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Is it possible to find a sales process that takes advantage of one's strengths?

Recently I read a few chapters from a rough draft of an upcoming book on Selling by Paul McCord. One of these chapters addresses 'knowing your strengths and weaknesses to determing your strategy'.

What is your opinion: "Is it possible to find a sales process that takes advantage of one's strengths?" - by Jeff Blackwell
What is your opinion: "Is it possible to find a sales process that takes advantage of one's strengths?"
Is it possible? Yes, if you know your strengths and you know the different sales processes. - by BossMan
Is it possible? Yes, if you know your strengths and you know the different sales processes.
That's actually the biggest problem with aligning one's strengths to their process--there are certainly ways to discover one's strengths, from books like Discover Your Sales Strengths, to various assessments. And there are many books on various sales processes, from Jacques', to Sharon Drew's, to SPIN, to The New Strategic Selling, to Thomas Freese's Secrets to Question Based Selling, and many more. But there isn't anything that helps a salesperson know where to go and what to do after they've discovered their strengths.

Part of the objective of the new book is to give real world guidance on how to discover both your sales strengths and weaknesses and then to find a sales process that highlights the strengths and minimizes--or even takes advantage of--your weaknesses.

One of the things I noticed when doing research for Creating a Million Dollar a Year Sales Income, was most of the 47 million dollar a year income mega-producers I interviewed had managed to find the marketing channels, marketing methods and sales process that matches their strengths. Some did this intentionally, others by accident.

And my thesis isn't that you have to match your marketing and process to your strengths. Some, not many, but some of the 47, forced themselves to fit the process they use. They recreated themselves to work the process.

But for most it is easier to work a system that highlights your strengths than to try to recreate yourself to match the needs of a process. - by pmccord
Recently I read a few chapters from a rough draft of an upcoming book on Selling by Paul McCord. One of these chapters addresses 'knowing your strengths and weaknesses to determing your strategy'.

What is your opinion: "Is it possible to find a sales process that takes advantage of one's strengths?"
In order to answer the question correctly we need to define the context of the strength and weaknesses and also the environment in which the selling tales place. For example, retail sales versus the complex sale. Someone with fantastic retail strengths won’t find a process that takes advantage of these that can be effectively used in the complex sale. In order to survive in this environment the retailer would have to pick up additional processes that they have not used before and therefore by definition they won’t yet be strengths.

To keep things simple, let me answer the question in terms of the complex sale.

There are basically two types of sales approach required – hunting (new business) and farming (account management). You will find people who are good at both, but mainly you will find people who prefer one or the other. Their strengths are in either hunting or farming. At the macro level the processes for these types of selling are different and therefore, in this context, you can have processes that take advantages of ones strengths.

However, within any salespersons remit are three basic elements to the job. They have to Fill their pipeline, they have to Manage their pipeline and they have to Close their pipeline – Fill, Manage and Close. Everything they need to do summed up into three words! Now if we look at strengths, I’ve known sales professionals who are fantastic closers, but useless at finding new opportunities. Equally I’ve worked with sales people who are incredible at getting in and opening new business opportunities, but absolutely could not close an open door to save their lives. In one case I’m thinking about, I split the sales role. One person opened and others closed. It was far from ideal, but we did use the strengths and only allowed them to use part of the process that matched their strengths. However, this was a one-off and I would not like to do it again as it caused too many problems… so overall, you can’t have weaknesses in the sales process and to be effective all three areas have to be strengths. You can’t really on being a good closer if you have nothing to close!

Within the sales role there are also different styles. The first one I’ll talk about is Reactive selling versus Proactive. I’m sure all sales professionals can do reactive, but many can’t do proactive. Proactive is about filling the pipeline. In a buoyant market most people will only have time for reactive selling and this may well hide their weakness of not being able to fill their pipeline. It may also hide their weaknesses in managing and closing... as they are basically oreder taking. So the strengths may be that the person is good at talking to people, good at treating them well, good at making them feel welcome – all good traits, but these strengths without the strengths in Fill, Manage and Close will not be enough when the market gets tougher.

