In this book you will meet six fictional characters who tell the tale of a business-to-business sales process, each from his or her own point of view. But let me begin with a story that is not fictional but real.

On August 1, 2007, the heavily trafficked I-35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed and fell into the Mississippi River. When the initial shock of the tragedy wore off, the Minnesota Department of Transportation hurried to replace the bridge. The contract to construct a new one went out to bid.

The business was won by a Colorado outfit, the only bidder that had never built a bridge in Minnesota. Its proposal carried the highest price tag and one of the slowest delivery times. Its local competitors were so outraged that they filed an unsuccessful lawsuit.

How did the out-of-state firm win the $250 million contract? The committee that made the decision explained that price and speed of delivery were not the only criteria it considered. Eight other factors were on the committee’s wish list. The competitors cried foul. “You never told us that!” they roared.

“You never asked,” the committee replied. “The winning bidder did.”

In other words, the outsiders clinched a huge deal for one simple reason: They asked the best questions. The competition assumed they knew what mattered to the buyers, and pitched products accordingly. The Colorado people assumed nothing—except that their job was to find out what mattered and why. The insiders saw the deal as a straight bidding affair. The outsiders recognized the situation for what it was: a complex selling environment.

I love that story because it demonstrates what I believe is a great truth about selling. Real professionals don’t sell with great pitches. They sell by asking great questions. The more complex the sales environment—with multiple decision makers and multiple buying criteria—the more important this principle becomes.

Here’s another truth. When you ask the best questions and use what you learn to create the best sales strategy, “complex” sales get a lot less complex.

How hard does it have to be?

That is the message I have tried to convey in this book. Complex sales don’t have to be complex at all. No matter how many decision makers are in the picture, no matter how many criteria arise, a sale still boils down to fundamentals. Those who ask the best questions earn the right to ask more questions. They discover more relevant information than anyone else. And they sell themselves in the process.

That is always your first major task as a salesperson: to sell yourself. If you can do that, you will find it much easier to fulfill the primary duty of every salesperson, which is to gain commitment from customers…

Duane Sparks

About Duane Sparks

Duane Sparks is founder and chairman of The Sales Board, the authoritative source of practical and leading-edge information about the art and science of selling. He has created Action Selling sales training products and learning systems that transform sales organizations. Duane is author of these best-selling books: Action Selling, Selling Your Price, Questions (the Answer to Sales), Masters of Loyalty (How to turn your sales force into a loyalty force), and Sales Strategy from the Inside Out (How complex selling really works).

Discover how the best sales training process can make spectacular improvements in sales skills. Action Selling: How to Sell Like a Professional (Even If You Think You are One).