The Science of Selling & the Art of Relationships

Without mastering the science of selling, a salesperson can never hope to progress to the art of relationships


Let me be clear. As disingenuous as the science of selling may sound, it is absolutely foundational to the next and higher level of selling as well as leadership, a level I call “the art.” Without mastering the science, a salesperson can never hope to progress to the art. And without progressing to the art, a salesperson and a leader will go the way of Willy Loman (Death of a Salesman). 

So what does the art of selling look like in comparison with the science? Let’s use demos to take an early look.

The science of demos is about showing off the features and benefits (FABs) of your product or service, but the art of demos is much more. The art of demos is about listening and communication—not one-way communication but two-way dialogue. During a demo the salesperson has the opportunity to recap what they have learned about the prospect’s case, playing back what they understand to be the internal and external pressures and drivers impacting the potential client. A demo doesn’t necessarily have to pinpoint all the right information and decisions at the moment, in fact some of the most successful demos are ones in which the client offers up more clarifying information to help fine tune the solution. Where the science prescribes techniques and tools to walk through this information to best keep the prospect’s attention, the art allows for agreement on what problems need to be and provides adequate “check in” time to ensure the client’s particular situation is captured correctly and that there is concurrence. If there is concurrence, then the customer may be compelled to purchase not only in the short-term but they are likely to make repeat orders as long as a customer focused relationship is maintained.

The ultimate goal of a science-based demo is to demonstrate FABs in such a compelling way that an order is secured. The ultimate goal of an art-based demo is to demonstrate deep understanding of the customer’s business objectives, express genuine desire to help meet those objectives and instill conviction that you can provide the solution needed. The end result may be repeated orders, or it may be a concession that you cannot provide the necessary solution based on the customer’s real needs. Either way, as you begin to build a relationship with the customer through active listening and earnestly trying to meet their needs, you gain the customer’s respect. The differentiator, then, between the science and the art is relationships.

If we consider the equation which articulates the science of selling as: 

Calls + Demos = Orders

If we were to similarly script an equation for the art of selling based on our limited discussion, we come up with the following:

(Calls + Demos) / Relationships = Repeated Orders

The nuance of relationship is the distinguishing factor that lifts a call and a demo from the science to the art. For example, it is not presentation of material that differentiates a demo, but the ability of the salesperson to listen to the customer, reach concurrence through a common understanding and develop trust. In the needs analysis aspect of a sales call it is the deep understanding of the customer’s world that distinguishes it from the science. In all cases, the art is founded in relationships. If we build out a corollary equation for the science and art of leadership as we understand them at the moment, we have:

  • Science of leadership: Planning + Communication = Management
  • Art of leadership: Strategy + Communication / Relationships = Leadership

Just as with the science and art of sales, in the science and art of leadership one’s ability to build a relationship is the differentiating denominator. Our equations, of course, are crude representations and fail to capture the richness of either management or leadership. I would also say that as we compare relationships to planning and communication, those features change dramatically. For instance, when planning is vetted through relationships—e.g. when we integrate relationships with planning and communication—the situation changes dramatically. For instance, when a plan is validated through a relationship you get back far more than a simplistic check of steps and sequence. You also learn what is strategically important to the various stakeholders involved.

We have all heard of or, if we are lucky, worked for leaders who we would follow into hell and back. We don’t follow a leader into hell and back because they transmit good information, we do it because we have a connection to them founded on trust— in other words, a relationship.

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