Book review: Hope is not a strategy – the 6 keys to winning the complex sale by Rick Page

I have written books on selling. And I have reviewed many books on selling – including those containing the latest research (see the list below). “Hope is not a strategy” is an old book, which I first read back in 2002, but it contains a lot of good foundation knowledge and practical tools. And I think it will be particularly useful to professional services firms where those selling are generally not sales professionals and they are primarily selling to organisations (B2B – business-to-business). It also includes plenty of good advice for those managing tenders and pitches. So here is a book review: Hope is not a strategy – the 6 keys to winning the complex sale by Rick Page.


The premise for the book is that consultative selling books often don’t accommodate competition. And that sales books that cover competitive and political selling ignore solutions to the business problem. So it covers consultative, competitive, political and team selling.

The author asserts that you have to penetrate an account before you can manage it. He offers an opportunity management process for teams selling solutions to multiple buyers in competitive evaluations. Throughout the book there are clear lists of questions to ask and helpful summaries and checklists.

There are nods to lots of other leading sales experts including Neil Rackham of Huthwaite/SPIN selling fame and David Maister who was an early pioneer in professional services management. The author also taps into Michael Porter on competitive advantage and Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits of High Effective People”. It’s peppered with insightful observations and smart advice.

In some respects, it introduces consultative selling for those with no prior training and experience. But the book works at a different level too – reminding experienced salespeople about how to navigate common but tricky situations. The only downside is that it doesn’t really cover the really important topic of the psychology of selling – how to form and strengthen all the relationships both within the team and at the client organisation. And – due to its age – it doesn’t deal with social selling.

Regular readers will know that with regards to sales methodologies my preferences are for: SPIN selling (Huthwaite International), Strategic Selling (Miller Hineman) and Insight selling (Mike Schultz and John E Doerr).

Section One – The challenge – the complex sale

The author describes five major selling transformations:

  1. Product commodification
  2. Disintermediation
  3. E-commerce
  4. Customer relationship management
  5. Business partnering

Various problems of “out-of-control” selling are explored including buyer preferences for integrated solutions rather than products, “quote and hope” proposals and “dashing to the demo”.

Early on he argues that: “Proposals don’t sell, people do”. And advises that early prevention – not getting into tricky sales situations – beats error correction.

What makes today’s complex sale complex?

He shows great foresight: “The salesperson of the future must lead two to twelve people on a sales team that is selling to twenty or more on a buying committee”. A familiar scenario for professional services firms. He argues that we are selling solutions not products, in competitive situations, with  long sales cycles to multiple buyers including executives who buy differently to technical users.

Sometimes of his comments are obvious: “The gateway to repeat business and account management is performance”. But I liked his clarity around multilevel sales:

  • industry/marketing (go to market strategy)
  • account/enterprise
  • opportunity and
  • individual

The canyon and the crucible – the competitive evaluation

There’s a quote from David Maister:“Unlike the process of qualification which is predominantly rational, logical and based on facts, the selection stage is mostly intuitive, personal and based on impressions”.

The author portrays the sale pipeline/funnel as a canyon that gets narrower and the decision-making stage as the crucible. He notes three issues in the buying evaluation – issues shift in the decision-making process of the client, divided camps and loss of momentum.

Talent and team selling

This chapter explores the different skill sets, strategies and methodologies for each team player: tellers (commodity), sellers (consultative), hunters (competitive), farmers (repetitive), business developers (sponsor), partners (partner) and industry-networked consultant (network). This links well to what professional services firms recognise as finders, minders and grinders.

There’s a great quote: “Tellers will lapse into endless parades of product features without connecting them to benefits. Problems such as shot gun selling, spray and pray and show up and throw up” which will resonate with many in professional services.

And those who struggle with co-ordinating across silo teams when selling will smile at “Selling inside your own company is as important and often more difficult, as selling outside”.

“Repeat business means moving from opportunity management to a process of account management”. I like that he differentiates business developers by noting that they develop demand rather than react to demand – linking to terms such as prospector and rainmaker. “A consultative salesperson must look beyond the customer’s needs to the customer’s customer”.

He concludes with the statement that there are four essential components – none of which alone will guarantee success – technique, talent, teamwork and technology.

The arsenal of competitive advantage

There’s reference to Michael Porter’s work on differentiation. He categorises competitive advantage into: company, partners, service, product/solution, industry focus and sales team. He highlights that value and competitive advantage must be linked to the personal agendas of the right people.

