I am often asked to recommend books on sales and selling – both for beginners and experienced practitioners. There are so many to choose from – I’ve read hundreds, reviewed a fair few and even written a couple. So I’ve done a series of reviews (other recommended sales books are shown below). This book – Smarter Selling – I consider a classic. I first read it back in 2007 and liked it because it is simple, straightforward and avoids “pushy” sales approaches. And the authors are modest and no-nonsense. It’s therefore an excellent book to read if you are unfamiliar with sales processes and selling skills. It’s a great introduction to selling that’s suitable for professional services (there are several mentions of tax experts, lawyers, accountants, architects, estate agents and management consultants). Other sales books are recommended below for people with more experience.
Next generation sales strategies
“Everyone sells” are the first words on the introduction as the authors talk about the mindset adopted by truly consultative salespeople who sustain long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with key buyers. The book has five chapters dedicated to the mindset required and four on developing the core skills arguing that these two aspects must be aligned.
As a methodology they argue it is different because it:
- Outlines a different sales journey (one that progresses at a natural pace through collaboration so is an enjoyable sales experience)
- Adds a human dimension recognising that buyers make decisions on instinct more often than intellect (I often talk about the difference of rationality and emotions in selling)
- Changes people in that buyers become more open and trusting and sellers become more relaxed and confident
The beautifully simple idea behind next generation selling (I owe U – allegedly the next step from consultative selling) is that the salesperson owes the buyer as the buyer is investing time in meetings, revealing information and may be committing to a purchase.
The seller must therefore reward the buyer with shared knowledge, shared experience and shared contacts (this is a theme picked up in the 2014 “Insight selling” methodology). I like the way the authors see “each conversation with the buyer as a journey” – where the buyer is in control and there is a less structured and non-linear route. The authors argue that a salesperson following the I owe U methodology is more likely to have five things they would like to know about the buyer than five points they would like to make to the buyer. (See my short explainer video on the importance of curiosity).
I like the early definition of a client (from the Latin word cliens denoting a person under the protection or patronage of another) – which, they argue, implies a duty of care and suggests a longer-term relationship than a customer with a simple transactional relationship.
How other people really see you
There’s early recognition of commoditisation and the need to differentiate on the way the product or service is delivered or on the continuing involvement of the “salesperson” (ie the model used in professional services). It follows with the idea that the different ways in which people behave and the impact this has on other people. There’s a self-assessment in the Appendix and readers are urged to obtain 360-degree feedback from others on how they behave.
The tool used is the Octogon™ Behavioural Assessment which measures eight behaviours – each with two extremes. This would be a great coaching tool. They suggest that good salespeople will score highly in trust, your needs and feelings:
- Your needs/My needs
- Free flowing/Organised
- My best/Better than you
- Big picture/Detail
Echoing many psychological principles, the authors argue that “One of the most effective ways to build rapport is to match the behaviours of the buyer”.
Understanding and changing your relationships
The authors identify four different types of relationships you can have with your buyers: primarily social, ad-hoc, technical or partner. This resonates with the many people I know in professional services.
There’s a helpful meetings analysis tool to help you assess the type of relationship you have with a buyer. It’s here that they provide one of what I consider a golden rule of selling “How do I ensure that every interaction with a buyer improves the relationship?”. And they provide a simple planning sheet to help you achieve the next shift in your relationship and lots of practical ideas to help you move from different types of relationship to partner level.
They also advocate helping buyers’ internal relationships.
Understanding and adapting to buyers
This chapter warns against standardised approaches and shows how to evaluate different types, roles and personalities of buyers to help you prioritise. Adaptation is one of six themes on my 2019 book “Better Business Relationships”.
Three types of organisational approaches to buying are identified: price-busters, deal-hunters and value-buyers. They suggest successful salespeople devote 80% or more of their time to value-buyers.
There’s an exploration of different types of buyer and their influence: economic, user, technical, sponsor, coach and gatekeeper (I produced an eight minute video on the decision-making unit – DMU – and the role of different buyer types a while back )
Then there’s a helpful section on reading and interpreting behavioural signals with the advice “match for rapport and mis-match for action”. This closely relates to many of the personality and preference style models in psychology. (For a brief video introduction to personality types or more detail on personality profiling models).
Building rapport and trust – the I Owe U approach
Ways to establish a collaborative environment are illustrated by an ongoing case study of a sales situation. There are guides on how to make a good first impression (i.e. client focus, respect and differentiation) and giving the buyer control, structure and insights. They argue that you can differentiate yourself simply by the way you open a meeting.
