According to Amazon, there are over 100,000 books about sales currently in print. If you bought them all, it would cost you around $1 million. And that might seem like a bargain, since companies spend a whopping $2.5 billion a year on sales training.
Given those huge numbers, you'd think that sales and marketing must be truly complex human behaviors that take a lifetime to master. And, in a way, you'd be right, in the same sense that it takes a lifetime to fully master, say, golf or bowling.
Nevertheless, every complex human behavior has basic skills that get you into the game. With golf, for instance, the basic rules are 1) how you stand, 2) how you hold the club, and 3) how you swing. If you don't know those basics, you can't play golf.
Sales is the same, but there's so much written about it, and so much training available, that the basics get lost. Fortunately, I've spent the past 15 years interviewing sales gurus, scientists, and neuroscientists who study selling. I'm now going to share the essence of what I learned.
As with golf, in sales and marketing there are three basic steps or skills that form the basis of every sales situation:
1. Create trust.
Money and goods don't change hands unless the seller and buyer trust each other to deliver on their respective part of the deal. That trust is created three ways: technologically (as with Amazon), legally (a.k.a. rule of law), or personally (through rapport and personal connection).
2. Link what you're selling to the customer's desires.
Human beings desire pleasure and seek to avoid pain. They will only trade something they have (like money) for something they don't have (your product) once they're convinced there's a high likelihood the result of that transaction will be either more pleasure, less pain or both.
3. Ask for a decision.
Now that you've laid the groundwork, you "close the deal" by saying something that allows the customer to confirm their intention to buy.
If you've done a truly spectacular job at 1) creating trust and 2) linking your product to the customer's desires, the customer might say: "I want it!" before you attempt to close the sale. In this case, you ask whether they want something in addition to what they've already bought.
Key point: You always ask.
The three-step sequence above lies at the core of EVERY sales and marketing scenario, without exception. To illustrate this, here are two examples from opposite ends of the sales and marketing spectrum.
Example: Selling Cars
Cars are the quintessential consumer product. Here's how they're sold.
First, automobile ads create trust by featuring people who look like their customers, because humans are tribal and use physical appearance as a proxy for who can be trusted (Step 1). They show those people either enjoying themselves (like showing off their new wheels) or avoiding an accident (Step 2). The ads then direct you to a dealership so that you can buy that car (Step 3).
The pattern repeats at the dealership. The salesperson attempts to make a personal connection (Step 1), asks questions to determine what's important to you when it comes to a new car and emphasizes those elements during the test drive (Step 2). After the test drive, the salesperson asks whether you want to buy the car (Step 3).
Example: Selling Complex IT Systems
IT systems, which often cost many millions of dollars, follow the exact same pattern. The vendor establishes trust by trotting out reference accounts and touting their experience, history of innovation, etc. (Step 1). The vendor salesperson then uncovers the customer's problems and/or opportunities and positions the IT system as the solution to those problems and/or a way to exploit those opportunities (Step 2). The salesperson then builds consensus among decision-makers and asks for a collective decision, usually at a well-attended stakeholder meeting (Step 3).
I could go through dozens of sales scenarios and the same three-step pattern would emerge because it is truly key to selling absolutely anything to absolutely anyone.
The devil is in the details, of course, but that's basically how it's done. Absolutely always.