Don’t get creative; follow set sales sequence

When Richard Florida wrote The Rise of the Creative Class, he aptly described a big part of the small business community in our region. One of the things that makes our community so special is the creativity that abounds here – in and around small business. However, there are actually times, when selling, that creativity can get us into real trouble.

While it’s often necessary to get creative when solving a prospect’s problems, being creative and straying from the following sequence in the process of taking a selling opportunity to a close is dangerous:

1) Establish Trust: The salesperson must begin by bonding and establishing credibility with a new contact to improve the efficiency of the interaction.  Without trust at the outset, communication is inefficient and progress slow.

2) Be Up-front: Verbally stating intentions for the interaction including the anticipated agenda of the prospect and the possible outcomes, including “no fit,” sets the context for candor in the rest of the process.

3) Qualify: Qualify or disqualify opportunities by:

a) Identifying compelling reasons to buy,

b) Uncovering the resources they have to make the purchase, and

c) Understanding the prospect’s decision process and criteria.

4) Presenting to Fit: Gain agreement to present solutions, in exchange for a decision, to proceed or terminate, then present the solution in the terms that the prospect used to describe their situation.

5) Plan Next Steps: It’s critical in a healthy relationship that both parties understand what actions each are committed to, to get the relationship off on the right foot.

Creating Trouble

Using the process outlined above, let’s examine how getting creative with the sales sequence and rearranging or omitting one or more of its elements can make trouble for the salesperson.


• Discussing budgets or pricing (3b) before fully defining the prospect’s problems, goals, needs, or wants (3a).

Trouble: This can scare off a “real” prospect before the salesperson has established any value in the mind (or heart) of the prospect.

• Presenting solutions (Step 4) to the prospect’s problem before having a clear picture of the problem (Step 3a).

Trouble: This can confuse or lead the prospect to believe that the solution doesn’t quite fit, leading to non-committal feedback like: “I want to think it over” or “We’ll call you.”

• Sending a proposal (Step 4) before finding out how or when the prospect will make a buying decision (Step 3c).

          This can result in both of the previous outcomes and also the prospect’s using the proposal to gain better terms from another vendor (“free consulting”).

• Delivering proposals or making presentations (Step 4) without the prospect’s up-front commitment to make a decision (Step 2).

Trouble: The most frustrating outcome of no decision at all, usually leading to lots of “follow-up” calls to the prospect and the prospect not answering or returning the calls.  A clear decision not to buy is much more valuable to a sales person, if saved time and opportunity costs of follow up are considered.  


Selling is a Process

A salesperson who is creative and wanders through sales processes with no clear sequence typically gets poor and unpredictable results.  Leave the creativity for the product you are selling or designing your service to solve problems. Remember that being creative in sequencing a sales process is dangerous and can produce more trouble than revenue.

Bob Bolak is President of Sandler Training and can be reached at 303-579-1939 and


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