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Starting a Sales Conversation Is Like Baking Bread

Starting a sales conversation can be tough. You'll hear people say, "Selling is part art, part science." My experience has made me believe it's far more science.

And the very beginning of selling, starting a conversation, is like the science of chemistry. In fact, it's a lot like baking a loaf of bread.

My background happens to be in operations management. The same discipline Peter Drucker hails from. Continuous improvement, process reengineering, flowcharting, systems analysis and more. My program had a 40% failure rate. It was hell. Really. Double the recommended maximum university courseload. Total commitment. No partying, no time off. All about cutting processes up into little steps, and determining which steps should stay and which should go. And the instructors beat into our thick skulls this maxim:

"To manage we must measure."

To manage we must measure. To understand and be able to control our results, we must have a consistent process.

Take this idea to making a loaf of bread.

This is chemistry. You mix certain ingredients in certain known proportions, and in a certain order. If you don't follow the recipe, your bread doesn't turn out. Fail.

Makes sense, right?

So why, then, when it comes to starting sales conversations do people see a process...and then "get smart"? Decide they can cut out steps in the process where it suits them? Or start flying by the seat of their pants? And believe they'll still get the same result?

To manage we must measure.

If you are taught a consistent sales process for starting conversations, and it works, don't "get smart" about it. Other trainers in other fields tell me about similar experiences: their students learn a method, and then decide they don't need to do steps 1 through 5. They can cut 2 and 4; after all, they don't look necessary for their unique situation.

And then they scream when their bread doesn't rise!

Start messing with the process, especially in a disorganized manner, and you'll get crazy results.

A programmer I worked with some years ago reminded me of this vital point when I was changing some website coding:

"Stop. Change one thing at a time. See what happens."

Yes, I had been running along, trying to get things done quickly by making several alterations at once. And if an unexpected result had appeared, what then? How would I know which change had made that outcome?

The voice of my OpMan program head from a decade and a half before instantly intoned in my still-thick skull, "To manage we must measure." Oh yeah. Whoops.

When you learn a consistent process for starting sales conversations, follow it. Don't change it. There's more going on than you think. Some of it is invisible.

Remember, the two biggest problems I have encountered so-called professional salespeople at companies having are:

1) Inability to get the decision maker available to speak, whether in person or on the phone, and

2) Inability to start a conversation so that there IS a 'rest of the discussion'.

An effective process for beginning sales conversations will accomplish both these things, and more. It will get you over the initial trust hurdle.

The beauty of baking is that you don't even have to understand why the bread rises. You just have to follow the recipe.

A clear parallel to sales training: you don't have to understand why the consistent process to start conversations works. You just have to follow it.

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Jason Kanigan

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