The New Conceptual Selling (Excerpt)

In this excerpt from chapter one of The New Conceptual Selling, learn why you need to stop selling, at least in the traditional way, and find out why your customers really buy.

This is a book that shows you how to stop selling.

This may not strike you as exactly what you had in mind when you picked up a book with selling in its title. But if you’re a sales professional, it’s almost certainly what you need. Why? Because we are, right now, experiencing a shift in customer consciousness that is dramatically redefining everything we know about selling and fundamentally altering the rules of this ancient profession. To survive in sales today, you’ve got to junk the old rules and take a 180-degree turn on what you do when you “sell.”

For centuries, sales success was an outgrowth of product knowledge. The great salesperson was someone who so thoroughly understood his product (or service) that he could persuade a person who didn’t know anything about it—the ignorant buyer—that it could solve a problem the buyer didn’t even know she had. In traditional selling, product knowledge was a magic elixir. Coupled with glibness—allegedly the sales profession’s unique contribution to human interaction—it could turn the most recalcitrant buyer into a willing victim by enabling the salesperson to “sell” her whether she wanted to buy or not. Hence the ultimate salesman cliche: “He could sell iceboxes to Eskimos.”

When we say this book will show you how to stop selling, this is the kind of selling we have in mind. Call it “the art of persuasion” or “the snake oil method” or “hucksterism” or just plain “traditional selling.” By any name, it’s selling according to old rules—rules that are becoming as obsolete as snake oil itself. That’s why the rules in this book are decidedly nontraditional.

If the old rules said you’ve got to “talk it up” until your prospect “bites,” the new rules say you’ve got to start by listening to the prospect. This doesn’t mean your product or service is unimportant. It means it is secondary to the customer’s perception—not of you, or of your product, but of his own situation. We refer to that perception as the customer’s Concept, and attending to the customer’s Concept is the very foundation of a philosophy that might be referred to as No-Sell Selling.

For a quick fix on No-Sell Selling, consider this story.


A few years ago a major manufacturer was experiencing problems with the food service company that was managing its employee cafeterias and went shopping for a replacement. On orders from senior management, the vice-president for operations invited the incumbent’s four major competitors to the manufacturer’s Chicago headquarters. Each candidate would have ninety minutes to present its case to a selection committee composed of finance, operations, and employee service managers. The presentation date was one month away.

Because this multiple-site food service contract was worth several million dollars a year, all four of the invited companies expressed strong interest. Their sales managers designated top people to handle the new-account presentation and made it clear that their pitches had better be perfect. The four individuals who were chosen—all first-rate, experienced professionals—understood that this would be one of the most important sales calls they would ever make. So they spared no effort in preparing.

But they didn’t all prepare in the same way.

Three of the four went the sales rep’s time-honored route. They crammed their heads full of product and service specs and burned the midnight oil memorizing their companies’ capabilities. They reviewed the presentation techniques that had worked for them over the years and prepared perfectly timed, brilliantly written pitches that made their service packages look like offers no sane person could refuse.

The pitches all had catchy openings (for establishing “rapport”), plenty of arguments and counterarguments (for deflecting the inevitable objections), and a copious supply of trial closes. Not to mention the usual supporting material: Among the three of them, these candidates had put together enough spreadsheets, statistical abstracts, overheads, diagrams, and colored slides to keep a congressional committee in session for a year. For the three of them, it was going to be the battle of the dog-and-pony shows.

The circus metaphor is appropriate because the idea behind such sales pitches is the same one behind big top performances. You are the ringmaster in charge of the show, and your job is to keep the action moving—to fend off boredom by engaging the spectators’ attention at all times. Trot out enough dancing dogs and prancing ponies, and the customer will be so dazzled by your staging that the ink will dry on her check before she knows what hit her.

The rep sent in by the fourth candidate—we’ll call him Gene—didn’t buy this traditional wisdom. A few months before the manufacturer sent out its invitations, Gene had attended one of our two-day programs on Conceptual Selling. In those two days we had taught him a method for managing his face-to-face sales calls that reversed everything he had done in presentations before—and that went to the heart of the issue posed by the title of this chapter: why people really buy. We’ll be talking throughout this book about why people buy and demonstrating how understanding your customers’ decision-making process makes you a much more effective sales professional than even the most dazzling practitioners of the dog-and-pony method.

The first step in understanding that process is to remember a seemingly simple message we gave Gene:

People buy for their own reasons, not for yours.

The message is crucial because until you know your customers’ reasons for wanting—or not wanting—to buy, you’re selling with blinders on. No matter how many reasons you may have for believing your product or service is a great buy, they will mean nothing unless each individual customer has solid reasons of his own for wanting to do business with you.

As difficult as it can be to discover those reasons, sales success depends on doing just that—and on staying in touch with each customer’s reasons when they change (as they often do) from one sales call to another. In this era of accelerated change, when even your longtime customers face new problems every day that can radically alter the way they see your product or service, taking a customer’s views for granted, even for a minute, can spell disaster for even the most “secure” account. That’s just what had happened in the Chicago account: The incumbent was on the way out because he had failed to keep on top of the manufacturer’s changing perception of their service needs.

Solid business begins and ends with the customer: with his or her needs, problems, and range of reasons for buying.

© 1987, 1999 by Miller Heiman, Inc.

Get started image

Ready to get started?

Get the expert support you need

Start Now

Related Articles

Anna-Nadezhda Antonova story – Haze of lace brand

by Team ZenBusiness, on July 11, 2023

Relaunching A Business During Difficult Times

by Team ZenBusiness, on July 11, 2023

Become an Unforgettable Communicator

by Scott Ginsberg, author of The Power of Approachability, on July 11, 2023

Storage Solutions: Best Business Practices

by Team ZenBusiness, on July 11, 2023

5 Free Tools That Make You Look More Professional

by Brad Egeland, on September 22, 2023

Run Your Entire Business with Free Portable Applications

by Brad Egeland, on July 11, 2023

Start Your LLC Today