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open plan selling/strategic selling - sales training (uk)

The term Open Plan Selling was first coined by a wonderful and inspirational British business consultant and sales trainer, S. Guffogg, in theearly-1980's. His ideas and philosophies were many years ahead of their time, and they provide some of the bedrock for what is written. Strategic selling is another description commonly used today to describe the same selling ideas and process. The Miller Hieman organization are among several training and publishing corporations that have developed their own particular more detailed and structured 'strategic selling' models since the 1980's.

Open plan selling is in many ways a completely different approach to the old prescriptive and relatively rigid Seven Steps of the Sale, and the Professional Selling Skills model. Open plan selling is also more advanced than most consultative selling methods being practiced today, largely because of the strategic aspects of the open plan approach.

Open plan selling is especially suited to the business-to-business major accounts selling function - which is now the principle domain of the field-based sales person. However, the open plan selling principles - not the full-blooded structure - can and should be readily adapted for all other types of selling, including even telesales (selling by telephone).

In modern business-to-business selling, successful sales people and organizations provide a tailored product or service which delivers a big measurable strategic improvement to the customer's own businesses. This implies that the customer contact should be a strategic buyer - usually at least a director, or in a small company the finance director or CEO. Nobody lower in the organization has the necessary authority and budget.

The only way to develop tailored strategic offerings is by researching the market and understanding the customer's business, which means the sales person must understand business, and be comfortable talking at director level. When a salesperson do business at this strategic level a salesperson are at a higher level than a salesperson competitors, who are still selling ordinary products and services to middle managers and buyers without true authority. Strategic selling takes time - time to train sales people, and time for selling opportunities to be identified and researched.

open plan selling process: sales training (uk)

research and plan - market sector, prospect, and decide initial approach
make the appointment
attend appointment to build rapport and credibility, gather information about business needs, aims and process, and develop/agree a project/product/service specification
agree survey/audit proposal (normally applicable)
carry out survey/audit (normally applicable)
write product/service proposal
present proposal
negotiate/refine/adapt/conclude agreement
oversee fulfillment/completion
feedback/review/maintain ongoing relationship

make the appointment - open plan selling - step 2

The most important rule about appointment-making is to sell the appointment and not the product. The sales person must never get drawn into having to sell the product or service, either in writing or on the phone, while trying to arrange an appointment.

Appointment-making is a skill in its own right. Some selling organizations use canvassers or telemarketing staff to do this for the sales person, but for large prospects it's useful for the sales person to combine the appointment-making with the initial researching activity.

Remember AIDA - it applies to the appointment-making process as well. The aim is the appointment not the sale. When telephoning for an appointment, with or without a prior letter, the sales person typically must first speak to a switchboard operator or receptionist, then be put through to the targeted person's secretary or pa.

A carefully thought-through UPB (unique perceived benefit) forms the basis of the appointment approach. If it strikes the right chord the appointment will be granted. A good introductory letter may win an appointment without the need even to speak to the decision-maker. Imagine what happens: the letter is received by the pa. If it looks interesting and credible and worthy, the pa will show it to the boss. If the boss is interested, and in the event that the pa keeps the boss's diary (as is often the case), the boss often instructs the pa to make an appointment when the phone call from the sales person is received.

Some sales trainers talk about PMA - Positive Mental Attitude - and suggest that this is some kind of magic that anyone can simply turn on and off at will. For all but the most experienced practitioners of self-hypnosis or nero-linguistic programming, this is nonsense. If a salesperson not feeling good, don't force it or a salesperson waste the call and feel worse.

Sales people were, and still are, taught to use an alternative close when making appointments, eg., "What's best for you, Tuesday morning or Thursday afternoon?..." This can be quite insulting to another person, who'll have heard the technique about a thousand times just in the past week.

the appointment - open plan selling - step 3

There are some obvious things to do pre-appointment which can be overlooked, so here they are:

establish how long the meeting will last and who'll be there
confirm the appointment in writing - keep it brief, professional, and a salesperson can even provide an agenda for the meeting, which shows a salesperson's thought about it, and prepares the contact for what's to come
gather any more information that a salesperson need - the willingness of the contact's support staff to help will be quite high at this stage, but don't be a nuisance

Where questioning differs in major accounts selling compared to the style within the Seven Steps, is that the prospect's perspective and situation are wide and complex, so more care and time needs to be taken to discover the facts. If the appointment is with a senior decision-maker the breadth of implications and issues can be immense. Any product or service can have completely surprising implications, when an MD or CEO explains their own position. For example, a purely technical product sale lower down the organization, where specification and price appear to be the issues, might have enormous cultural and cultural implications for a CEO. A new computerized monitoring system for example, would again simply have price and technical issues for a middle-ranking technical buyer, but there could be massive health and safety legislative compliance issues (threats and potential benefits) for the CEO.