Uncovering real needs
A personal power model (presence, authority and impact – see How do you make a personal impact – Make a difference (kimtasso.com)) is explored.
Then the SHAPE enquiry process is introduced. This is a way to structure questions similar to the Huthwaite SPIN model – Situation, Problem, Implication, Need/Payoff):
- Surface (the facts)
- Hunt (for challenges)
- Adjust (to signal direction)
- Paint (for positive future outcomes)
- Engage (move to action)
“The best salespeople – those with long term relationships based on trust – ask the tough questions about things that are outside their immediate area of expertise. They are prepared to step outside their own comfort zones in the interests of helping their buyers find answers to their key challenges”.
They suggest questions around five key business areas: financial, customers, competitors, market and employees. I like the section on “spicy questions”;
- No barrier – gives buyer permission to think about options with no barriers
- Positive/Negative – helps the buyer create a gap analysis by describing best and worst case scenarios
- Non-stick – Relates a story from a third party, allowing the buyer to refute or build upon the content. Excellent for asking about sensitive issues without it being perceived as your question
- Timeline – Gives the buyer a timeframe which can help them think about what is possible
- Break the pattern – Remove one step out of the normal process the buyer uses. This forces them to think outside the norm
- Knock-down – Says something that is unrealistic that you are happy for the buyer to ‘knock down’ but which might change their thinking
- Facts and feelings
There’s practical guidance on creating value sheets which consider:
- Issue or challenge
- Current situation
- Desired future position
Moving to a higher level
The focus is on engaging buyers at a strategic rather than a tactical level to uncover the key drivers behind the immediate issues.
An exploration of different levels of conversation with reference to Elliott Jacques (psychologist) eight levels of thinking who suggested that an individual’s value to an organisation was determined to a large extent by the length of their horizon. This section is about getting to the “big picture”.
Cementing credibility and trust
This section is about keeping in contact with the buyer and maintaining or improving the level of trust.
“Lawyers are smart people. After meeting with a client, many have developed the habit of quickly recording the key points discussed and reflecting this back to the client in letter form”. The authors argue this serves many purposes: demonstrates responsiveness, respect, invites a collaborative approach to continue the conversation, avoids misunderstanding, becomes a reference and reminder. A CC letter – Thanks as well as Clarifies understanding and Confirms the next steps.
The authors suggest you avoid including proposals at an early stage but invite further exploration to jointly and collaboratively work out a way to tackle the challenge. An alternative is a draft work plan that invites discussion rather than a formal proposal. They urge you to include proof as well as a price in proposals.
Presenting your ideas for positive impact
“I Owe U salespeople do their best to secure work without the need for a formal presentation. However, where one is required they focus on presenting their ideas as concisely and memorably as possible”. This chapter shares some insights on confident and credible pitching. The authors urge you to see the presentation through the buyer’s eyes and to differentiate by:
They offer the brain-scan grid as one of the Think on your Feet® tools:
- Background – Consider the buyer’s background and their view of you
- Hopes – Consider what your buyer hopes for from the project overall
- Fears – Think about what will turn them off both in term of the project and your presentation (What are their fears? Complex or dull content? Formal and pushy style?)
There’s some material on sharing relevant material with storytelling as proof. And they allude to 10 organisational structures within the “Think on your feet” methodology (the authors promoting their two day communications skills workshop). They advocate no more than four key points in any presentation and ideally three (see my video on the power of three) using the clock plan, the globe plan and the perspectives plan. Then there is solid advice on ensuring that benefits rather than features dominate the presentation delivery.
Handling objections is tackled as “bridging techniques” – Acknowledge, Adapt and Ask.
Getting smarter – putting I Owe U to work
This acts as a summary of the techniques and skills covered in the book. And is followed by a helpful summary of the key messages covered in each chapter.
I like this book because it is simple, accessible and practical. It looks at the whole relationship as well as providing tools to analyse the situation, plan action and structure questions.
Contents: Smarter selling – “Next generation sales strategies to meet your buyer’s needs every time” by Keith Dugdale and David Lambert
- I Owe U – next generation sales strategies
- How other people really see you
- Understanding and changing your relationships
- Understand and adapting to buyers
- Building rapport and trust – the I Owe U approach
- Uncovering real needs
- Moving to a higher level
- Cementing credibility and trust
- Presenting your idea for positive impact
- Getting smarter – putting I Owe U to work
- Summary of key messages
Other recommended sales books
Selling Skills for the Professions – Kim Tasso June 2003 (Dynamic Practice Development)