Is Your Sales Approach Built on Principles or Techniques?

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It is principles, and everlastingly principles, not data, not facts, not helpful hints, but principles which the rising generation requires if it is to find its way through the mazes of tomorrow.”  – Robert Hutchins, President of Yale University

Great thinkers have staying power. Their ideas endure. Two great management thinkers from the twentieth century, W. Edwards Deming and Peter Drucker, worked into their 80s and 90s. Their ideas are still relevant today. This is the test for ideas. They stick. Deming’s and Drucker’s ideas persist because they are truths, not merely techniques. Techniques change with technology, but truths remain constant.

Salespeople often ask us how sales have changed over the years. Change is inevitable. Although technological differences have changed the way we tactically compete, the underlying principles of value-added selling remain the same.

Value-added selling is built on principles – the kind of which Hutchins spoke. Value-added selling is rich in techniques. Yet, techniques yield to the underlying truths of value-added selling. Underlying truths become principles. These six principles are foundational to value-added selling.

1. Salespeople must focus on making a difference, not just a deal. It’s not just about making sales. It’s about solving problems and serving people. Value-added salespeople help customers make better decisions. Value-added salespeople are not measured just by their ability to hit a sales quota; they are measured by the difference they make.

2. Buyers, not sellers, define value. For buyers, it’s value received, not value added. The customer’s definition of value is the only one that matters. It’s not value until the customer says that it is value. Each customer defines value in a unique way. For some customers, it’s quality. For other customers, it’s peace-of-mind or performance. And some customers define value through cheap prices.

3. Customers prefer to buy what they need from salespeople who know what they want. Salespeople must be sensitive to the rational needs and personal wants. Rational needs are those things that buyers need in a solution. Rational needs include quality products and service, performance, on-time delivery, durability. These are the things buyers have to have in your solution. Personal wants are the things buyers would like to have in your solution. Personal wants include peace-of-mind, recognition, power, image, security. Buyers might need a durable, quality floor, but they want their friends and family to be impressed. People are more price-sensitive about the things they need versus the things they want.

4. Perceived value raises expectations. Performance value affects satisfaction. Perceived value is sensory. It’s the look and feel of things. It’s your company’s reputation. Perceived value is the promise you make to the buyer. Performance value is delivering on that promise. Performance value is more quantitative and concrete. Some salespeople believe you should “under-promise and over-deliver.” Buyers don’t get excited about under-promising. Imagine trying to sell a buyer by saying, “When you compare our solution to all the other alternatives, we are by far the most mediocre of them all.” Average is not exciting. Make big promises and then deliver.

5. There’s no commodity in creativity. There’s no traffic jam on the extra mile. Your worth as a salesperson is measured by the value you create. Every salesperson has the unique opportunity to create value. Customers tell us that the salesperson brings 25 percent of the total value in a solution. Products can be similar. Companies can look and feel the same, but the salesperson is the unique dimension of value that differentiates the total solution.

6. Trust is the currency of great relationships. Buyers want to buy from those whom they trust. If two people like and trust each other, they will work out the details. Price is a detail. Every great relationship is built upon a foundation of trust. Value-added salespeople deliver the good news along with the bad news. Customers value trust. When a customer trusts you, price becomes less of an issue.

So back to the question, “How has sales changed over the years?” Not much. These principles will help guide you through the mazes of tomorrow. Regardless of technological change, these principles still apply.

Ask yourself this question: is your sales approach built on principles or techniques? If it’s built on techniques, you’re limited by the techniques you know. If your sales approach is built on principles, you’re limited only by the edges of your imagination and the extent of your initiative.

Paul Reilly is President of Reilly Sales Training, a St. Louis-based, privately owned company that specializes in training sales professionals, sales managers, and service professionals. Reilly Sales Training offers public seminars, in-house sales training programs, and hiring and training assessments. For additional information on training programs, call or email Paul at 636.778.0175 or You can also visit and sign up for his free newsletter.

One thought

  1. I couldn’t agree more with all said here. Great article! The only thing missing is how many owners and managers of companies refuse to allow their great salespeople to be the difference maker this article details. They instead have systems, procedures and “rules” that interfere. They tend to micromanage and often distrust their salesperson’s abilities. The best salespeople know what to do and want to do it but have not been empowered by their company to make these decisions on there own. I hope that your company is trusting and empowering your salespeople so they can be the person this article suggests they should be.

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