Improving Sales: Five Techniques

By: Verne Harnish “Growth Guy”

Oct 5, 2010 1:00:00 PM ET

To start with, I suggest clients re-read the father of sales,Neil Rackham’s, classic book SPIN Selling. This resets the idea that there is a structured methodology companies can bring to the sales process.

For a myriad of reasons (economic recovery, increased global competition, or simply tired of sluggish growth), there has been a renewed focus on cranking up the sales side of the business, with frequent requests for recommendations on effective sales training and techniques.

So, in the spirit that it takes a “village of gurus” to help a company, I have recommended several books and techniques, which when woven together, will give your firm a comprehensive upgrade to your existing sales approach.

Father of Sales

To start with, I suggest clients re-read the father of sales, Neil Rackham’s‘s, classic book SPIN Selling. This resets the idea that there is a structured methodology companies can bring to the sales process.

It also reinforces the fundamental notion that sales should be all about the client and not your company – that the sales person (or website) as a talking brochure is history, especially when most customers in today’s rich information environment likely know more about your products and services than your sales people.

Once you have this foundation, here are five additional resources/ideas I recommend.

Sales 3.0

Jeff Thull’s book Mastering the Complex Sale: How to Compete and Win When the Stakes are High, builds on Rackham’s work. First, he explains, unless you sell a pure commodity, every sale is complex. And this complexity, which has nothing to do with the size of the deal, has made it more difficult for busy customers to understand why they need your solution.

As such, Thull outlines how sales has moved from a 1.0 environment of spray and pray (close hard and often); to a 2.0 environment where sales people help the customer understand why they need their solution; to a 3.0 environment where the onus is on the sales organization to outline in detail the magnitude of the challenge a customer might NOT even realize she is facing.

Crazy, Busy People

At some point in the sales process, you have to connect with the right decision-makers, yet these people have increasingly smaller teams, are consumed by email, and tasked with more and more responsibilities. Jill Konrath’s book SNAP Selling: Speed Up Sales and Win More Business with Today’s Frazzled Customers, provides specific techniques for getting the attention of these crazy, busy people.

I particularly like the sections of the book where she gives specific examples of emails and voice mails that work most effectively in capturing a prospect’s interest. Even with a warm introduction, it’s easy for frazzled customers to quickly lose interest in your offerings if your follow-on communication misses the mark.

Selling Internally

At some point in the sales process, you’re going to have to put something in writing. And this document will be crucial in helping to sell your solution internally, as it’s emailed or passed around to others that are part of the decision making process.

Tom Sant’s book Persuasive Business Proposals: Writing to Win More Customers, Clients, and Contracts is the bible for proposal writing. Just one of hundreds of critical tips: in a three-page executive summary, the first two pages should never mention you, your company, or your proposed solution!! They should be all about the customer and the challenges they are facing. Only on the third page do you mention your firm.

Shortening the Sales Cycle

One of the top negotiation professors is Dr. Victoria Medvec with Northwestern University. In her online video course entitled High Stakes Negotiations Dr. Medvec outlines why you should always be the first to name the price; why you should always submit three proposals; and techniques for shortening the sales cycle.

My firm has particularly benefited from her advice to drive ALL communications with a potential customer synchronously i.e. never deliver proposals or responses to questions via email alone. For instance, if a customer emails you a question about your proposal, use that as an excuse to pick up the phone and discuss their question and trial balloon some answers, gauging their response in real time.

Re-Engineering the Sales Process

Last, I encourage you to go to and check out Justin Roff-Marsh’s Sales Process Engineer (SPE) methodologies. Based in Australia, Roff-Marsh has applied the Theory of Constraints (TOC) to the sales process, helping sales managers make their overall sales process produce better results with less effort.

If you combine all five methodologies, you’ll have a more effective sales process where your organization anticipates and understands your customers’ challenges better than they do. You’ll be able to get the attention of these crazy, busy people and keep it, delivering a set of proposals that continue to sell for you when you’re not there. And if done properly, you’ll dramatically shorten the sales cycle, making the sale before your competition is even able to get the prospect on the phone.