Jerry McLaughlin is a very good friend of mine, and a person who’s thinking I respect greatly. He is also the CEO of, and the author of the forward of my first book, Mastering Your Sales Process.

In spite of all of that, Jerry and I do have a fundamental disagreement about sales.

Jerry believes that selling is more art than science. I agree with him that selling is both art and science, but we disagree about the “more” part. Since I am the “sales process” guy, I am sure that you would have guessed that I fall on the side of more science than art. I read a quote recently that reminded me of our discussions about this difference in perceptions, and wanted to share it here:

Plans are worthless. Planning is essential.
-General Dwight D. Eisenhower

Sports and war are often used as metaphors for selling and for business in general, and for good reason. When in the heat of battle, the middle of a play in sports or in a conversation with a prospective sales client, the specific sequence of events is not predictable.

One could address this uncertain situation by trying to prepare for every imaginable outcome and trying to prepare the perfect reaction in advance. In each of these endeavors, I am sure that this has been tried. But in spite of the logic of this approach, reality just doesn’t play out the way we planned, and if – in the heat of the moment – our heads are stuck in our plans rather than in the moment, we are almost surely doomed.

So does this mean that there is no need to plan? Should we just grab our gun, our ball or our briefcase and show up and see what happens as it happens?

Sometimes, when you ask a question in a certain way, it answers itself. In this case, you can see how the all-art approach is not right.

Now to be fair, nobody is advocating that. Not Jerry, not General Eisenhower, and not me either.

So the question is, what to plan?

To answer that, let’s use a long car trip as a metaphor.

If we used the “all art” approach, then perhaps we would jump into the car and simply start driving, turning down whatever street looked best at each junction, and declaring the trip over when we either got tired of driving or came to a place that seemed pleasant enough. Translating this into sales, it seems rather random, inefficient, and at best only marginally effective.

The “plan everything” extreme is also suspect. To plan down to each look in the mirror, turn signal, the synchronization of songs to streets, etc. is as unnecessary as it is unrealistic. For anyone who has tried this approach in sales, you realize that after painstaking preparations and detailed plans, reality tends to depart from the plan so fast, there is no time or possibility to reel it back in.

However, in planning the long driving trip, it does make a lot of sense to select your destination before you leave, and to make note of the junctions you will need to take in order to get there.

  • West on highway 9 for 16 kilometers,
  • Then north on motorway 65 until Exit 54,
  • Take Exit 54 and turn right at the stop sign at the end of the exit ramp…..
  • Etc.

In the sales analogy, we can – and should – use our sales process as our road map.

  • Get leads from the trade show (leads – step 1 in the Mastering Your Sales Process sales process)
  • Call them within a week of the show (prospecting – step 2 in the sales process)
  • The “reason for the call” should be noted on the trade show lead form
  • Remind the prospect of the need that was discussed at the show
  • Book a meeting or continue by phone as appropriate
  • Ask them about need and how important it is to solve it and why (qualification – Step 3 of the sales process)
  • Finish qualifying by asking about the estimated budget and the decision making process before moving into a detailed needs analysis (needs analysis is step 4 of the sales process)
  • Etc.

There will certainly be elements of art in the execution of these steps, and the way these steps are executed will certainly have a huge impact on the likelihood that they will be successful. Back to our road trip analogy, the manner in which someone drives will certainly have a major impact on the character of the trip, but without a road map, it is hard to know when you are done with one junction of the trip, when to move on to the next, and when you are ready to agree with the other passengers that the trip is done.

There is an old joke – a couple is making a long trip, and the navigator says to the driver:

I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that we are lost, but the good news is that we are making good time.

To know where you are going, you need a map. In sales, this is the sales process.  Knowing what needs to be completed in each stage before you move on to the next actually facilitates the ability to express sales as an art form. If you spend each sales call wondering which exit to take and when it will come, you leave yourself no room to do the things you need to do to get to that next exit, and you just wind up lost.


Authors note (AKA shameless plugs)

So, this 7-step sales process and associated topics…. Yup, I write about that a lot. I’ve been working with it since I developed it about 25 years ago – in my own diverse work experiences, with my teams when I had them, and with clients ever since.

If you would like to develop you own personalized and customized, highly effective and efficient B2B selling system, here are some further steps you can take:

The Salesman’s Guide to Dating is a free or very cheap (depending on Amazon) Kindle book that walks you through the sales process using the familiar analogy of dating. It’s a good, fun and quick way to get your mind around the whole process and how the pieces fit together.

Building Your Sales Process (BYSP) is a free and very thorough exploration of the same 7-step process that will walk you through the development of your own customized, personal B2B selling system. When you are done, you will know exactly what to do to get new business.

The Momentum Selling System® is an inexpensive but very robust online sales training course that is similar to BYSP, but goes deeper into the concepts behind each of the steps, and also helps you develop a plan not only for the 7-step process but also addresses mindset, repeat business and client base management.

If none of that sounds right, I do personal coaching and offer a free 30-minute intake session so that we can both learn if it makes sense to work together 1-on-1. If this sounds interesting, click over to the coaching page on this site and sign up for the free session.

Here’s to your success!