Strengths Based Selling: Based on Decades of Gallup's Research into High-Performing Salespeople
by Tony Rutigliano and Brian Brim
“The book includes action items and real-life examples that illustrate how using strengths produces high-impact sales results.” “Top salespeople from Microsoft, Pfizer, and U.S. Bank, among others, also share their insights in this book. STRENGTHS BASED SELLING is full of success stories, making this the essential handbook for every kind of salesperson in every industry.”
This was part of the pre-release announcement for the book; with a description like this, I welcomed their offer of an advance copy for review. Sounded a bit like “In Search of Excellence” from the 1980s, except it would be fully-dedicated to sales. Well, not exactly. What I discovered was a very quick read of sales tips and ideas, sprinkled with a story or two of someone from a larger company, all the while promoting the Clifton StrengthsFinder (Dr. Donald O. Clifton).
I had to think about this for a moment; why did this idea of putting salespeople into profile categories gnaw at me so much? Bing! The book “Now, Discover Your Strengths (2001)” – same concept, and interestingly enough the co-author was Donald O. Clifton, along with Marcus Buckingham.
Whereas Buckingham may refer to them as 34 distinct worker profiles or personality themes, Strengths Based Selling calls them “Talent Themes” They also share the same titles of "Achiever", “Arranger", “Includer”, "Learner", etc. And, each book provisioned a means to go to a website and do a “brief assessment” (profile) of your own to see where you fit - the purchase of the Strengths Based Selling book and code will offer you the “top five talent themes” in return.
On a positive note, I liked the book, Now, Discover Your Strengths. It brought forth the idea that instead of working on weaknesses, capitalize on your strengths. I have recommended it to a number of people. But, in the case of Strengths Based Selling, the talent themes got old fast. In fairness to the authors, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I am a proponent of the H R Chally Group’s predictive assessments for job roles and responsibilities. I find myself judging most any other system of personnel assessment against Chally’s work.
With highlighter and pencil in hand, I was ready to dig deeper looking for some valuable nuggets of sales wisdom and time-tested techniques; the book opens with “…we will give you strategies and tips to help use your strengths to increase your sales performance and to achieve success.” I found my initial excitement of reading first-hand accounts of top salespeople’s experiences - from major, well-known companies - was soon forgotten.
Laboring through the chapters, each with its introductory “This Chapter’s Key Points”, I found myself longing for the hands-on examples of putting someone’s strengths to work in selling. Also, for some reason the chapters didn’t seem to build on each other; it felt more like a compilation of notes than a guided trip of “Decades of Gallup's Research into High-Performing Salespeople”.
In the first chapter, talking about Gallup’s research studying “performance in many professions”, the authors talk about, “We examined the data in every possible way to try to find an explanation for the startling variance in these sales results.” Immediately upon reading this, I reflected on my own career of over 30 years in sales – the research concluded “The difference was talent” (italics was in the book – do you see “talent theme” coming through?). What about territory assignments, team selling, poor product performance, etc.
I don’t recall anything being said about the trials and tribulations of territory assignments. I am confident there are a number of people who would be willing to talk about the quality of a sales territory, or product line (specialty), as performance criteria. It wasn’t until Chapter 9 that I saw something – actually quite little, as the chapter is only 7 pages long – about Team Sales. I am also an advocate of team selling and am often known to say, Selling is a Team Sport.
I think there is a defined sales cycle for both the customer and the vendor. Putting it into a disciplined process within your CRM (forecast sales tracking) can prove to be a very useful tool for the salesperson and the manager. Although the book seems to speak against a defined process within a (vendor) company, I think it’s essential to overall success. It’s one of those, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” arguments (which is actually quoted in the book). Interesting to me, there was only one reference table in the whole book and that was a “Sample Tracking Sheet”, which appeared after a couple of paragraphs titled “Measure, Measure, Measure”. As an aside, I don’t’ recall much in the book about tracking sales performance using software and technology, nor about sales forecasts as part of a sales funnel.
In Chapter 3, there was one part that got to me. It was under the topic of “Setting prices.” It was something the authors referred to as “anchoring” and described as “…humans tend to look for and subconsciously accept a set price – an anchor – which is usually the first price named.” The authors go on to promote the technique, “So always name the highest price you reasonably can when price discussions begin, because that price becomes an anchor. Then you come down on the price, if necessary, when negotiating.” Sorry, I can’t buy that one (pardon the pun). It’s counter to what I believe in the way of value-based selling; the simple explanation goes something like this, “You can have two out of three: Price, Quality, or Service.”
Where Chapter 4 talks about “Understand soft closes.”, seasoned sales professionals will recognize this as a more familiar term of, trial close. This chapter also talks about the “customer’s decision-making process” and to “Recognize that decisions are rarely made by an individual.” For me, it’s how you bring those multiple decision-makers together that is equally important. This chapter also talks about knowing “When to Walk Away” from a sales opportunity or customer.
There’s an interesting concept in Chapter 6. The book suggests the salesperson “create a social map” to understand who the customer advocates may be in the selling situation. This reminded me of the early days of Miller-Heiman “Strategic Selling” and mapping out “Buying Influences” on your M-H colored sheet with their Red Flag and Strength Barbells. It’s my most recommended sales training program, partly for that reason, alone. Also, what Strengths Based Selling calls “Full Court Press”, I have referred to it for years as Peer-to-Peer Selling; it’s like the old United Airlines commercial of sending your boss out to call on the customer (with you).
By Chapter 11 (the last one), I felt the whole book began to fall apart when it comes to selling, or sales as a profession. Titled “Engaging Yourself”, it’s followed by a non-numbered chapter called, “The Myth of Work/Life Balance”. I feel too strongly about the importance of Work/Life Balance to try and describe my disagreement with this subchapter of the book. It’s no “myth” in my mind; it’s something you need to achieve by separating the two.
If you have never taken a skill, talent, strength, or personal attributes assessment, especially if you consider sales as a career, then by all means, buy the book – the access code and top five talent themes are worth the price. With a list price of $24.95, I am happy to see it discounted on Amazon.com, too. But, if it’s a more tactical sales approach you seek, I think you may be better served by “The New Strategic Selling: The Unique Sales System Proven Successful by the World's Best Companies” from Miller-Heiman.