The Basics of UK sales training
open plan selling/strategic selling - sales training
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
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
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
agree survey/audit proposal (normally applicable)
carry out survey/audit (normally applicable)
write product/service proposal
feedback/review/maintain ongoing relationship
make the appointment - open plan selling - step
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.