Thursday, October 30, 2008

Four Sales Books

Strong selling strategies are the key

Selling is a required skill in business. But how to do it is the question. Four current books provide insight and advice.

In the real world of business, selling is a required skill. Top management people without sales experience are at a clear disadvantage, and you can bet that any CEO who isn't tight with his sales staff isn't long for this world. It's an inextricable part of the equation, always.

But as vital as it is, the process can be simple or complicated. Or both.

Here are four recent books with advice on the process.

Making The Number: How to Use Sales Benchmarking to Drive Performance. Greg Alexander, Aaron Bartels and Mike Drapeau. Portfolio. 288 pages.

Benchmarking is already applied to most every other aspect of business, so why not sales? That's the premise upon which these authors, founders of an Atlanta-based consultancy, base their book. Using data-driven methods, they seek to employ metrics to define and control the sales process and identify potential areas of growth.

Though I know a little about sales and have actually had a bit of training and experience in this area, I wouldn't presume to judge the efficacy of their methodologies. But I can assess
their presentation, which seems fairly clear and comprehensible. In addition to ample exposition, they cannily invoke a bunch of likely objections to their methods, then knock 'em down — something all good salespeople can relate to.

Selling To Zebras: How to Close 90% of the Business You Pursue Faster, More Easily, and More Profitably. Jeff Koser and Chad Koser. Greenleaf Book Group. 224 pages.

The Kosers start with the 80-20 rule, here modified by five percent, which is an acceptable margin of error. They state that salespeople "only close about 15 percent of the deals in their sales pipeline.''

That actually sounds pretty decent to me, but I suppose it depends on the diameter and length of their virtual pipeline.

Instead of ''activity-based selling,'' which is what they call the usual sales-funnel method (or "numbers game''), they've developed ways to prequalify prospects to increase the efficiency of their initiatives. They use the zebra as a metaphor for a prime catch, which is as good as any
symbol, I guess.

In addition to their instruction, a fictional narrative to illustrate the Kosers' methods is larded through the text. Like most of these parallel narratives, this one apparently takes place on an alternate universe, where people generally act rationally, unlike our own unpredictable plane.

Let's Get Real or Let's Not Play: Transforming the Buyer/Seller Relationship. Mahan Khalsa and Randy Illig. Portfolio. 254 pages.
If you're a fan of Stephen Covey and his endless array of tomes and supporting material, then you probably will love this book, which employs many of the same principles: Begin with the end in mind, treat other people as you would be treated, ensure that every exchange is a win-win transaction — that sort of thing.

There's nothing wrong with this approach and very much that's right with it, especially if you're an advocate or practitioner of consultative selling. But I suspect beginners to the sales game would probably benefit the most from its lessons, as well as people who have been flying blind and need some fundamentals to professionalize their approach.

Beyond Price: Differentiate Your Company in Ways that Really Matter. Mary Kay Plantes and Robert D. Finrock. Greenleaf Book Group. 224 pages.
With commoditization engulfing every industry, consultative selling is now called to create value — or the perception thereof — to ensure that price alone does not determine sales.

The authors are smart enough to lay out the basics and provide a framework for savvy sales people to try them out on their own products and services.

It's a worthwhile endeavor and at the very worst, can only complement any existing sales pitch.

published 10/27/08 in The Miami Herald

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