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Selling can be broken down into its parts, and much can be learned from doing so, but to put those parts together in a convincing sales conversation requires the artful skill of a true sales professional. Without that art, the science of selling is no more than a collection of parts that will fail to engage the prospect and compel them to buy.


Is Selling an Art or a Science?

I was recently asked this question:

Is selling, especially one-call close selling, an art or a science?

The following was my answer, which you may find informative as you seek to find balance in your sales approach between a strict adherence to a selling system and a more fluid interaction with your prospects.

The Engagement

At its core, selling is an engagement between the salesperson and the prospect, much like music is an engagement between musician and audience and a painting is an engagement between artist and viewer. While one can scientifically analyze music or visual art and break it down to its constituent parts; the notes, the rhythm, the contrast, the color, it cannot be recreated from those parts except through the skillful manipulation of the artist.

In very much the same way, selling can be broken down into its parts, and much can be learned from doing so, but to put those parts together in a convincing sales conversation requires the artful skill of a true sales professional. Without that art, the science of selling is no more than a collection of parts that will fail to engage the prospect and compel them to buy.

The Art of Selling

Therefore, sales will always primarily be an art because of the variability of the sales interaction will not allow for a process of rigidly fixed steps that one could classify as a science.  It will, however, allow for the application of appropriate steps to the interaction, as they are needed to move the prospect through the process of buying.  In this is the art; knowing when to apply the science that is the elements of selling- the particular skills, statements, questions, and responses- to the situation, and how exactly to do so.

This artful application of the components, or the lack thereof, is the cause of the vastly different level of engagement created by an artist and a novice both using the same components.  A novice musician playing the same notes on the same instrument as a true artist will create music of vastly lesser quality, just as a novice salesperson will create a vastly less compelling sales interaction than a true sales professional using the same statements, responses, and questions.  The true sales artist will know how to assemble them in the proper order, use them at the right time, convey them with the right emphasis, and deliver them with the proper tone, and in doing so create the level of engagement that motivates people to buy.

The Science of Selling

But while selling is an art, there is much that can be learned from the science of selling- the close examination of the parts that great salespeople assemble to make great sales conversations. Much like a painter studies color and contrast, and a musician the notes and the rhythm of the masters, so too can sales people examine the parts of the profession and learn from them.  This is where the learning must begin, but not where it is finished.  The art will always be in in the way that those parts are put together, and the difference between the master and the novice will be the skill in doing so to the desired effect on the audience.

Sales Development

As a sales trainer, the most significant challenge is not teaching salespeople what to say, but when and how to say it.  I can assume that the same is true for someone teaching painting or music- that it is not hard to teach someone what notes to play or colors to use, but that it is difficult to teach the organization of the components into a engaging work of art.  This is not a process that can be accomplished quickly.  It takes time, repetition, analysis, rehearsal, and a good deal of experience.

As you approach your personal sales development, my advice is that you don’t consider yourself finished when you know what to say, but continue on until you have learned how to create art from the words.

I hope this examination of the question of selling as an art or a science will help you on your journey toward become a true artist in the profession of selling.

About the author

Jon Gilge

Jon Gilge

Jon Gilge is the President of Sales Giant Training, the leading resource that in-home…

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