Selling to the Point by Jeffrey Lipsius
The big question is: why should an organisation specialising in leadership development review a book on sales? Yet, as Dan Pink points out “To Sell is Human”. And every leader needs to develop their influencing skills; selling ideas; untrodden paths; new frontiers for the organisation.
This book introduces a radically new approach to sales – based on the simple premise of focusing on the buyer’s need to buy; not the salesperson’s need to sell.
Jeffrey is a tennis player and so it’s no surprise that he read the ‘Inner Game of Tennis’ and met Timothy Gallwey, author of the Inner Game series. What’s remarkable is that Gallwey collaborated on this book and enabled Lipsius to develop what could be called ‘the Inner Game of Sales’ except that it’s an amazingly practical book with a refreshingly different take on how to get its message across - so more the 'inner AND outer game....'
The book’s subtitle is: 'because the information age demands a new way to sell'. It’s easy to see the logic of this. In the old days, the salesperson had the knowledge; now, the buyer has access to that with a couple of clicks of the mouse – and then they can buy pretty much anything.
However, how do they decide to buy one product, or service, over another? It’s the human touch, that helps them reach the best decisions for themselves or their organisations.
I’m one of those people who really doesn’t enjoy those ‘warm-hearted fables’ about ‘who moved my parachute?’ or how some cute rabbit discovered a new way to manage their people based on a one-minute step. So you can see that I was sceptical when I learned that this is a sales book written as a novella.
Imagine my delight when I realised that Lipsius uses the story-telling form to create a ‘devil’s advocate’ position to his own method. Critically appraising this approach and taking on board professionals’ concerns. And I was also delighted that the book was genuinely an easy read – with the added bonus of all the learning points neatly summarised at the end.
His main argument is that "the goal of teaching is learning, and learning is internal"; that buying is an "internal decision-making process", and that the goal of 'selling' is actually 'buying'.
You can see what I mean about turning traditional notions of 'sales' on their head.
He also makes a key point about building rapport between sales-person and buyer, which is also quite radical: "The Customer's trust of the salesperson doesn't matter: it's about the customer's internal self-trust".
These points are set out in a clear, step by step, exposition of the author’s sales method.
I’ve mentioned the first ‘law’, above: that selling is more about buying and, therefore, less about the sales-person. This is great news for leaders, managers and coaches.
When you realise that you don’t have to ‘sell’ anything to anyone, you just need to support them to make a decision (by giving them the relevant information), and support their inner clarity, choice and internal confidence, life becomes a lot easier.
Not so great, maybe, for the sales-person who likes to be centre of attention. Lipsius doesn’t skate over the necessary preparation every salesperson needs to go through, he simply switches the focus of attention from seller to buyer.
This is where the overlap with ‘Inner Game’ techniques come in. Supporting the buyer, the team or the people you need to influence, is a game of supporting the other to focus on their inner confidence, clarity and choices. Gallwey graciously writes a rather profound foreword to this book, to explain the links between the ideas Lipsius sets out and his own methods. They both share a strong value of 'peace' - rather a zen concept for a sales book - and for Lipsius this means the "internal state of the customer, as they make peace with their decisions".
And the results speak for themselves.
When I interviewed Lipsius last week he told me about another client achieving high increases in sales on what is a big-ticket item for people to buy.
And what I notice in myself is my own attitudinal shift – both as a leader and a member of the ‘sales team’ – towards greater confidence in helping people see what they need and, if appropriate, matching them to what our organisation has to offer.
A shift towards what Lipsius calls a 'decision coach': and he makes the point that, because of their focus on the 'inner game', their sincerity and integrity, coaches make great sales-people; because, instead of 'selling points', he talks about 'buying points' and these are coach-like questions.
The value of 'Selling to the Point' is in re-reading the points and absorbing them through reflection. So my recommendation is to read the book’s story; then to read the 10 laws, point by point; so that you can apply these steps to your context. And make your job of selling feel less like conflict and more like flow.