Only by asking intelligent, probing questions (mostly open questions, and use of the phrase 'why is that') will the issues and opportunities be uncovered.

Sales people really only need a pad and pen for the great part of the first meeting (ask if it's okay to take notes - it's a professional courtesy). The sales person should actually try to adopt the mind-set and style of an 'expert consultant', specializing in the application of the particular product or service to the prospect type and industry concerned - and not behave like a persuasive sales person. The appointment process and atmosphere should be consultative, helpful and co-operative. Steven Covey's maxim 'Seek first to understand before a salesperson try to be understood' was never more true.

Senior experienced decision-makers will provide a lot of relevant information in response to very few questions. Lower ranking influencers need to be asked more specific questions, dealing with an issue at a time, and they will often be unable to give reliable information about real strategic decision-making motives and priorities, because they simply do not operate at that level.

There is twin effect from asking and interpreting strategic questions: first, vital information is established; second, the act of doing this also establishes professional respect, rapport and trust. Combine these two and the sales person then has a platform on which to build the next stage.

write the product/service proposal - open plan selling - step 6

The sales person is responsible for writing the sale proposal, which should reflect the findings of the survey.

Some sales organizations have dedicated people who write project proposals or quotations. In this case the sales person should ensure that what is written is relevant and concise, factually correct, and outlines the organizational benefits clearly stemming from the product or services being proposed.

It may be possible for the sales person to involve an influencer or decision-maker in the drafting of the proposal, so that it is framed as suitably as possible to meet the requirements of the prospect organization. Getting some help in this way is ideal.

Proposals that are necessarily lengthy and very detailed should begin with an executive summary showing the main deliverables, costs and organizational benefits.

The sales person should always try to present the sales proposal personally, rather than send it. The prospect may agree to, or actually ask for, a presentation to a group of people in the prospect organization including influencers and decision-makers, which is ideal.

The sales person should try to avoid any situation where a proposal is presented on the sales person's behalf in their absence, by an influencer to the decision-maker(s).

If the open plan process has been applied thus far then it's actually unlikely that the prospect would not want the sales person's involvement at the presentation stage.

present the sales proposal - open plan selling - step 7

The aim of the presentation must be based on whatever is the next best stage for the prospect, not for the seller. Large organizations will not be pushed, and to try to do so often risks upsetting the relationship and losing the opportunity altogether.

It may be that just one presentation is required and that approval can be given there and then, or the sales process may warrant several more refinements to the proposal and more presentations or meetings. It could be that the decision-maker is advising and needing the sales person's help in how to achieve positive approval for the proposal from the influencers. Or the decision-maker may have given agreement to the concept already, subject to cost and being able to implement without disruption. Whatever the aim is, the sales person needs ensure that the presentation is geared to achieving it.

The presentation can take place in widely different circumstances, depending on what suits the prospect.

Groups of influencers and decision-makers need to be handled very carefully, and the sales person must by now understand the roles and motives of all the people present, in order to present and respond appropriately.

The presentation must be professional and concise, whatever the format. Adequate copies, samples, reference material must be available for all present.

The sales person must enlist help with the presentation from colleagues if required and beneficial, which will generally be so for large complex proposals, in which case all involved must be carefully briefed as to what is expected of them, overall aims and fall-backs etc.

The presentation must concentrate on delivering the already agreed strategic organizational needs. People's time is valuable - keep it concise and factual - don't waffle - if a salesperson don't know the answer to something don't guess or a salesperson lose a salesperson credibility and the sale for sure. Preparation is crucial.

negotiate/refine/adapt/conclude the agreement - open plan selling - step 8

In open plan selling it is common for agreement in principle to be reached before all of the final details, terms and prices are ironed out, and if the opportunity arises to do this then such as understanding should be noted and then confirmed in writing. Moreover, in very complex situations it is certainly advisable to try to obtain provisional agreement ('conditional agreement' or 'approval for the concept in principal') as soon as the opportunity arises.

In this event the sales person must agree and confirm the various action points necessary for the conclusion of the agreement to the satisfaction of the customer.

