Observations and Insights on Selling

The SalesPractice blog offers weekly observations and insights for sales practitioners pursuing the highest levels of performance in personal selling.

This Week's Post:

A Very Short History Lesson

Gary Boye

The term, "sales training" has sort of a fleeting substance. I mentioned on the very first page that there are few bricks and mortar schools of selling. Still, we would assume that there are fundamentals that actually have value. Somewhere along the line, many of us have been exposed to a few. However, I have more than once learned that there are some folks in the field of selling who actually have no knowledge of what passes as the basics.

As a sales educator, I cannot readily assume that a foundation of basics has been established with any individual. I have to ask rather than assume. As a former manager, and, as a CEO, I could not make those assumptions. But I did. I'm not immune from The Peter Principle that says we rise until we reach our level of incompetence. I joined that club in humbling fashion, and, I take consolation that the lessons were valuable.

A little bit of history might provide some insight into how certain fundamentals came to be accepted as gospel. Please don't be embarrassed if you don't know this stuff.

Deep in the heart of sales lore there emerged, around the middle of the twentieth century, two models for sales training. The concepts are still alive today, for better or worse. They are referred to as the AIDCA Model, and, the Features and Benefits Model.

AIDCA is an acronym which identifies, in linear form, the supposed steps of a sales process. The letters stand for attention, interest, desire, conviction, and, action. In a nutshell, it puts responsibility on the salesperson to gain attention, garner interest, create or establish a desire for the product, convince, often by "overcoming" resistance (objections), and finally go in for the kill (whoops-- I should say "Close.")

Interestingly, the AIDCA construct was derived from the advertising business. But I'm in agreement with the true giants of that profession who proclaimed that "advertising is salesmanship."

I view AIDCA, first and foremost, as a learning tool. I believe we should know it. I liken it to the choreographed practice of "kata" found in the martial arts. That set of movements, mandatory to learn, would not necessarily save you in a street mugging attempt. But the inherent knowledge and essence of muscle memory could carry you through quite well.

The second model, Features and Benefits, is often contained in AIDCA as a sub-model. A student would first be indoctrinated with the difference. Feature is what the product has. Benefit is what it can do for the buyer. The rule (a good one) says that we should never state a feature without explaining the benefit. Personally, I often chose to bridge feature and benefit with the simple phrase, "What that means to you is ______"

Both of the models we displayed above had, at their core, knowledge and assumptions about WHY people buy.

With all respect for what came before, and the great contributors who truly understood those ideas, we can know more today about WHY people buy, WHAT people buy, WHERE people buy, WHEN people buy, and HOW people buy. Knowledge became deeper and assumptions were challenged. The Model of the Four Applied Understandings emerged as the true path to sales mastery.

On or around the time AIDCA and the feature/benefit thing grew legs, a man who was a very successful life insurance salesman wrote a book on selling which would become a classic. His name was Frank Bettger, and, he was a protégé of the great Dale Carnegie whose contributions in the field of personal development were remarkable. Bettger's book had the title, How I raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling. In the first part of the book, the author contributed some simple advice on selling that remains unparalleled to this day with regard to its value. He said the following words, described as a vital truth, which he had learned from an older, more experienced salesman:

"The most important secret of salesmanship is to find out what the other fellow wants, then help him find the best way to get it."

I am among those who believe that when Frank Bettger shared that wisdom, selling for a living became an authentic profession for those of us who wanted to treat it as such.