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May 07, 2010

See Thru Selling

I’m in the market for a used car – we have added yet another driver in the household. Four people, four jobs, four complicated schedules – sharing three cars won’t cut it. This recent set of visits to the used car lots reminds me of some of my first experiences car shopping. It is no wonder the term “used car salesman”, has such derogatory connotations. That question, “tell me what it will take to sell you a car before you leave here today” still makes me cringe.

What is at the heart of this purchasing unpleasantry is the simple fact that people selling used cars have a different selling process than the people who want to buy a car from them. Forcing the buyer into a purchasing decision when they may only be in comparison shopping mode is a complete buyer-seller disconnect. What is an even greater problem is that the typical buyer and seller dyad won’t share with each other their respective buying and selling processes. It is kept secretive, which commonly leads to an adversarial situation due to the disconnect. The seller is trying to pull off a conquest and the buyer is trying to avoid being huckstered.

What if this were different?

What if things changed and the two embraced a single process, mutually agreed, with a single common endpoint? Car shopping would be so much more pleasant. The whole car industry would be in much better shape today in fact. On the other hand, this could also make buying from your company better as well.

Last week I was assisting a client with the redesign of their sales stages. One driving factor of their redesign was to match their sales process with the typical buying process of their customers. We had assembled a team of track-record-proven district managers to share best practices in the pursuit of creating a global standard. During the process a team member offered an example scenario, which included a description of the sales steps shared explicitly with the customer. It was described as a “deal roadmap”. The rest of the team members were flabbergasted – they could not believe that the sales steps would be shared with the customer! You just cannot do that!!

Naturally this became a significant discussion point. For me the irony of the situation was the intention to design a set of sales stages that were to allegedly mirror the customers’, but yet there was a rampant disposition to hide these same steps from those same customers. It was as if there was something deviant with the pursuit of a deal along a pre-described and shared path.


Ultimately the collaboratively selling district manager prevailed and convinced his teammates that this transparent approach was the right way to go. I lobbied for his position, using the logic that they intended to design a process matched to their customer. Why keep it a secret? The tipping point in the conversation was when the benefits of transparency came out on the table. This leads to a less adversarial relationship with less surprises and more predictability. The atmosphere is more partner-like and less stressful ,leading to better long-term relationships and loyalty. Of course the real question is whether it leads to more sales.

I believe it does, but I can’t give sufficient proof here. There is a great article from the Harvard Business Review (sorry I don’t have the reference) that describes a study from the Forum Corporation comparing key sales skills with sales success. One of the top skills correlated with high sales results is the ability to match and follow the customer sales process. Is this the same as transparency? Not completely, but I believe there is a very strong relationship.

So, I guess the moral of the story is the next time you want to buy a car, tell your sales person the process you plan to follow and ask if he or she is willing to follow it. If not, move on because there are lots of available cars out there and many who want to sell them to you.