I’ve always been curious about selling, the complex kind, the kind with long sales cycle, very expensive(typically $100,000 or more) contracts, those needing multiple signatures. I’ve read a number of business books on the topic and these are the three that stand out.
What I like about Strategic Selling by Robert Miller, is he breaks down the complex sales process systematically, which appeals to me. He gives us a framework for thinking where the product’s positioning in the market. The different influencers within a customer’s company, and how to approach them. Now the sales process is broken into distinct steps where progress can be quantifiable. Though the quantifying step is still a judgement call. After reading the book, I realised that sales is a process that is repeatable.
SPIN selling by Neil Rackham is published in the 1980s. Though that is a long time ago, I find that its wisdom is relevant today. After all, companies still sell to people today. Sales in the early days, thought that to sell more, sales people needs to be good at closing. Neil Rackham rejected that perception by collecting real world data and coming to the conclusion that the conventional closing methods don’t work. SPIN selling is a methodology of framing the questions to ask your customers such that the customer reveals important information and indirectly be convinced of the need to buy. Fantastic book, with a lot of rigour in its methods. Sadly I find such rigour sorely missing in business books.
Challenger Sales Model by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson is the predecessor of SPIN selling. It is heavily influenced by SPIN. It is not a replacement, depending on the sitation, you can use either SPIN or Challenger. Challenger Sales Model is great for businesses stuck in a commodity business, business selling products or services with little differentiation. It prompts you to think more strategically, becoming a partner of your customer and not only doing transactional sales where you are just a price number to them.
Are they effective?
Disclaimer, I’m not a veteran salesperson. However I’ve asked my friends who have been selling for 10-20 years. There is the viewpoint that Sales is a skill learned by doing, true in all careers. My friend don’t follow any framework strictly, but acts from experience. To him, there is no need to learn these frameworks. Another friend though, feels that they are useful. He introduced these frameworks into his sales team. But again, every situation is different and this is where experience comes in play.
These books cover different aspects of selling. Strategic Selling covers the selling process from a bird’s eye view. SPIN selling helps when you don’t know your customer. Challenger works for those who knows their customers well. Rather than pick one, my suggestion is you read all of them. It never hurts to learn more.