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Never Be Closing

By Tim Hurson and Tim Dunne

(Portfolio, 246 pages, $32.95)

A few years ago consultants Tim Hurson and Tim Dunne ran a program on problem solving and innovation for the executive team of a large printing firm. The next week in a debriefing with the chief executive officer, he asked them to develop a similar program on selling for his sales force.

At first they were somewhat surprised since sales was not their gig. But as they thought about it, their work on what they call "productive thinking" – digging deep to find the root of problems and solutions – was exactly what salespeople needed to do.

"Fundamentally, the best salespeople help clients solve problems," Mr. Hurson, who lives in Toronto, and his colleague in France, write in their new book Never Be Closing. The title, of course, is provocative, reversing the "Always Be Closing" mantra from the movie and play Glengarry Glen Ross, which has been at the core of much sales advice over the years. Indeed, they suggest this may be the first sales book that can be given to prospects, since there is nothing to hide and much to be gained by working together towards solving a problem.

Their approach, in a nutshell, is spoken by a character in a fable they weave through the book: "Sales is people. Unless you understand people you'll never really understand selling. Second, the only way to really get people to listen is to listen to them. And the best way to do that is to ask questions. The more you learn about their situation, the better you can figure out how to help them. And that's the third thing – and this applies in life, business, everything – it's all about helping people, whether it makes you money or not."

They show how to build short sales scripts – rehearsed speeches – that can be summoned up as needed during sales calls. They are designed to build your credibility in two ways: What you say and how you say it. Together, that content and your credibility built by handling the sales process effectively can open doors. But they stress that each of these scripts must finish with a question relevant to the prospect's situation. "Your goal is to learn by asking questions. Ending with a question allows you to check if you've earned enough credibility for your client to answer," they advise.

The heart of the sales process is the meeting, and they suggest it mimics the three-act structure of movies, plays and novels. The first act is earning the right to ask – establishing credibility. It might take 10 to 15 minutes in an hour long meeting. In drama, each act has a turning point and it's the same in a sales meeting: The turning point in the first act, allowing you to move on, is when you reach the credibility threshold and earn the right to start asking questions.

The second act, which might take half an hour, is the exploration of the prospect's needs, to see if there's a fit. The turning point is when you have gathered enough information to offer one or more analogies or catalytic questions that, like a chemical reaction, open up a new way of thinking for the prospect with respect to a business problem. It's important your thinking be expressed as a question. If you raise it as a statement, the prospect, defensive towards a salesperson with an alternate viewpoint will likely start to defend the status quo. A question can open up joint exploration.

The third act is demonstrating usefulness by delivering value to the prospect. Its key moment comes at the end, when you summarize the various promises you have made. The usefulness you demonstrate, they stress, can come in three ways, summarized by the acronym USE: Understanding, sourcing, and exchanging. You deliver understanding through the questions and analogies you have shared. You can help the prospect connect with – or in their parlance, source – other people or companies in your network that can help with issues that have been raised, showing your commitment to helping. And finally you can exchange your own products, services and ideas through a transaction to alleviate the prospect's problems.

The authors offer a lot of useful tools and techniques. At the end of act two, for example, they recommend an interlude – asking for a plant tour, if there's time, or a washroom break, to allow you time to think through what you have heard and finesse your ideas. Their Q-Note Template is a nifty way to divide a sheet of paper in four to steer through the meeting. One quadrant is for the items on your agenda for the meeting; another to list new ideas that have come out in the session that you want to explore later; a third to note any ideas and suggestions that can help the prospect; and the final one a follow-up checklist to record opportunities for further contact with clients.

With this approach, the authors feel you'll never need any closing techniques because the exchange of value mutually advantageous to you and the prospect will become clear. Certainly their approach is a solid way to achieve that goal, the book clear and thorough, with lots of valuable insights and tempting tools to try.


Innovation books keep pouring out of publishers:

Collective Genius (Harvard Business Review Press, 298 pages, $31.00) by a diverse collective of writers – Linda Hill, Greg Brandeau, Emily Truelove and Kent Lineback – stresses the importance of creating a culture where people can innovate over and over again.

The Innovation Paradox (Berrett-Koehler, 217 pages, $34.95) by academics Tony Davila and Marc Epstein explains how the processes and structures responsible for established success by companies prevent them from developing breakthroughs – and how to break past that paradox.

The First Mile (Harvard Business School Press, 242 pages, $28.00) by Scott D. Anthony, is a launch manual for getting your innovative ideas into the market.

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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