The final part I would like to cover is Product Pitching versus Consultative Selling. You can follow a process for pitching products. You can also follow a process for consultative selling. Product pitching will be primarily aimed at the user, whereas consultative selling should be aimed at the CxO. Consultative selling will involve talking business benefit, results and what you will be doing to help the customer meet their corporate objectives. Product pitching will cover features and options of the product. Product pitching has no place in the complex sale, yet so many professionals engaged in this type of selling can only do this – this is their strength, their sales crutch and unfortunately this strength is not an advantage. What they need to do is address their weaknesses and turn the weakness into a strength – they have no option if they want to be a top performer.

So, in some long winded way what I’m saying is that in certain context there are processes that take account of ones strengths, but only in the narrow context of hunting and farming. For all other aspects of selling you have to be equally strong and if you have weaknesses these will need to be addressed. As I mentioned it is no good relying on fantastic closing skills if you have nothing to close! - by Firstborder
Firstborder,

To some extent I agree. Every salesperson has to find and sell prospects. But I think you're looking at strengths and weaknesses in too narrow a manner.

I know excellent salespeople who are aggressive, impatient, and have short attention spans. Yet, they have the ability to find and sell a large number of prospects because they've matched their strengths--aggressive, relate well to people for short periods of time, somewhat persuasive--to their product and their sales process. They've also found a product/service/process that takes advantage of their weaknesses--impatient, short attention span.

I know other top sales professionals who are little helper bees, not an ounce of aggressiveness or leadership ability what-so-ever. They've also found a product and process that takes advantage of their strengths--a desire to help, a facilitator mindset, a desire to serve--and minimizes their weaknesses.

While others selling the same product with the same set of strengths (or weaknesses depending on the process they use) are failing because they are trying to use a sales process that requires them to be the overt leader in the sales process which by their nature they cannot be. Their process demands them to do things they don't have the proper strengths to do.

However, other people selling the same products who have a different set of strengths use a leadership demanding process and sell the devil out the product.

The events one has to engage in are the same--find and qualify the prospect, sell the prospect, manage the sale. The processes used are vastly different, each demanding different strengths from the salesperson using that process.

By understanding your strengths and various selling processes, it is possible to match product, marketing channel, marketing methods and sales process to maximize strengths and in many cases change weaknesses into strengths--or at least minimize them.

I also think there are a number of salespeople in the retail world who are very successfully adopting processes originally designed for the complex sale. The complex sale has a few unique features but it isn't as far removed from many retail situations as some indicate. There are highly sophisticated and complex retail sales (unless you're defining retail strictly as in-store sales and even some of them are sophisticated and complex)--it just so happens they typically don't involve multiple decision makers (usually not more than two anyway), but even some of them involve several counselors. - by pmccord
pmccord

Thank you for your interesting comments on mine. You’ve certainly piqued my interest in your subject and will endeavour to read more when you publish your book.

To clarify my understanding...

Sales, complex or indeed retail – in the sense you described it – requires a balance of Process skills, People skills and Product skills. You can go on training and development programmes for all three of these. However, what holds these skills together and determines how successful an individual is at utilizing them are their personal qualities, for example, honesty, tenacity, etc. These can’t be taught in a classroom.

In my previous response I was looking at the strengths and weaknesses in the areas that can be addressed through training. The weaknesses that you mention are not in the skill areas of Process, People or Product, but in a person’s qualities. For example, you mention aggressive, impatient, short attention span, helper bees and leadership (debateable if you can actually teach leadership as it relies very heavily on a person’s qualities). Am I right in my observation?

In your response to BossMan you said… “…there are certainly ways to discover one's strengths, from books like Discover Your Sales Strengths, to various assessments. And there are many books on various sales processes, from Jacques', to Sharon Drew's, to SPIN, to The New Strategic Selling, to Thomas Freese's Secrets to Question Based Selling…” In my view these fit into the People, Process, and Product skill set, and if you don’t have the right qualities you can’t successfully implement what you have learnt.

Jeff’s original question… "Is it possible to find a sales process that takes advantage of one's strengths?"

A salesperson needs a certain set of qualities. If there is a weakness then their ability to perform consistently at the top level will be compromised. Therefore, rather than be compromised go and find a role that suits your qualities. What you said is… “By understanding your strengths [personal qualities] and various selling processes, it is possible to match product, marketing channel, marketing methods and sales process to maximize strengths and in many cases change weaknesses into strengths--or at least minimize them.”

I have not yet intellectually bought into your viewpoint and need examples to clarify my thinking. However, I do look forward to understanding more. Fully appreciating your work in this area could be very useful. I look forward to the book.

