There’s a common belief that it takes a combination of both art and science to be a successful salesperson, that is, a balance of both innate ability and systemic organization. However, there’s a way to bridge the tangible and intangible: management science.

Artistic ability is generally considered to be innate, coming from within an individual. A person is simply born with it, suggesting that if you’ve not been born with it, don’t expect to paint like Picasso. In addition, such talent is difficult to understand and explain. You see the result of talent, but not the talent itself.

Science, on the other hand, is quite different. It seeks to systemically organize knowledge in a very reliable way that can be repeated and predicted. Science seeks to eliminate all unknowns, precisely explaining cause and effect relationships in the natural world. But, the laws of physics do not apply so neatly to people, their abilities and actions. That said, sales is not a pure science. At the same time, if you are able to define the intangibles of selling, the stuff that people generally don’t see, but know exist, perhaps you can move away from the view that selling is totally innate in nature. For example, let’s look at conducting a customer executive meeting.

Consider the customer meeting, which has aspects of both the tangible and intangible. The tangible side includes the process: capturing the customer’s attention, engaging in critical business issues, testing your solution’s value, securing sponsorship and reporting back to the customer.

On the intangible side, successful meetings are as much about managing emotions as they are about implementing good processes and conveying information. Productive conversations are less about what the seller thinks the customer heard, and more about how the executive feels at the end of the meeting.

Sellers can manage emotions via modeling to drive understanding, measurability and directional predictability.

Holden created a Four Stage Model to management science. Those stages:

  • Address product value
  • Connect that value to critical business issues
  • Understand the political considerations behind the business issues, such as aligning with powerful people and advancing what drives these people personally
  • Explore how sellers generate business value in a way that supports the customer’s principles and beliefs – factors that characterize its culture

Consider your competition for the customer. Sellers need to assess the strengths and weaknesses of their competitor’s products. Based on the management science model, sellers can determine how the competition positioned its value in terms of business impact for the customer, political impact and organizational impact on the company. Sellers should consider how the competition may strategize to capitalize on their value.

When customer and competitive environments are balanced, sellers can model their own proficiency in four stages, based on intent and focus.

  • Emerging sellers: In terms of intent, emerging sellers just want to be considered for the sale and focus mostly on the product’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • Solution sellers: Their intent is to make today’s deal without thinking of long-term customer loyalty. They look at the product through their customer’s eyes.
  • Compete sellers: They want to “own” the department where purchases are made, putting an emphasis on repeat sales. They keep the product and customer in mind, and they concentrate on the competition to determine what it will take to win.
  • Customer advisors: They want the lion’s share of the business. They work hard to establish themselves as thought leaders with their customers. Their focus is to go one step further and reconcile how their company will contribute to the customer’s business success over time by providing significant added value.

The Four Stage Model shows the best sellers manage both customer and competitive issues and how well sellers manage this balancing act is described in terms of four stages of sales proficiency.