Sales is not an art – but then what is it?

No matter what they say, sales or the act of selling is not an art. (for the record: neither is marketing). Succesfully selling a product, service or solution is either luck (you’d be amazed how often people get lucky) or a combination of the below: Skills, Process, Discipline and Motivation.

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash


Good salesmanship comes with certain strategies, tactics and behaviours that are not natural for everyone. But, these are skills that can be obtained and taught. We should stay away from ‘tricks’ but a good part of the job is about learnable behaviours on how to deal with people, be culturally sensitive, value sell rather than price sell etc.

Skill are the basics, when you’re looking for good sales people, check for skills, but know that skills can be obtained later. Make sure to look for these other things as well.

Process (supported by tools)

The nightmare of most traditional sales people. Friday afternoon 2PM, you check in with the Sales Manager by phone about that great deal you’re going to close and all they can say is “I don’t see it in CRM” or even:

If it’s not in CRM it doesn’t exist

Every sales manager

While I agree with these statements, one has to be careful throwing this around. A good Sales Process is key, whether it’s Funnel Management, Distribution Management or strategic pricing, good processes drive good outcomes. The lack of processes lead to time wasted, opportunities missed and margin lost. Administering your process according to standard work is part of a solid process.

But the task for sales leaders is to 1) make sure there are solid processes, well documented and including visual controls and cascading daily management 2) make sure teams are properly trained on the process and standard work and 3) teams truly understand why the processes are in place and are supportive. Otherwise you’ll have issues with the next topic.

And 4) have the right tools in place, but never make the tool bigger that it should be. Yes CRM is important, but a flawed sales process will become visible in CRM. Don’t blame the sales people when that happens, look at yourself.

Discipline to use the process

As in any Lean Business, everyone, all staff including the sales teams, should regularly reflect on their ‘say-do ratio’. How often did you do what you said they were going to? What are your promises worth to you colleagues and customers and do you actually do what needs to be done? As Ryan Holiday writes, discipline is destiny. Showing up, doing the work, following the process and focusing on the journey is key. Consistency is king.

When dealing with customers, people, when being flashed with success and great deals, it takes discipline to follow the process and use the standard work. No deal is important enough to not follow the process. It takes discipline to stick to that. Want to challenge the process? Wonderful, let’s schedule a kaizen, but don’t do it on the back of a customer.

Motivation (≠ Compensation)

The order is discipline before motivation. James Clear says in Atomic Habits something like “motivation gets you started, habits (discipline) keeps you going.” The thing with commercial people is that in many cases their bosses but also regularly sales people themselves see motivation as compensation. For some sales people motivation is an external thing, they want to be motivated… and what’s easier than variable pay and bonuses? But one should wonder if this is truly the motivation you should look for in your team. Can you find people with more intrinsic motivations?

In the gym where I workout (every now and then) there are LCD-screens with random quotes. One of them says: motivation comes from doing the work, not before. You’ll need both. Make sure you find sales people that show they get stuff done because of intrinsic motivation and that have the discipline to do what’s needed.

Success isn’t about Luck or about Art

It’s about carefully planning