To begin with let's discuss two important differences between traditional selling and High Probability Selling.
First, traditional sales training teaches that just about everyone who might need what we sell is a prospect who can and should be sold. High Probability Selling takes a little sharper look at reality. There are clearly many more prospects out there than can ever be given our full sales and marketing message. If you try to sell every prospect, you'll waste time, money and effort. And, even more importantly, you'll waste the “opportunity cost” of not getting to those prospects who are most likely to buy, now.
Second, traditional sales training teaches that selling is the Art of Persuasion - that the way you get a prospect to buy your product or service is to manipulate the prospect through the five classical steps of the buying decision. In contrast, High Probability Selling teaches that selling is the art of Agreement and Commitment. Only High Probability Prospects - those who are willing to commit step-by-step to the buying process - are worth the salesperson's time, energy and resources.
But how can you tell whether someone is a High Probability Prospect before you've gone through a presentation?
That's what you'll learn in High Probability Selling. The basic idea is to disqualify prospects who don't fit certain criteria, and that can happen at any point in the process.
If selling isn't persuading people to do what you want them to do, then what is it?
Selling is reaching a series of agreements with those prospects who first acknowledge that they need, want and can afford what we're selling, and commit to buy from us at a specified time if we fulfill their Conditions of Satisfaction.
I was taught that you start by identifying a need, and then try to persuade the prospect that your product is what they want and that they can afford it. If you get that far, you go into your closing techniques, one by one. I was also taught that if customers say no often enough, they will eventually say yes, and that one yes is worth ten no's. So, until they get tired of saying no, you're supposed to keep on pitching.
What most salespeople don't realize is they're wasting a lot of good selling opportunities by seeing too many of the wrong prospects. That wastes time, talent, energy, emotional strength and company resources.
Well, how do you know whether you have a good prospect until you try to sell him?
Good question. It raises a lot of complex issues. We'll begin with some key points about prospects that most salespeople know but usually ignore. Here's how we categorize them:
- Some prospects already need, want, and can afford what we sell. That group is happy to buy from us.
- Some prospects need and can afford what we sell but do not want it.
- Some prospects need and want what we sell but can't afford it.
- Some prospects need, want and can afford what we sell, but won't buy from us. Like prospects who want what we sell, but prefer another brand or source.
Obviously we should be spending most of our time and resources talking to prospects in category one. The problem is those prospects don't wear a big red “one” on their foreheads. So, how do you recognize them?
You can't. Especially before they know whether they need and want what you're selling. And they can't know that until they hear your presentation. Which is why you try to sell every prospect you meet with.
Not so. Most prospects make up their minds about an offer in the first minute. That's about all the time worth spending when you're prospecting. And what you're describing also requires the salesperson to be “aggressive” and “persistent.”
Are you going to tell me that being aggressive and persistent doesn't work either?
Aggressive salespeople create defensive prospects. Persistence breeds annoyance. Those approaches and other things salespeople do to manipulate prospects in order to get an appointment are what cause “sales resistance.”
I don't get it. Are you saying that most of what I've learned over the years about selling doesn't work?
Yes, and the hardest thing for you will be to give up those approaches, especially aggressiveness and persistence.
That's hard to believe. They're so much a part of selling that a lot of the help wanted ads for sales-people even advertise for those qualities.
I know. But let me give you some background to help you understand.
The Traditional Sales Culture
Traditional Attributes of an All Star Salesperson:
- Hard Driving
- Good Dresser
- Fast Thinking
Most companies would gladly accept this list, maybe adding a few more points of their own such as: tireless, holds his liquor, good golfer, etc. Although the world has changed quite a bit since this list was compiled, no one has taken the time to re-examine it.
Traditional sales techniques were developed on a psychological foundation that was largely misinterpreted. What they came up with was:
- Attention (The Sizzle)
- Interest (The Benefits)
- Desire (Need and Want)
- Conviction (Resolution of Doubt and Objections)
- Action (Close)
Millions of people were taught sales techniques based on this model despite the fact that most salespeople found them difficult to learn and uncomfortable to apply. Keep in mind that this technology was based on the idea that you could use psychology to make almost anyone buy almost anything.
That approach worked, or it seemed to for a while, because the most aggressive, most glib, and most ambitious people learned the system first and best. They were the people who sold a lot of storm windows, freezers, aluminum siding, and cars.
But a lot of buyers reacted with heavy-duty sales resistance. The problem was with the notion that people could be persuaded to buy a widget even if they didn't want one and that almost anyone could be trained to sell widgets. Many salespeople who tried that approach found that the failure and frustration were not worth the effort. Don't get me wrong! The basic psychology may be correct but the applications have been way off the mark.
