Selling – Is It an Art, Science or Both?

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28058 - Macau - DaVinciThe debate over art versus science in sales has been running for decades. A popular myth about selling has that it’s an art, which can be practiced successfully only by sales people born with the “gift of gab” and that science has nothing to do with it.

But when you look at world’s top sales organisations, it becomes a no-brainer that the science of selling is very important. It would be very hard to find a world-class company without a methodical and even scientific approach to sales and sales management. When you talk to a sales executive from on of these companies, there is no question that they have deployed and enforce a systematic sales process and sales methodology. Otherwise, in an era in which globalization and expansion into new markets have made it critical to build sales capabilities that can be leveraged and scaled on a global basis, managing a large and often international sales force would be extremely difficult in today’s highly competitive selling environment.

Why Selling Should Still Be an Art

Selling as an art, on the other hand, includes softer skills, such as how people apply processes and tools, and how sales related activities are conducted across the company. Additional soft capabilities include relationship development skills, trustworthiness, political savvy, adaptability, active listening and influencing decisions.

So, B2B sales is most part science and some part art. Leaving the “art” out of the equation completely would, however, be disastrous. A person (or organisation for that matter) with too much emphasis on science and methodology can be showing a lack of situational awareness. They may also be less able to build relationships, which still are a very important factor in selling. Their inability to pick up on non-verbal cues or find creative ways to solve a customer’s problem would prevent them from being consistently effective.

Benefits of Selling as a Science

Market changes are lengthening sales cycles and most companies face tougher competition, broadened account politics and intense scrutiny of new projects. In that light there definitely is the need for a systematic methodology to help sales teams navigate increasingly complex sales situations.

The science side enables sales through the development and application of step-by-step operational processes that are  monitored and measured. These processes help organizations to track outcomes and influence the probability of success at each stage of the sales cycle. Scientific approaches include rigorous application of standard processes, tactical sales methodologies and tools, fact-based approaches to identifying areas needing change and use of technology to deliver insight.

The long-term advantages of using consistent sales methodologies and processes include:

  • the capture of best sales practices
  • the use of consistent positioning and effective sales messaging
  • alignment of sales and marketing
  • consistent measures of sales person performance and account progress
  • ease of integration of sales teams in the event of an acquisition
  • reduced ramp up time for new sales people
  • more accurate sales forecasts

Using an effective “science-based” sales methodology can in fact – as a result of the above mentioned process improvements – help companies drive revenue performance, reduce the cost-to-revenue ratio, and increase the number of sales people reaching their sales targets.

Selling Should Be Both Art and Science

Organizations face many performance challenges today, such as understanding and responding to changing customer needs and supporting growth while improving profitability. Effectively addressing these challenges needs to be done through a combination of art and science.

Competing in today’s market requires building superior capabilities in both the science and art of selling. Understanding the right proportion of science and art for your sales people to effectively sell your products and services is critical to their success and yours.

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