Seven Sigma Selling

Neil Mahoney


Here are seven tips based on actual experience that can help salespeople maximize their scarce, but valuable time. They show how to best capitalize on the major wants and needs of top prospects and use selling time most effectively. Share them with your sales team.

1. Prioritize Your Prospects.

Your salespeople should focus their efforts where it really counts. Every market has A, B and C prospects. Avoid the tendency to overestimate their potential. The more of them a salesperson incorrectly prioritizes, the more time and effort they will spend on them.

Here’s a classic example: When I was a magazine publisher, there was an advertiser who spent millions of dollars each year on their consumer business and hundreds of thousands on the B2B side. As one of the poor relations among the many B2B segments they were developing, we eagerly classified them as an A prospect based solely on budget size and spent much time and treasure pursuing them.

There was just one problem: Because the consumer business was so dominant, they had a consumer ad agency that cared very little about the B2B side. To keep things simple for them the ad manager told them to use association magazines whenever possible. Even though we offered more and better prospects than the association magazine – as well as better readership – we didn’t have a chance to get the business. We banged our heads against this wall for several years before we woke up and realized that we were wasting time on a losing proposition.

2. Forget your ego; focus on the heavy-user groups.

A large, well-known precision-tool manufacturer wanted to enter the U.S. hardware market – about 80 million purchasers a year. It was clear that it would take years of effort to establish adequate brand awareness and market coverage. Further study showed that less than 5 percent of that total – the contractor pros – accounted for over 50 percent of the dollar sales. Focusing on them was obviously a sound and smart sales objective.

It was also known that the contractor pros did most of their shopping at contractor supply houses where the manufacturer was already well established and had excellent relationships. Despite all this, most of the salespeople spent most of their time trying to sell to home improvement centers – the big boxes. Why? Making a sale to the big boxes was considered a major sales coup – even though it resulted in fewer commissions in the process.

3. Include all major buying influences – learn their wants and needs.

A leading supplier of scientific instruments sold through two national distributors and targeted three major markets. Sales had stagnated and begun to slump. It was finally recognized that the distributors were just as important to sales as the major end users. Once the distributors began to be treated both as prospects and partners in selling – and programs were put in place to motivate them – sales rose, and continued to rise.

4. Consider related markets where you can compete – and win.

A local magazine targeted commercial building owners and managers to promote rental space to prospective business tenants. It had strong ad support from the building owners but sales had peaked. By also touting the readership of businesspeople who were considering relocation, the magazine was able to appeal to several other types of businesses for their advertising as well – office furniture and equipment, interior decorators, computer networking services, suppliers of paint and carpeting, etc.

5. Sell the big benefit – not your big feature.

An area in which you have a minor advantage over competition, but is very important to your prospects, will most-often create more sales than an area where you have a major competitive advantage, but is of less importance to your prospects.

6. Strong customer relationships often trump strong brands.

A manufacturer of small, relatively inexpensive machine tools had a large and loyal customer and distributor base across the U.S. The company was purchased by an investment banking firm that knew little about the business – and even less about distributors and the important part they played. They wanted to improve the company’s profitability, so they decided that they didn’t need to “give” the distributors the 15 percent discount they had been earning by selling and servicing the company’s equipment. They eliminated the distributors, and in less than a year lost about half the business to competitors they created.

The dumped distributors banded together and bought and branded a close overseas cousin to the once-famous brand. The distributors took the market by storm, using the goodwill they had established with the same customers they had loyally served over the years.

7. Prompt response to needs and requests – second only to low price.

A distributor organization asked a manufacturing-management magazine to conduct a survey among its readers, who were customers and prospects of that organization’s members. The organization’s members wanted to learn what services – aside from product attributes such as accuracy, reliability, etc. – were most valued. Fourteen of these services were listed

To almost everyone’s surprise “prompt response to needs and requests” ranked a very close second to “low price.” What came in third wasn’t even close. Prompt response to needs and requests costs very little to provide, and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to do it. “Just do it.”

Neil Mahoney is the founder of Mahoney/Marketing and has 30 years of experience at all levels of sales and marketing, including stints at General Electric, ITC Inc., Bausch & Lomb, and ABC Broadcasting. Visit for more information.