Everybody knows someone who's a sales star. There's usually someone in every organization who's successful using traditional selling methods.
Most successful salespeople don't know what it is about their style that works. They know and use many different approaches depending on the circumstances. Instinctively they do whatever works to get the order. I've questioned a lot of successful salespeople about their work,and watched many of them in action. They all seem to have different ideas about what it is they do that works. But what they actually do is rarely the same as what they say they do.
Without trying to, most good salespeople ultimately develop very similar approaches. We've identified those approaches and examined them. We've discovered that what works is very different from what we were taught traditionally. And what we've learned fits into a pattern that is governed by certain basic principles, which is why High Probability Selling is called a technology.
How does High Probability Selling differ from what I've always done?
First of all, traditional sales has a basic rule that “you should always ask for the order.” In fact, some systems tell you to keep asking for the order until the prospect throws you out. We never ask for the order.
That is different. Everything I've ever been taught or read about selling says you always have to ask for the order. What else is different?
Do you remember when we discussed spending your resources on prospects who need, want, and can afford what we sell? Well, the closer a prospect fits that description, the higher the probability he will buy from us. We don't waste time trying to sell prospects who probably won't buy from us. Why waste the effort? That's a basic shift in philosophy.
Well, if you're not trying to convince prospects to buy what you're selling, why do you need salespeople at all?
That's a good question. The answer is contained in the question: “What's the role of the salesperson in the nineties?”
Back in the fifties it cost very little to have someone on the streets knocking on doors. Back then salespeople either worked on straight commission or received a small draw against commission. At very little cost companies had salespeople making calls on anyone and everyone. Of course, most salespeople didn't last very long under those conditions.
Television was available but it wasn't very sophisticated, and TV had almost no value as an informational medium. Only a small fraction of the news, trade and business magazines in circulation today existed then. Direct mail wasn't automated. So overall, there was much less advertising and publicity to educate and inform the market.
Salespeople were the “missionaries” who penetrated the market with new products and services. Their job was to convince as many prospects as possible that they needed, wanted and could afford these new widgets the salesperson was selling. But most industries can't afford missionaries any more.
Well, it's obvious that it's not cost effective to have salespeople do a company's advertising. But why isn't it cost effective to have salespeople out there trying to convince every logical prospect to buy from them?
As a salesman, which would you prefer? Meeting with fifteen prospects, whom you sold on the idea of giving you an appointment (who each probably regretted giving you one as soon as they hung up); or seeing five High Probability Prospects, who've already told you that they need, want and can afford what you're selling and will buy from you now, if you can meet certain criteria?
Some choice. But how do you get appointments like that?
For starters you have to eliminate sales resistance in the prospects you contact.
I've been taught that sales resistance shows up as “objections,” so you have to either answer the objections before they're raised, or handle them as soon as they come up.
We don't handle objections. In a High Probability Selling environment, the prospect is involved in the process of reaching agreement with you, not trying to resist being convinced. “Objections” don't surface as arguments or reasons why the prospect won't buy. They surface as points that have to be addressed, discussed and negotiated.
I think I'll just have to see that in action to understand it.
I agree! Here's more background. I'll give you a quick review of traditional selling techniques.
FIFTIES SALES TECHNOLOGY
Prospecting: The typical salesperson of the fifties started with a list of prospects that was “the market.” Then the salesperson did whatever he had to do to get appointments with as many prospects as possible. He used any kind of scheme, strategy or trick available to get in the door. Once the salesperson came face to face with a prospect, he was told to hit them with everything, the full pitch, the whole “dog and pony show” - complete with “bells and whistles.”
A “pitch” was usually a prepared presentation, complete with visual aids. It was usually modeled as a “five-step sales presentation,” organized to follow the five psychological states a prospect goes through when buying. I mentioned them before but let's go over them in a little more detail.
- Action (close)
Get the prospect's attention. Use showmanship, say something enticing, do whatever's necessary to get him to focus on what you're selling. The more dramatic, the better.
Hook the prospect with a strong emotional appeal connected to your product or service. Show the men the picture of the red convertible with the blonde in the passenger seat (notice that you can see her face, but you can't see the male driver's face - it might even be him). Show the women the picture of a woman in a neat station wagon, with happy children sitting quietly in their seat belts. It's “Show (business) Time.” (The example for women would probably be much different today but the idea is the same.)
This is the seduction. Show them all the great features of your product or service and how it can benefit them. Give a great presentation, paint beautiful word-pictures. Get the prospect involved. Let them try it, taste it, or test drive it (if possible).
