Modern Sales Wisdom from a Classic Source

Much of what we know today about selling we learned from this man.

It’s amazing how much sales wisdom must be relearned every day.[1]

I’ve just finished reading Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy, which is a delightful book that contains lessons in many areas besides advertising. In this article, I want to focus on just one paragraph which even today constantly bears repeating:

“Dr. Gallup is a fountain of useful information on how people react to different kinds of commercials. He tells us that commercials which start by setting up a problem, then wheel up your product to solve the problem, then prove the solution by demonstration, sell four times as many people as commercials which merely preach about the product.”

Let’s deconstruct that second sentence and apply it to sales calls.

  1. Start by setting up a problem. This is the essence of solution selling, sovaldi which is too often forgotten. Too many people talk about “solutions” without once referring to problems. Beginning with problems shows the customer you care, and that you took the time to research and understand their situation. “Setting up” a problem also includes getting the customer to articulate the problem themselves, and elaborate on your initial understanding. The next step is to make sure you quantify in some way the cost or impact of the problem to the customer. We all have problems but only finite resources and attention to devote to them, so the itch has to be urgent before someone will scratch it. If you omit this step and jump right to the solution, they won’t appreciate the full value.
  2. Wheel up your product to solve the problem. In a sixty second commercial, you have to go right into explanation mode, but this only allows you to explain the one benefit. In a sales call, you have the time to get the customer involved in wheeling up your product by having them articulate the benefits. Also, with more complex solutions, one size does not fit all, so to the extent you can tailor your presentation to their unique needs expressed in the problem phase, the better off you are.
  3. Prove the solution by demonstration. The key mistake often made here is that demonstrations go into too much detail, because the salesperson is in love with everything the product can do. Your job here is only to prove the solution to the customer’s pressing problem. It’s too easy to talk past the close, bore the customer or open up potential objections when you go off into unnecessary tangents.
  4. Sell four times as many people. I love it when sales practices are backed up by research! How rare is that?

[1] In his book, Ogilvy says “Keep your opening paragraph to a maximum of eleven words.”

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