I had a quick trip out to Las Vegas this week for a fun ½ day whiteboard class with a new client, and decided to use the air time to clear out some of my backlog of business books. It was either that or dive into Book 5 of “Game Of Thrones”.
So I picked “The Collaborative Sale” and here is my review and my thoughts – in a longer version than the website or the August newsletter – and written from the Sales Engineering viewpoint.
Classic “Solution Selling” has come under fire and criticism since the publication of The Challenger Sale and the July 2012 Harvard Business Review article titled “The End Of Solution Sales”. The Collaborative Sale by Eades and Sullivan is basically a somewhat artificial and heavy 210 page defense of Solution Selling. Updated and modernized, it pushes the concept of collaborating with your customer to end up with the correct “solution”. You do this, as a seller, by adopting one of three personas – the Micro Marketer, the Visualizer and the Value Driver.
My issues (or pains) with this book is that:
#1 – It is extremely salesrep focused, to the point of placing the rep at the top of the pyramid and everyone else subservient to him/her. I may be biased based upon my target audience of Sales Engineers, but this book seemed worse than most in assuming that no-one else really matters and that the rep solely sets strategy. We all know that doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) happen and that on many occasions the old-hand SE has to introduce the new rep to the politics and history of the account and then continually course correct.
#2 – The basic strategy of artificially adopting and shifting persona seems like you are not being true to yourself or the customer. It’s hard to become the “Trusted Partner” if you aren’t being honest with the customer – they’ll see through it. The personas need to become learned and natural behavior rather than forced tasks and interactions.
#3 It is fixated upon Buyer 2.0 and that’s already last year’s model. Much of the statements about Buyer 1.0 and implicitly Seller 1.0 are straw men designed to make a case, rather than be rooted in reality. The market, the competition and the buyer are constantly adapting, and you need to do that as well.
#4 The coaching strategy is based upon weaknesses and gaps rather than building strengths. Any manager who approaches account reviews with their reps in terms of “what did you do wrong” isn’t going to get too far. Imagine if your manager started with “let me tell you the 10 things you did wrong in that demo”.
#5 I feel (and this is just a feeling and is never explicitly stated) that the importance of Discovery in the Collaborative Sale is diminished on the basis that the customer is already 50-60% of the way through a deal and you are always in catch-up mode. My take is that Discovery is becoming even more important rather than less for the SE community. Sales should take it that way as well.
As an SE I don’t feel there is much to gain from this book versus good old The New Solution Selling (which I do recommend) unless your company is actually adopting this process. There are changes in promoting customer alignment rather than control and the sections on technology you can use to create a self-brand are interesting, but that’s about it.
I do know that SPI (the folks who own Solution Selling) run great classes with role plays and practical examples that have to be far more on target than this book which focuses on the what, but never on the “how do I do that?”.