Should selling be proactive or reactive?


If you had asked me this question when I started my sales career, I would have answered definitely proactive. Every sales seminar I attended, every book I read, and every training tape I listened to instructed me to take charge of the selling process. All of the closing techniques from the tried and true to the more recent seemed to assume two things: That buyers tended to follow a fairly standard series of buying steps, and that I could impose a process of my own on the buyer to influence the timing and outcome of that process. What I have found in practice is that firstly all buyers do not buy the same way, and secondly buyers resist and detest you hijacking their processes! Additionally, many of the old and true sales techniques break down when there are multiple buyers in the process which is typical in high-value or enterprise purchases. So, what this means is that I have had to learn to be reactive in my selling: I work to ascertain and access the buyer’s process, then strategize and respond accordingly. Since this assessment is iterative and buyers’ processes and objectives change over time, I have found that agile principles work exceeding well in selling, and can be adapted quite easily for managing and optimizing the sales process. Such an agile process typically looks like this: I interview the buyer(s) to understand their strategies and objectives. I then learn all I can about their buying process and how this will map onto the particular purchase opportunity I am pursuing. Once I have this information I “react” – In agile terms, I work with my technical and marketing team mates to create:

  1. The Delivery – This is solution mapping of our company’s (and 3rd party partners if needed) products and services onto the customer’s objective.
  2. The Backlog – These are all of the activities and capabilities needed to fulfill the Delivery. Activities could encompass meetings, proposals, demonstrations, quotes, evaluations, etc. Capabilities are the functionality and implementation services needed to fulfill the customer’s purchase objectives.
  3. The Sprints – These are a series of productions culminating in the Delivery (essentially, who does what when).

Most importantly, utilizing an agile methodology for the selling process allows me and my teammates to quickly react to anything that comes up in the buying engagement. As everyone involved in the sales opportunity is meeting daily, resources can be allocated/reallocated as needed. This not only allows us to out execute our competition, but also ensures our resources are always deployed on the highest priority deal prospects based on the latest information on hand.

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