Ask most people what the objective of a sales meeting is, and they’ll probably say, “to make the sale.” That’s self-evident, of course. But is it useful?
Sure, you want to make the sale—whether it’s your product, your service, or yourself. But if that’s your only goal, you may end up falling short of the potential that exists in any developing relationship. Wouldn’t it be great to maximize the outcome of your sales meeting, beyond merely getting the sale?
That’s the challenge my coauthor Tim Dunne and I tackled when we analyzed what differentiates truly great sales people. The result of our work is a philosophy and toolset we call Productive Selling, a step-by-step process based on many years of research into the psychology of creative problem solving. Its tools are designed to navigate each of fifteen interdependent steps that allow you to understand your clients and their issues more clearly, communicate with them more effectively, help them reframe their problems so they can get unstuck, and offer them insights and solutions to move them forward.
The first of those interrelated steps is to define your goals, but in a way you may never have thought about before. Specifically, we ask you to think about your goals in three parts—material goals, relationship goals, and intrinsic goals.
For salespeople, the dynamic balance of these three goals functions something like the constellation of Orion did for early mariners. The three stars of Orion’s Belt are easier to spot than the big dipper. To ancient navigators they were as important as the North Star.
Defining your three goals—your personal Orion’s Belt—can be a powerful navigational beacon for you, too. Here’s a summary of how the most productive salespeople define their Orion’s Belt:
Material Goals. Money is important. It provides me and my family with security, safety, and comfort. It allows me to invest in things I believe in. But money is not a scorecard.
Relationship Goals. As much as possible, I work with people I like. I enjoy helping them. As my relationships deepen, I get more satisfaction. I recognize that I can neither buy friendship nor sell it. I know I won’t necessarily like everyone and everyone won’t necessarily like me.
Intrinsic Goals. I’m energized by challenge. I get intellectual and emotional satisfaction from understanding and solving complicated problems. That this makes me money is great, but secondary. It bothers me if I’m unable to connect with clients or create solutions that work for them. Solving other people’s problems gives me such a buzz that I’ll scour the ends of the earth to find an answer.
Comparable versions of these three goals are held by many of the most effective salespeople we’ve worked with. Your goals may be different. There’s no “right” answer. There’s just your answer—the one that makes you feel whole, that lets you sleep soundly each night, and that pops you out of bed refreshed and raring to go the next morning.
However, essential as they are, goals are not enough. In the shifting world of business, you need a navigational instrument that helps you stick to those goals. That’s where Productive Selling comes in. It’s a step-by-step methodology built on the premise that the goal of the sales process is not the sale, but the relationship. Focusing on the relationship above the sale is akin to an archery champion who knows that if he aims directly at the bull’s-eye 100 meters away, his arrow will sink to the ground long before it reaches the target. But if he aims above the target—taking into account wind speed, wind direction, and gravity—he can hit the bull’s-eye almost every time. For sales champions, the relationship is the target above the target.
Productive Selling also recognizes that you don’t start with your goal. You work up to it. If your goal is to be a professional baseball player, for example, you need to learn how to run, throw, catch, and hit. You need to learn the subtleties of the game. Similarly in selling, you can’t truly succeed unless you’re skilled in a series of discrete but interrelated steps, each one dependent on the step before.
The most successful salespeople are the ones who create and nurture relationships. In business, to establish a productive relationship you need to demonstrate your usefulness. To demonstrate usefulness, you need to understand the other person’s issues. To understand their issues, you need to earn the right to ask the tough questions that uncover their needs. To earn the right to ask, you need to manage the dynamics of a productive sales conversation. To manage the conversation, you need to identify what energizes the other person and speak in a way they can relate to. To observe your client’s energizers and thinking style, you need to get a face-to-face meeting. To get a ‘yes’ to your meeting request, you need to establish a promising connection… And so on, all the way back through each of the fifteen steps to the first one, which is—you guessed it—establishing your own Orion’s Belt to guide your actions.
In the end, Productive Selling is about being a better strategist, a better coach, and a better business partner. If you ever need to sell anything to anyone, defining your own Orion’s Belt will help you do it better.
The best part is that the better you become at aligning your sales process with your values and goals, the less time you’ll spend selling, and the more time you’ll devote to doing what we all naturally want to do—help people solve problems and seize opportunities.
Everyone knows someone about whom people say things like, “I’d do business with Al anytime, anywhere.” Wouldn’t it be great to be Al?
Take the first step. Start by defining your own Orion’s Belt.
TIM HURSON is coauthor with Tim Dunne of Never Be Closing: How to Sell Better Without Screwing Your Clients, Your Colleagues, or Yourself. He is founding partner of Manifest Communications and launched ThinkX Intellectual Capital in 2004. His first book is Think Better: An Innovator’s Guide to Productive Thinking.