A similar process takes place when the prospect seeks to negotiate aspects of the deal before finally committing. Some situations develop into negotiations, others into more of a co-operative mutual working together to agree points of detail. Generally the latter is more productive and by its nature avoids the potential for confrontation. However some prospects will want or need to negotiate, in which case it's essential at this stage to follow the rules of negotiating.

It's critically important at this point to establish conditional commitment for the sale in principle, i.e., that subject to agreeing the points to be negotiated, the deal will proceed. Do not begin to negotiate until a salesperson have provisional or conditional agreement for the sale.

As with the other stages of open plan selling, it's important to adapt a salesperson responses and actions according to what the prospect needs, especially in meeting their specific organizational needs in the areas of operating, communicating, processing and implementing the decision.

Management of the introduction, change, and communication of implications (specifically training) are all likely to be important (and often late-surfacing) aspects of the prospect's requirements when agreeing any major new supply arrangement. So be on the lookout for these issues and react to meet these needs. The supplier's ability to anticipate and meet these requirements quickly become essential facets of the overall package - often extra potential added value - and actually contain some of the greatest potential perceived benefits of all.

When the negotiation or agreement is concluded it is the sales person's responsibility to confirm all the details in writing to all concerned on both sides. Deals often fall down in the early stage of implementation through the sales person's failure to do this properly. Expectations need to be clearly understood to be the same by both sides at all times.

The modern sales person needs to be an excellent internal communicator these days (i.e., to the selling organization's people, as well as the prospect's). All big deals will invariably be tailored to suit the customers needs, and this will entail the sales person being able to agree and confirm requirements and deliverables with the relevant departments of the selling organization.

This implies in turn that the sales person has a good understanding of the selling organization's strategy, capabilities, costs, prices and margins, so as to know what is realistically achievable, strategically desirable, and commercially viable. The customer may always be right, but this does not automatically imply that the supplier should do everything without question just because the prospect needs it - often there are limits, and these need to be managed and explained. (See ways of saying 'no' in the negotiating section.)

oversee the sale's implementation/fulfillment/completion - open plan selling - step 9

Even if the concluded sale is to be passed on to another department in the selling organization for implementation, the sales person must always remain the guardian of that customer and sale. The sales person will have won the sale partly by virtue of their own credibility and personal assurances, so it's unforgivable for a sales person to 'cut and run' (see the derivations section if a salesperson 're interested in the origin of this expression).

The sales person must stay in touch with the decision-maker and give regular updates on the progress of the sale's implementation. There may be ongoing issues to manage - in fact there will be.

If the implementation is very complex the sale person must ensure a project plan is created and then followed, with suitable reviews, adjustments and reporting.

Upon implementation the sales person must check and confirm that the prospect is satisfied at all levels and at all points of involvement, especially the main decision-maker and key influencers.

feedback/review/maintain ongoing relationship - open plan selling - step 10

In many types of business, and especially major accounts selling, the sale is never actually finally concluded - that is to say, the relationship and support continues, and largely customers appreciate and need this enormously. Good sales people build entire careers on this principle.

Arranging regular reviews are vital for all service-type arrangements. Customers become disillusioned very quickly when sales people and selling organizations ceased to be interested, communicative and proactive after the sale is concluded or the contract has been set up.

Even for one-off outright sale transactions, with no ongoing service element, it's essential for the sales person to stay in touch with the customer, or future opportunities will be hard to identify, and the customer will likely go elsewhere.

summary of the open plan selling/strategic selling process - sales training (uk)
Open plan selling requires a lot of thought and expertise. The rewards are well worth the effort though - the sales person is seen more as an advisor, and the selling process becomes more of a co-operation and partnership, which is altogether much more of a professional and civilized way of doing business. Sales management methods which are aimed at increasing a sales team's strategic business development responsibilities, opportunities and capabilities (as entailed within the strategic selling process), generally have good motivational effects on the sales people, because they enable personal growth, extra responsibility, and higher level achievements.

collaboration, facilitation and partnership selling - sales training (uk)
Selling through true collaboration, facilitation and partnership enables the buying processes, and creates a sustainable platform for supplier and customer to work together. These new theories represent the most advanced, effective and sustainable selling methodology today. This is a selling philosophy, beyond skills and techniques, and a million miles further on from the Seven Steps Of The Sale. This modern sales ideology - particularly for large accounts and business-to-business - extends the open plan selling or strategic selling approach, and to it adds organizational, facilitative and relationship elements that take selling to new heights of sophistication and competitive advantage.




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