Echoing must of what we know in PSF:  “Today’s salesperson must have a greater understanding of his or her client’s business than ever before”. Somewhat controversially (as it rather underplays marketing’s contribution) he also adds “the role of marketing and product design is to give a sales force as large an arsenal of advantages and benefits as possible”.

Section Two – The solution – RADAR

Here he presents his somewhat cryptic six step process:

  • Reading
  • Accounts and
  • Deploying
  • Appropriate
  • Resources

But then helpfully shows what this means in practice:

Challenges RADAR process
Value 1.     Link solutions to pain or gain
Resource allocation 2.     Qualify the prospect
Competition 3.     Build competitive preference
Strategy 4.     Determine the decision-making process
Politics 5.     Sell to power
Teamwork 6.     Communicate the strategic plan

Key 1 – Link solutions to pain (or gain)

“Understanding the client’s need is the heart of consultative selling” – although he doesn’t offer much advice on how to conduct the research and create the relationships to get to the heart of this. Although he does talk about the importance of listening and “out caring” the competition.

He also points out that “if the requirements have already been defined, you’ve missed the first step in the sales cycle”. He talks about the client’s political sponsors of requirements and needs. There’s a helpful discussion of dormant vs active pain, personal agendas vs professional agendas and strategic vs tactical pains. And an illustration of the immense power of the “So what?” question, a table of the food chain of value and the need to accurately read the culture of the client.

There’s detailed consideration of different types of benefits: operational, cultural, financial, political and strategic. He makes a really smart observation here: “Pain doesn’t come from the business problem; pain comes from the political embarrassment of the business problem”.

Key 2 – Qualify the prospect

“How you qualify depends on how many opportunities you have and how many resources you have available” is how he explains that qualification is relative. As well as assessing your chances of winning, you need to consider how it compares against other opportunities and the resources required to convert it. Whilst hope is insufficient for success, the author notes the importance of a positive mental attitude.

There’s a further warning about being kept in the race as a stalking horse when the client has no intention of appointing you. There are comments about managing budget discussions. And good insights into considering the opportunity versus the investment – and a note that veterans prefer to win or lose early. My observation is that many professional services people suffer from “sunk costs” bias and cling onto perceived opportunities for far too long.

Key 3 – Build competitive preference

 “Preference is the degree to which a recommendor or influencer from a buying committee will oppose you or help you win” (please see the explainer video on the decision-making unit – and the role of sponsors).

On positioning, I like the reminder of the psychological principle by Ries and Trout that it is many times easier to help someone make up their mind in the first place than it is to change it.

On benefit mapping and building preference the author says it is a function of fundamental one-on-one selling skills: personality, credibility, persuasiveness, linkage and alignment.

There’s advice to look at an opportunity through the eyes of your competitors to develop a counter-strategy. There’s reference to Dale Carnegie’s book on how to win friends and influence people  in a short section on rapport and building bonds. There’s guidance on influencing the issues (identify the influencers) and steering the evaluation process.

Key 4 – Determine the decision-making process

I usually put this step much earlier in the sales process. He starts with another quote from David Maister “The single most important talent in selling professional services is the ability to understand the purchasing process from the clients’ perspective”.

I like the author’s comments about “algebraic democracy” – some people’s with buying votes may count more than others. There’s a stakeholder analysis chart looking at preference power, pain and process/parts. The author refers to Tom Bonoma’s analysis of the roles each person plays in a group decision. Miller and Heiman’s DMU model is mentioned here (see my short explainer video on DMUs)

Then there is commentary on the source of urgency to prompt the decision to buy now. And there’s comments about the power balance in negotiation – depending on whether you or the client has the deadline.

Key 5 – Sell to power

Professional services firms will smile at the opening comment about every firm having two organizational structures – the formal one and the other which is the living relationship of the men and women in the organization (Henry Mitzberg’s shadow organization chart).

This section concentrates on identifying, influencing and securing the support of those who have power whether by borrowing it or building your personal network. Charles Handy’s “Understanding organizations” is mentioned for additional reading on the topic.

Stephen Covey is quoted: “We build emotional bank accounts with each other” (social capital). And as part of the discussion on influence there are comments about reciprocity, favours and gratitude (see my explainer video on Cialidini’s six influencing processes – including reciprocity.

