Sales Effectiveness: What Does It Take To Make A Sale?


Share on LinkedIn

Does sales effectiveness require process – following a particular process in a particular manner?  Perhaps. Does sales effectiveness necessitate using the right technology/tools – say like a CRM system? Perhaps.  Does sales effectiveness require  a deep insight into the customer’s industry / business?  Perhaps. Does sales effectiveness require great negotiating skills. Perhaps.

Last week I presented a sales proposal. It was well received and we were awarded the work.  Several members of the client team mentioned that the proposal was spot on – exactly what they were looking for. A member of the proposal team stated that we had been successful because I had rapidly built a rapport with the client team – by honing in on their core need and talking to that. Another member of our (sales) team attributed success to the “highly contextualised presentation deck”.

To whom and to what do I attribute the success of this sales proposal?  First, let me say that I do not attribute it to killer insight to the client’s industry. I had little understanding or insight into that industry – a highly specialised industry.  Second, I neither followed a sales process nor used a CRM system.  Third, I did not put the solution together – others much more technical than me did that work. Lastly, the occasion to use negotiating skills never arose.  If there is a clue it lies in the comment “highly contextualised presentation deck”.

What I did do was a number of things. I recommended that the first cut presentation (put together by the technical folks) be presented to a key member of the client team. On that call, whilst the technical folks, presented that deck, I listened intently to the client. Where anything was fuzzy (to me, to the client) I asked clarifying questions. Following the presentation I talked extensively with the technical folks to understand the solution, implementation plan, assumptions they had put together.  This was not a comfortable discussion – I asked question after question to get from the abstract to the concrete.  Finally, I did desk based research.  After all this work, I cut down the presentation deck from 20+ slides to less than 10; I did my very best to make sure each slide spoke  to the client – relevant to the client’s problem/desired outcome, and written in language that the ordinary business person can easily understand.

Does that mean that I attribute success in ‘closing’ this opportunity to myself? Before I answer that question allow me to share some relevant information with you.  I/we (sales team) turned up on time but at what turned out to be the ‘wrong’ building. Sorting this matter out took something like 30 minutes. In the meantime the technical team via conference call had been asked to deliver the sales proposal. Having no choice they commenced delivery using the original presentation deck – ignoring the one that I had put together. By the time I/we (sales team) turned up the client team (about ten people) looked baffled and somewhat annoyed.  Then we (sales team) apologised and I delivered the sales proposal.

I attribute our success in being awarded the work to the client.  The client gave us (the sales team) a second chance: to wipe the slate clean and represent the sales proposal.  The client has a pressing need with a fixed deadline.  The client was looking to and in fact had to buy from someone – someone competent. The client considered us to be competent based on prior experience.  Put differently, the client was fertile soil for our sales proposal.

Summing up, I say that sales effectiveness comes ultimately comes down to a client that is sold on you (reputation, personal chemistry, word of mouth recommendation), has the necessary authority to influence/make a purchase, and most importantly has an urgent need to get started today to put in place something for the not to distant future. Now ask yourself how much of this is under the influence of the sales guy. Or how a sales process, a CRM system, or negotiating skills are going to make much of an impact on these dimensions.

I thank you for your listening. I wish you the very best and look forward to the next conversation.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maz Iqbal
Experienced management consultant and customer strategist who has been grappling with 'customer-centric business' since early 1999.


  1. Maz,

    An interesting story but I believe you left out the most important part of the buyers decision – they believed that the solution you proposed would actually achieve their desired outcomes. That was a prerequisite to anything else. And just because they were sold on you does not mean that you would get a bye if your proposal did not deliver the required value.


  2. A great selling and closing scenario example. Given that, increasingly, sales people become involved with the prospect later and later in the consideration and purchase process, what occurs to me is that your reaction to the client’s “pressing need with a fixed deadline” was a conjoining of neuro-linguistic response and emotional sensitivity.. You were listening for emotional clues around the customer’s need, and converting those clues into language that resonated and led to conversion. As noted in your summation, that blend of abilities translates to sales effectiveness, a good template for closing on a functional and emotional level, while building trust in the relationship.