Finally…

I could not agree more about your comments on retail. Retail can be subdivided and some retailers operate in a version of the complex sales. My comments in my original reply were meant to relate to say the grocery retailer - something which I should have clarified.

Most of our work is with large corporates in the field of complex sales. However, we also work with a few prominent retailers in the IT arena and use exactly the same processes and skills. For example, our pipeline tool uses our buying methodology as its core process. With this tool we have complex sales people forecasting with 99% accuracy quarter after quarter. We use the same buying process to help the retailers to assess and qualify customers and then help them trough their buying decision. The timescales are completely different but the methodology is the same. Equally neither the complex sellers or the retailers are allowed to talk about their products until late in the process. The complex sellers talk about business issues and problems arising, whereas the retailers ask questions about life style which helps identify latent need.

However, we don’t tell the retailers we are using the same methodology and skills as they would probably disagree and say the two selling arenas are totally different. When we applied the same methodologies from complex selling to retailing we helped increase sales by 2 to 3 times. - by Firstborder
Firstborder,

I agree, each of us have two types of strengths--and weaknesses. The first as you pointed out are learned skills--the "how to" do something. The second set of strengths or weaknesses are our innate behaviors--what emanates from our personalities, our learned social behavior, and our natural predilections. And there is a third set, if you want to call them strengths, I'd call them something more basic and important, our character--honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, etc.

Each selling process, whether Tom Hopkins' Low Profile Selling, Thomes Freese's Question Based Selling, Neil Rachham's SPIN, or any other process has a set of learned skills. Those skills can be learned by anyone. But those skills can only be fully utilized by someone who has behavior strengths that fit within that process.

And the process must fit the product, the marketing channel targeted, and the marketing methods used Some processes call for an aggressive leader, others for a non-intrusive facilitator; some products require someone with the patience and persistence to diligently work a sales cycle that can last months or years, while another product demands someone who has the attention span of gnat. Some marketing channels require an individual who can quickly develop a bond and click with a prospect, while others require a salesperson who is more technically oriented than relationship oriented. Likewise, some marketing methods are best served by a highly creative individual, while another is worked best by someone with the skin of ox.

Salespeople come in all types and combinations of both skills and behaviors. Skills can be learned, behaviors are very difficult to change.

By knowing what your behavioral strengths and weaknesses are and then purposely aligning them with the product, the process, the marketing channels, and the marketing methods you use, you can be a much more successful salesperson.

Most of the average or under performing salespeople I've worked with have had one of two, sometimes both, serious issues--either they lack real desire and commitment to succeed, or they are simply trying to sell in a manner that defeats them because they are trying to force themselves to be something they aren't.

Salespeople are always looking for the miracle cure--the one thing that will solve all their problems. Unfortunately, much of the "sales training" on the market promises those miracles that don't exist. Finding and aligning one's strengths to product/process isn't a miracle cure either. It takes a great deal of work, but the payoff can be great--but it still doesn't negate the requirement for desire, dedication and learning and implementing the learned skills. All it can do is give a salesperson a better chance at success, it can't make them successful. - by pmccord
pmccord

Thanks for the additional clarification. It seems to me we are a lot closer on this then I thought. I’ll await the book with interest. - by Firstborder
Where could a salesperson go to find out about his strengths and all the different processes available? - by Marcus
Where could a salesperson go to find out about his strengths and all the different processes available?
That's one of the reasons for writing the book--there isn't anyplace unless you want to spend a great deal of time investigating them. Even the book doesn't cover every one of them as some are simply variations of one another. Rather it discusses how to understand one's strengths and then from there to find the product/service/marketing channels/marketing methods/ and sales process that maximizes those strengths and minimizes weaknesses--maybe even converting them to strengths.

The book is an action book that deals with all of the unglamorous foundational work of creating a top production career, from analyzing one's sales history, to finding one's strengths, to aligning those strengths to the correct marketing and sales process, to creating a consistent, effective client follow-up contact system, etc.. A work book in the truest sense of the word work. - by pmccord
Each selling process, whether Tom Hopkins' Low Profile Selling, Thomes Freese's Question Based Selling, Neil Rachham's SPIN, or any other process has a set of learned skills. Those skills can be learned by anyone. But those skills can only be fully utilized by someone who has behavior strengths that fit within that process.

