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Can sales opportunities be genuinely created…

May 23, 2020

… or are they just discovered?

Recently I had the privilege to attend a session with the objective of exploring this very question, the conclusion of which I found to be very interesting indeed.

Led by Phill McGowan, a serial entrepreneur now also undertaking a Phd at The University of Portsmouth, the premise was that until now sales and the associated techniques have all been about discovery but in today’s increasingly disruptive environment and the application of ways of working more usually associated with entrepreneurs, opportunities to sell can actually be created.

If we look at ‘Adaptive Selling’ and the techniques that have been developed in this area including consultative sales (SPIN) and the challenger sale, these are fundamentally about ‘need’ and working with a customer to develop a shared understanding and search for mutual benefit in a solution.  As such the opportunity has been discovered. It is rare that a sales person has been able to approach a prospect with a totally new idea that will mean an opportunity to work together, and potentially with others, so generating new business for all parties. Rare, but not impossible.

On the occasions when what is now being called ‘Positive Selling’ has happened the sales person will have taken a different approach. Extensive research and modelling has shown than it is more than likely that the ‘Positive Seller’ will have embraced the disruptive environment rather than try to control or predict circumstances, consciously and deliberately used extended networks and employed an entrepreneur’s mindset.

Let’s consider the entrepreneur and how they work, a way of thinking that has itself been trained since the early 2000’s. Entrepreneurs tend to understand and act on an appreciation of: 

– Means – self, knowledge, contacts

– Affordable loss – as opposed to the more corporate view of ROI or mitigated risk

– Partnerships – the synergies of working together

– Leveraging contingencies – making something good out of something bad

As such ‘Effectuation’ takes place in using the thinking that serves entrepreneurs in processes of opportunity identification and new venture creation.  There are five core principles that define this ‘effectual logic’ used in times of uncertainty (as opposed to the causal reasoning more commonly applied when the future is more predictable):

The Bird in Hand Principle. Entrepreneurs start with what they have. They will look at who they are, what they know and who they know. Their education, tastes and experience are examples of factors which are important in this stage. From this point, they will look at their abilities. An entrepreneur does not start with a given goal, but with the tools he or she has.

The Affordable Loss Principle. An entrepreneur does not focus on possible profits, but on the possible losses and how they can minimize those losses.

The Crazy Quilt Principle. Entrepreneurs cooperate with parties they can trust. These parties can limit the affordable loss by giving pre-commitment.

The Lemonade Principle. Entrepreneurs will look at how to leverage contingencies. Surprises are not necessarily seen as something bad, but as opportunities to find new markets.

The Pilot-in-the-plane. In this stage, all the previous principles are put together. The future cannot be predicted, but entrepreneurs can control some of the factors which determine the future.

So how can a salesperson become a ‘Positive Seller’ and so create sales opportunities for/with customers?

For a salesperson to be successful in adding this incredibly powerful technique to their skillset there are a few prerequisites which include

– Entrepreneurial alertness: a mindset that can work as indicated above and an understanding of different business models

– Prior knowledge: of the customer and their markets

– Social capital: not just a network, but contacts amongst whom they are trusted and respected

– Cognition and personality traits: to be prepared, willing and able to use their network

With these fundamentals in place and a solid basis in more traditional techniques a salesperson can be introduced to the process to apply effectuation in their environment. The steps have been codified and refined to allow them to be used to work through from Idea (= anything + individual) to Opportunity (= idea + actions) to Viable Project (= opportunity + commitment of stakeholders). Having great ideas is one thing, indeed sales people never seem to be short of them. Taking action is harder and the wider process also ensures this occurs.

I am honoured to have been invited and trained by Phill and the University to use this process and would welcome the opportunity to share it with a wider audience.

If you are interested in learning about an exciting addition to the world of sales, regularly talk about ‘pilot projects’ (learning/failing fast) and are open to partnerships then please get in touch… lets generate some sales opportunities!