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Sales Solutions
Strategic Selling Skills vol 5, issue #4
April, 2008

A recent post on LinkedIN asked, "What are the most important skills for strategic selling." I couldn't resist responding, if for no other reason than I needed a topic for this month's newsletter, and was coming up empty. So here, as this month's topic, is my answer (modified for my newsletter's format) to that question.

Many skills are needed to be successful in strategic sales, but I'm going to suggest three that are fundamentally necessary. Let me preface my suggestions by saying I won't be including anything having to do with prospecting, which is a whole area unto itself, and which is not peculiar to strategic sales. Rather I'm going to address situations where you are already engaged with a prospect.

My top three skills for strategic selling, then, are:

  1. Asking great questions

  2. Listening critically

  3. Gaining agreement at various stages of the sales cycle

Those of you who've been with me for the last few years will recognize these skills as topics of previous issues. You've also seen many more issues that dealt with other topics, such as Presentations, Time Management, and Forecasting. So why did I pick these three to be the most critical? Because without them, none of the others would be relevant. You won't be invited in to make a presentation if you can't uncover enough useful information to qualify your prospect. And that qualification process consists, as we all know, of asking great questions and listening to the answers (both what's said, and what's not said). And if you aren't gaining agreement along the way, well, I suppose you could have a forecast, but it wouldn't be a terribly strong one - certainly not one in which your manager would, or should, have much confidence.

Let's look more closely at these three skills.

Great questions consist of a series of qualifying (and disqualifying) questions, probing questions (to understand business needs as well as personal motivations), and trial closes (which gets us into skill #3). Use great questions, and you'll unlock the secrets to winning your prospect's confidence, and with it the keys to his kingdom.

Listening is an ability most of us have; critical listening is the development of this inherent ability into the skill of listening with intent, with purpose. Listening to understand the goals and challenges, fears and constraints of your prospect (and by "prospect", I mean all the players involved in evaluating your offering), as well as what will motivate them to select you, or to advocate on your behalf. It's listening to determine your prospect's evaluation process, and using that information to develop your own selling approach for this opportunity. Listen critically, and you'll absorb those secrets you've unlocked, and be able to use them to your advantage.

Unlike transactional sales, strategic sales take a long time to come to fruition - typically 3-12 months. There are too many opportunities along the way for a deal to derail - for reasons which often are not under your control. It's for this reason that I consider gaining small agreements along the way the third of my top three important skills for strategic selling.

Action Item:

Decide for yourself if you agree that these are indeed three of the most important skills needed for success in strategic selling. If you decide you do, look in the mirror and ask yourself, "Have I mastered these skills? If not, which ones do I feel need some work?" Then get to working on them. If you don't believe these are three of the most important skills needed for success in strategic selling, that's fine. Go ahead and pick three others, and ask yourself the same questions. The key is to work on shoring up those skills you believe are both important, and that need some work in order to enable you be the best sales person you can be.

Good Selling!

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