How to Fix Your Selling Process in 192 Pages (not)

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by: John Caddell

A column in today’s Wall Street Journal boils it down for us: "…[C]ompanies need to ‘reinvent’ the way they sell, to focus on their customers rather than product features."

Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before.

It turns out that consultant Ram Charan (best known as the co-writer of "Execution" with Larry Bossidy) has sales in his sights. He has a new book, of course, entitled "What the Customer Wants You to Know," and is interviewed in today’s "Theory and Practice" column. Here’s a taste of Charan’s wisdom:

The sales function has traditionally been about execution. Most sales people are very good at connecting with the purchasing customer. They get training to know the product. And they beat the competition on price.

Now the world has changed. Copying a product became very quick. You now have competition on the Internet to beat down prices.

It has become very hard to differentiate yourself in the eyes of the customer, for business-to-business sales. So salespeople should not sell the product any more. They should find out what the customer needs, which will be a combination of products and services and thought leadership.

Nothing in the above excerpt is incorrect. So why am I so annoyed?

Because these concepts are more than a decade old. There’s not a single statement in the interview that wasn’t well expressed in the ’90’s by people like Michael Bosworth, and Jim Holden, and Jeff Thull, and others. Hundreds of companies have implemented programs to instill these lessons into their organizations. But apparently we needed Charan to compile these ideas into a new book, and assert they are "reinventions," before businesses would take them seriously.

Hopefully the book is well-sourced, and credit given to the folks who first developed these ideas. But Charan’s salesmanship gives reason for concern: the book’s website states, "This book defines a new approach to selling–which Charan calls value creation selling–that while radical is nonetheless practical."

Funny, I first learned that new approach to selling in 1995.

All the above obscures one undeniable fact: despite these methods being well-understood and well-taught, most business selling hasn’t improved significantly. So there’s something much, much deeper impeding improvement in sales.

I just don’t think we’ll find it in "What the Customer Wants You to Know."

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(If you’re interested in sales improvement, I’d recommend connecting with ES Research, a company with a much richer heritage in sales and sales leadership. ESR assesses many different sales improvement programs and provides information to companies looking to adopt new methods.)

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