And the process must fit the product, the marketing channel targeted, and the marketing methods used Some processes call for an aggressive leader, others for a non-intrusive facilitator; some products require someone with the patience and persistence to diligently work a sales cycle that can last months or years, while another product demands someone who has the attention span of gnat. Some marketing channels require an individual who can quickly develop a bond and click with a prospect, while others require a salesperson who is more technically oriented than relationship oriented. Likewise, some marketing methods are best served by a highly creative individual, while another is worked best by someone with the skin of ox.
Hmmm... it looks like what you're saying is that a salesperson's success with any one sales system (SPIN, HPS, etc.) has more to do with "compatibility" than with the actual system itself. Is that an accurate interpretation? - by Liberty
No, compatibility has much to do with it, but the process must also be mastered.

Selling encompasses much more than just the skills one learns. Selling is a combination of both skills and behaviors. Although skills can be learned, they must be combined with one's behavioral strengths in order to become as effective as possible. One's behaviors influence what you can and cannot do successfully.

If you take a holistic approach to selling, seeking to align your skills and your behavioral strengths to your selling strategy, you can be more successful.

Why do some people use SPIN successfully and others bomb? Yet, some of those who couldn't make SPIN work can use another process and succeed. Partly it's the belief they have--or don't have in the system they've learned; partly it's how well they've learned and perfected the processes required skills; and partly it's how well their personal strengths mesh with the process. It isn't an either/or and it isn't one more than the other.

If sales were nothing but learning and implementing skills, there would be more than only 15% of all salespeople making superior incomes for their industry. - by pmccord
Selling is a combination of both skills and behaviors. Although skills can be learned, they must be combined with one's behavioral strengths in order to become as effective as possible. One's behaviors influence what you can and cannot do successfully.
What behaviors? Could you give an example please? :dun - by realtor
There are actually two areas of potential strengths that need to be taken into consideration. I've used the word behavior just to keep the posts as short as possible. The two areas are behaviors and abilities. some examples

patience
consistency
determination
empathy
idealism
goal oriented
logical thinking
strategic thinking
visionary
competitiveness
team oriented
individualistic
analytical
problem solver
adaptability
take charge
facilitator

and we could go on. each of these is a strength in some situations, a weakness in others. Some are virtually set in stone and almost impossible to change although one can possibly control it, while others can be cultivated, at least to some extent. they come in all different combinations. no one has them all, everyone has some. - by pmccord
It is quite possible to determine in which type of selling an individual is most likely to be successful.

I have been studying selling since 1953 and I have concluded that there are only four basic sales paradigms

1. Transactional Selling, i.e., most retail selling, most commodity selling, etc.

2. Rhetorical Selling, which includes persuasion, convincing, and all other forms of manipulation, i.e., horse trading, auto sales, time-shares, etc.

3. Needs Selling, which includes, Scientific Selling, Medical Detailing, Consultative Selling, SPIN Selling, Solution Selling, Customer Centered Selling, Value Based Selling, Buying Facilitation, etc. Most forms of Needs selling utilize Rhetorical sales practices as well.

4. Wants Selling, which includes, High Probability Selling and some others that I am not aware of.

The PinnacleGroupUSA, performs Behavioral Profiling and Analysis for hundreds of companies. They have profiled thousands of salespeople. They have also benchmarked many of the people that excel in each of the four sales paradigms.

By comparing the profile of an individual against those benchmarks, they can accurately predict the individual sales productivity of that person in a sales position where any of those paradigms is utilized. - by JacquesWerth
If it were only so easy as to take an assessment. There are dozens of assessment companies with sales assessment products on the market. They all have different paradigms, all come up with different combinations of required skills, all claim to be the definitive answer.

Unfortunately, aligning one's strengths and abilities, I believe, takes more than simply taking an assessment. Every assessment company I know has the disclaimer that their assessment only increases the likelihood of success. Nothing can guarantee success in sales, but salespeople can work to increase their chances of success by using all of the tools at their disposal.

Assessments are fine and I encourage people to take them, just don't rely completely on them. A more reliable reference is one's sales history--a detailed analysis of where one has succeeded and where one has failed. What their actual numbers and history say is far more accurate than an assessment. To have an assessment as a sounding board is, I think, important, but as a sounding board only, not as the determining factor. - by pmccord
Jeff Blackwell posed the question:
“Is it possible to find a sales process that takes advantage of one's strengths?”

My post above was intended to answer his question. It was not intended to negate anything that you had posted.