Show them statistical proof of your product's superiority. Use endorsements from prominent people who say they're delighted with your product or service. Or show them testimonial letters, certifications from customers, the government, their church, etc. All the while the salesman asks, “Wouldn't you like to?” questions and nods his head.
Test their reaction, ask for the order, handle their objections, and hit them with your favorite closing technique. There are hundreds of them. If they say no, find their objection. If it's hidden, dig it out. Handle the objection and close with a different technique. No sale? Do it again, and again, and again, with a little variation each time.
As you can see, the whole approach is very manipulative and adversarial. It also takes a lot of time, a lot of energy and a ton of practice. It's also difficult to do without offending the prospect. And what's most offensive to prospects is that the salesperson does almost all of the talking. IN THIS PLAY THE CUSTOMER'S ONLY ROLE IS ANSWERING YES TO RHETORICAL QUESTIONS.
What's wrong with the five-step model - Attention, Interest, Desire, Conviction, and Action (Closing)?
It may be accurate as a buying model. But as a selling model, it doesn't work. It's manipulative. When you use it as a selling model, you're trying to control the prospect by leading him through the steps. Being manipulated is insulting and annoying to people and leading a prospect through the five steps also takes a lot of time and effort.
Here are some of the basic problems with using the Five-Step Model when you sell:
If you have to do something unusual to get a prospect's attention, you don't have a very good prospect; certainly not a High Probability Prospect. Disqualifying a prospect like that prevents you from wasting your time. When you're offering people something they want, they naturally pay attention.
A lot of time is wasted trying to get uninterested people interested, and in boring people who are already interested. More importantly, there are a lot of interested people who won't act. The prospect's level of interest is meaningless. What counts is whether your prospect wants what you have to sell.
Rather than creating desire for your product or service by telling prospects about its features and benefits, you should be showing them how your product satisfies the desires they already have. But that should only be done after they've made a conditional commitment to buy.
By the time you get to this step, you're in the “Can You Top This” mode. While you're showing, telling and proving, the prospect has yet to either set the limits for his satisfaction or make any commitment.
If you don't close until the end of your presentation you've put out too much effort for an uncertain result. That invites crushing disappointment. In High Probability Selling the entire process is the close.
I know about the five-step sales approach, but never thought of it as being really effective. When I first learned it, I used it a lot but it felt awkward. After a while I just concentrated on my closing techniques, and with a lot of practice, I improved my closing rate.
Well, I probably improved by 20 or 25 percent over a six month period. But it involved so much practice and concentration that after a while I just couldn't keep it up.
Learning High Probability Selling requires effort as well, and lots of practice. But once you learn it, selling becomes easier and more natural and you'll increase your sales. And it's not a matter of concentration. Once you learn it, you own it. It becomes part of you.
You still haven't explained why the traditional five-step selling model is inaccurate.
You misunderstood me. I said that it may be accurate as a buying model but not as a selling model. The technology that was developed to manipulate a prospect through the five steps in order to sell him isn't effective. If you want to sell as many prospects as you can within the time you have available, it's much more efficient to start with prospects who already want your product or service. With that in mind, we skip the first four steps and begin with the “Action” (close) step. That's where you want a prospect's attention. But, we don't use traditional closing techniques. We have too much respect for people to manipulate them. After you learn more about High Probability Prospecting, you'll see that we're always closing.
It still sounds like you're trying to get the prospect to do something you want him to do. Isn't that the same objective traditional selling has?
No. High Probability Selling is a totally different approach. Traditional selling does try to get the prospect to do something, whether he wants to or not. Our object is to determine whether you and the prospect have a mutually beneficial basis for doing business, and if not, to go your separate ways. If there isn't mutual agreement and mutual commitment at any point in the discussion, the process stops. We continuously give the prospect every opportunity to disqualify himself, early and often, from beginning to end. As a result, if you and the prospect get through the three phases of the process, there's a very high level of assurance that both of you will get the result that you each want. The three phases of High Probability Selling are:
- High Probability Prospecting
- High Probability Selling
- High Probability Closing
The principles are easy to learn. The hard part is changing your old selling habits, like talking a blue streak trying to persuade people to do what you want them to do. Talk to our salespeople. They've all learned High Probability Selling. I think you'll decide that it's worthwhile to give up the struggle and save the effort and frustration.
It's worth a shot. But I think it's going to be hard to give up what I've worked so hard to learn.
ABBA Publishing Company. Copyright 1992-2000 by High Probability Inc.