  3. Hi Maz, your article is timely, as the latest one I posted, Lazy, Un-coachable Sales Rep Produces Record Revenue explores what’s causal in completing a sale. First, I connect sales effectiveness with persuasive success. The two are not the same, and the nuances can be debated from here to Sunday. But to me, a sales effort can be considered successful when persuasion has occurred. Better when it’s not manipulative. Also a debate for another date and time.

    Consistent with the points you’ve raised in this article, it’s easy to look in the rear-view mirror and say “we won this sale because we did X, Y, and Z.” But those conclusions can be misleading. In some cases, a customer might have bought from a vendor for reasons that were fully outside the vendor’s control – though those artifacts are rarely shared when vendors conduct internal “win reviews.”

    Your circumspection about what fostered your prospect’s buying decision is useful and valuable. Many times, the “hard-and-fast reasons” for buying were in fact, non-consequential. I agree that sales effectiveness comes down to a client that is sold on you – and that can result from a number of reasons. The key for salespeople is being able to create the best environment for that outcome – sold – to occur.

  4. Sam, Michael, and Andrew,
    First my thanks for sharing your perspectives. Truly appreciate it when my speaking finds a listening and the listener speaks – it enables a conversation. It occurs to me that with all the communication going on conversation is dying out.

    Sam, you are absolutely correct that one of the challenges was to ensure that the solution and the approach to getting to that solution had to resonate with the client. It took considerably work from me – including challenging folks much more technical than me who had made the solution/approach much more complex than necessary. Going further, I took a risk. It was my decision to propose a much simpler solution/approach. This involved taking a big risk. A risk that I took.

    Having said the above, I do not find myself entirely in agreement with you. It is not unusual to go to great lengths to put together the perfect solution/approach and not get the sale. Why? Because, a great solution/approach only works where the prospective client is already sold on you. If not, I say that in almost all cases, the work goes to the person/vendor upon whom the client (the most influential members) are already sold on. I have helped folks win against vendors with better solutions/approaches by focusing on the relationship/disposition that already exists.

    Michael, it occurs to me that you have got it. I was thrown into the deep end at the last minute. I see myself as an advisor/consultant not unlike a counsellor in many ways. So when the lead sales guy dropped out and I was put into his place at the last moment, I did what I do best when I am working at my best: listen, ask questions, listen, ask questions, listen, ask question, put forward a draft hypothesis/proposal, experiment (as in put it in front of the customer and get feedback), revise, put forward final solution/ proposal – and invite feedback even then. One thing that I learned from counselling and counsellors it is essential that the client feels safe with you – that you show up for the client as a safe base (John Bowlby) both in terms of the task dimension and the human/social dimension.

    Andrew, I find myself to be in agreement with you. It occurs to me that sales folks concoct explanations based on the dominant theory of sales/buying and the need to save face. I came across this recently. There was a sales pitch. I predicted (was certain) that one vendor would lose the pitch. Why? Because the organisation and the sales team simply did not have the requisite experience nor speak in the language of the marketers (client). Another organisation who was pitching did. No surprise – the other vendor did win. Did this result in the losing sales team questioning their competency in that particular domain and taking action to rectify this weakness. No. What did they do? Concoct face saving explanations.

    It is not only salespeople who have their favoured explanation to save face. It occurs to me that that same is the case with many/most sales gurus. What these gurus conveniently forget is the reality. No matter how potent the seed (solution, approach, commercials…) there MUST be a fertile/accomodating/receptive soil for that seed. If not then the seed never gives birth to a plant, an animal life, a human life, or a sale. Accepting this and brining it out would negate that which sales gurus are selling: sure fire guaranteed ways of ensuring that the soil is always fertile and receptive resulting in a sales. Not only is sales a game of chess rather than a recipe for making a meal, it is a game of chess where the other party (most of the time) dictates the rules of the game, can change the rules of the game at will, and is superior in power.

    I wish each of you the very best. Until the next time..



Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here