Here is what I am wondering about your response. .
In your first paragraph, above:
Are you implying that I stated, that the PinnacleGroupUSA claims to have the definitive answer?

They are under the category of "all assessment companies." Therefore, you seem to be accusing them of making those claims, as well.

In your second paragraph above,
Who suggested that anyone can “guarantee sales success?”

Could it be that your responses are merely self-serving debating tactics?
- by JacquesWerth
My answer didn't infer that you had stated that PinnacleGroup had the definitive answer. It was simply a statement that assessments, though of value, aren't without error. Your answer to the question was that it was being done by at least one company. My response was that there are several companies doing assessments and all assessments have a good deal of latitude for error.

I am not aware of any assessment company that doesn't claim to be the definitive answer in the sense that they claim to have the most accurate assessment on the market. If PinncaleGroup doesn't make that claim, then, yes, I was wrong for using the word all. If they do, then they are claiming to have the definitive answer. Not in the sense of 100% accuracy, but in the sense of being definitive for their product.

No one suggested that success could be guaranteed, although some assessment companies advertise their product as virtually 100% accurate. The statement that no one can guarantee success was in reference to how some companies try to promote their assessment product. Wasn't a statement about PinnacleGroup or any other specific company.

My answer wasn't intended to be baiting or confrontational--it was intended to simply make a statement about assessments. Based on your use of bold though out your last post, you seem to have taken it personally when it wasn't intended that way. If you look at any of my posts you'll see that I don't attack, I don't bait, and I don't try to intentionally pick fights. I reply to posts with what I think will help or clarify. - by pmccord
By comparing the profile of an individual against those benchmarks, they can accurately predict the individual sales productivity of that person in a sales position where any of those paradigms is utilized.
Does this tell you how well you would do using one paradigm instead of another? - by Seth
Does this tell you how well you would do using one paradigm instead of another?
The answer is a qualified "yes." The qualification is based on how accurately the company in question can describe their sales process.

Since most companies do not have a uniform sales process, it is often necessary to classify their sales culture, as well.

The Pinnacle analyses tend to be very accurate, but as pmccord has made clear, their accuracy is not absolute. Neither the salespeople they analyze nor the companies are entirely predictable.

Pinnacle does use the same assessment tools as many other assessment companies. What sets them apart is:
1. The benchmarking of top sales producers in many different companies.
2. Their follow-up of new hires that they profiled, to determine how well they produced compared to those benchmarks.
3. Their expertise in interpreting the myriad combinations of the ten factors measured by those tools.

I am not an expert in Behavioral Analysis. For further information, I suggest that anyone who wants further information contact the PinnacleGroupUSA directly. I can tell you that their rates are higher than most.

I believe that they may be the best in the business. However, we have only worked with seven other assessment companies. - by JacquesWerth
The answer is a qualified "yes." The qualification is based on how accurately the company in question can describe their sales process.
Do you think they could tell a person which industry they would be best for and which sales system like High Probability Selling or SPIN Selling fits them better? - by Seth
Do you think they could tell a person which industry they would be best for and which sales system like High Probability Selling or SPIN Selling fits them better?
I don't know. - by JacquesWerth
Where could a salesperson go to find out about his strengths and all the different processes available?
Check this book : Discover Your Sales Strengths! - by Ed McLean
Marcus,

As mentioned above, Discover Your Sales Strengths is a good book. However, if you're hoping it will allow you to discover your strengths and then show you how to match them to a particular sales process, you'll be disappointed. It doesn't do that. It doesn't analyze the various strengths each process highlights or the weaknesses minimizes. As a matter of fact, it doesn't even talk about the various processes.

It does, however, give examples of using your dominate strengths.

Once you have bought the book you will have a code that you can use to take the StrengthFind assessment. The StrengthFinder assessment is in my opinion is far from the best on the market as it only highlights what it finds to be your top 5 strengths (what it calls Themes). But it's free with the purchase of the book. - by pmccord
Recently I read a few chapters from a rough draft of an upcoming book on Selling by Paul McCord. One of these chapters addresses 'knowing your strengths and weaknesses to determing your strategy'.

What is your opinion: "Is it possible to find a sales process that takes advantage of one's strengths?"
"Is it possible to find a sales process that takes advantage of one's strengths?" Since you're asking I already have, but I don't claim a particular natural strength, just the system itself that brings me the sales. - by Wonderboy
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