saying,” Sean then told me, “but I need to know more specifics about what to say and do in a sales situation.” Here are some suggestions I gave him:
Integrate trust-building language into your conversations with prospects so they’ll feel comfortable telling you where they are at in their process. For example, saying “Where do you think we should go from here?” invites them to tell you the truth, while “Why don’t we set up a next appointment to discuss our next steps” gives the impression that you’re trying to take control.
Rather than asking prospects overtly what their decision making process is, use softer language that they can understand from their perspective, for example, “What specific gates do you anticipate you’ll need to go through as you consider the proposition of purchasing the software to solve the business issues we discussed?”
Don’t probe or “fish” for prospects’ “pain” as part of your sales process. Prospects have learned through long experience that the appearance of caring is usually a verbal ploy designed to move the sale forward according to the salesperson’s agenda. Instead, speak genuinely and with sincerity to what you know their core business issues are. You can find out what these are by getting in touch with customers who have already bought your product or service and asking, “What three or four business issues drove your decision to buy our product?” Chances are, your new prospect will be dealing with similar concerns.
Consider these ideas, and try these practical suggestions. They helped Sean feel better about letting go of the old ideas he’d been taught.
Maybe they’ll do the same for you.