There’s an interesting story about someone having calendar dominance (i.e. people work around his schedule) as he was known as a source of the best creativity, ideas and innovation. Leadership, spouses, money, charisma, presence, fun, leadership, integrity (“if influence is social currency, then integrity is gold”), loyalty, authority are all considered as alternative sources of power. Power mapping is recommended.

Key 6 – Communicate the strategic plan

Repeating his earlier advice, he advocates that sales strategy is needed at four levels:

  1. Industry/market level
  2. Enterprise level
  3. Opportunity level
  4. Individual level

A key reason for strategies failing, he argues, is that the salespeople don’t communicate the plan to the team. Others include not having a Plan B, poor execution and spreading yourselves too thin.

I liked his simple dynamic strategic plan model:

  • Information
  • Vision and mission
  • Goals
  • Objectives
  • Strategy
  • Tactics
  • Plan test
  • Execution
  • Results

Supported by strategy reviews, forecast reviews, curb side reviews and coaching sessions. He quotes Winston Churchill “only one link of the chain of destiny can be handled at a time” and Sun Tzu “Those who are victorious plan effectively and change decisively”.

There’s advice to seek bad news early. And to constantly change.

Section three – Strategies for execution

There’s a chapter on sixteen opportunity-level sales strategies:

  • Pre-emptive
    • Demand creation rather than demand reaction
    • Ask for and seek an exclusive or sole source evaluation
    • Align yourself with a power partner
    • Walk away early
  • Frontal strategies
    • Sell the product or proposal
    • Sell the company story
  • Flanking strategies
    • Changing the pain
    • Changing the power
    • Changing the process
    • Linking solutions or products
    • Expanding scope
  • Fractional strategies
    • Divide and conquer
    • Penetrate and radiate
    • If you can’t get a loaf, get a slice
    • Partnering
  • Timing strategies
    • Delay or accelerate

There’s a chapter too on changing issues (“the issues change in relative importance over a long sales cycle”) and time-based sales tactics. He warns that as the decision-making process nears its conclusion, the client’s focus can shift to implementation issues and risk and return to price negotiations.

Then there is a chapter on ten individual-level strategies (following a stakeholder analysis) with an illustrative case study. The chapter on selling at C-level – calling on chief executives and political navigation – is short. But there’s solid advice to choose your point of entry by starting at the top with guidance on how to reach the top if you’ve had no choice but to start lower down the organisation.

The author talks about sponsorship – the passport to account management– or “transferred trust”. And I liked the question “Who else should I be calling in your firm?” to support account management and cross-selling.

He talks about strategic literacy to get on the executive bandwidth (I call this commerciality) by focusing on strategic, political, financial and cultural issues.

There’s a very short section on differentiation that helpfully considers the difference between satisfiers and absolute or relative differentiators.

Section four – Winning before the battle – Account Management

When talking about the transition from opportunity management to account management the author talks about investment marketing – “selling between the sales”. There’s a great diagram for account management looking at eight goals for enterprise strategy: penetrate, demonstrative, evaluate, radiate, collaborate, elevate, dominate and inoculate.

Other books on selling, persuasion and negotiation

This video on the Decision-Making Unit (DMU) also has a list of sales books for beginners to advanced practitioners 

Never split the difference: Negotiating by Chris Voss ( May 2021

Book review – Persuasion: The art of influencing people by James Borg ( March 2021

Executive Engagement Strategies by Bev Burgess ( August 2020

Book review: Managing key clients (professional service firms) ( June 2019

Malcolm McDonald on value propositions – How to develop them ( May 2019

Better Business Relationships – book by Kim Tasso July 2018

Social Media in Business Development and Relationship Management: Lawyers ( July 2018

strategic tendering ( May 2017

Insight selling – building on consultative selling models ( March 2017

leader’s guide to negotiation – book review ( September 2016

Successful Large Account Management (Key Account Management) ( June 2015

Book review: Effective client management in professional services ( January 2015

Small changes that spark big influence (persuasion science) ( November 2014

Book review of Will Kintish’s Business Networking – a survivor’s guide ( June 2014

Book review – Emotional Intelligence 2.0 ( January 2014

Business development for lawyers ( December 2013

Book review “How to win friends and influence people” by Dale Carnegie ( November 2013

Book review – Demise of dysfunctional selling (Khalsa) ( December 2012

book review persuading, networking and selling ( March 2012

Selling Skills for the Professions – Kim Tasso June 2003