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Strategic Selling v. Reactive Selling

I have been reviewing pipeline activities for my sales team since the day I became a sales manager (1984). Now, I also support many of my clients with their pipeline reviews and “deal” reviews. I am truly amazed at how many salespeople in 2022 embrace reactive selling v. proactive or strategic selling.

By reactive selling, I am referring to a sales approach that waits and is at the mercy of the prospect. They respond to the prospects' questions, problems, needs, and wants. They tend to “quote and hope” with their proposals and respond to cold RFPs to which they have virtually no chance of winning.

Unfortunately, for the sales profession, a vast majority sell this way.


There are several reasons, but I will distill them down to the main four:

  1. They mistake sales activity (providing quotes and responding to RFPs) for consultative/proactive selling.

  2. Because it is harder to sell strategically. You must put the time in, know your stuff, learn your customer’s business and find the area of opportunity (pain).

  3. Because they are more comfortable reacting to the needs of HR and Procurement rather than revenue-generating departments such as sales, marketing, operations manufacturing, etc.

  4. Because their sales management allows them to sell reactively and has never taught them nor demanded they learn how to sell both proactively and strategically (leadership problem).

What Does It Mean to Sell Strategically?

First, it means not starting with HR or Procurement when you are trying to present a solution that will improve your client’s business. HR and Procurement are supporting departments (think Shared Services)—not revenue-generating departments. They react to the needs of the business. And they often act like a “middleman.” Now, I understand companies have a process that may require you to work with these two departments. I am saying do not start there! The goal is to move up the value chain to the Sales, Marketing, Manufacturing, and Operations side of the business. They affect your customer’s customers and therefore affect a company’s revenue. Revenue generation/growth is king!

Strategic selling is a structured, repeatable methodology that:

  1. Leverages a “seek to understand” diagnostically oriented approach designed to uncover unmet needs (pain)

  2. Enables you to build trust through effective questions and subject matter expertise allowing you to gain insight and advance relationships

  3. Effectively identifies key decision makers (KDM) and key decision influencers while uncovering their critical concerns and objectives

  4. Provides a clear roadmap on what you don’t know about a particular opportunity

  5. Enables you to assess the opportunity, define the strategy and work the plan

  6. Ties directly into a formal pipeline process to improve pipeline velocity and win ratios

Remember the movie/book Moneyball? They changed the game of baseball forever by leveraging data, structure, and process. Here is a quote from Jonah Hill’s character:

People who run sales organizations often think in terms of activity—they measure activity relentlessly. Perhaps that is a key driver of why the vast majority of salespeople are reactive and transactional in their approach. As a sales leader, your goal should be a higher win ratio. Less, more strategically qualified leads.

To accomplish the transformation to strategic selling you need:

  1. A strong segmentation and targeting strategy where you can create value for your customers

  2. A structured, repeatable methodology for assessing opportunities and selling strategically

  3. A pipeline process that focuses on uncovering what you don’t know about an opportunity and is designed to measure and improve win ratios

At Butler Street, we have over thirty years of strategic selling experience enabling our customers to adopt a best-in-class strategic selling methodology and dramatically improve win ratios. We can help you build a program to scale. Contact us and start moving your sales team from reactive to strategic selling.


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