If you want to learn to sell, go to Asia.

Any sales team worth its weight in spice, has a clearly defined, well documented process they follow for selling their product. You and your team have built the process deliberately to help guide decision-making and action-taking through the sales cycle. Everyone on the team knows the process cold. It works because it’s been custom built to work within the context in which you sell. Within that context, there are right or wrong moves which you’ve learned, probably by trial and error. There are some things you do every time you meet a client prospect. (Hopefully, these are in your sales process.) There are other things you do based on the circumstance. (Maybe you have built some sensitivity into your process.) There are certain things you watch out for, cues and data that shape how you say things and what you present to your client. You’ve learned what works and what doesn’t work within the context in which you sell, and your sales process embodies that knowledge.


Most of us who have sales as part of our job description sell similar product(s) to people who have a similar level of education and sophistication. The pricing model is similar for all clients. We work in a country or a region that shares a language and a culture, so subtle things, like the expectation for a quantity discount, are consistent across clients.

All of these variables, pricing scheme, language, client sophistication, industry culture, infrastructure – something Americans and western Europeans usually take for granted, add up to the context in which you sell. If you sell a related suite of products, and operate within a region or country, your context likely has narrower parameters. When your sales context is narrow there are fewer contextual cues you need to watch for, and they may be more sales cycle or client personality related. For example, part of your sales process is engaging in small talk at the start of the meeting to find people you know in common, but if your client exhibits a no-nonsense, I-have-a-lot-to-do-today energy, you might engage in less. The fewer variables in your context the less you need to deviate from your process. There are exceptions to the process in every transaction. But in the grand scheme, the more consistent the context, the less you have to improvise, and the more likely it is that transaction will follow the blueprint of your sales process. Following your sales process will uncover what your clients need, and demonstrate the usefulness and value of your product. When clients see the value, they’ll decide to buy. And, if your process is solid, and your context is consistent, it’s also easier to train your sales team.


Welcome to Asia! (or Africa)

In December, I traveled to Manila to work with the Oradian customer acquisition team. It was my eighth trip to Asia, my fourth to southeast Asia, and my first time in the Philippines. I had been coaching four of the team members of this software as a service company for about six months, giving me some understanding of their context. Their core product is Instafin, a cloud based core banking system tailored for microfinance institutions. Oradian entered the Philippines market eighteen months ago. The local team built a sales process for the market from scratch, mostly through trial and error. Now they have something robust, and 30% of the Philippines micro-finance market as their client-partners.

Anyone who crosses a border as part of their work knows how much context can change. Both Africa and Asia are places where cultures are all mashed together within a region, even within a country. There are a plethora of languages and identities: religious, ethnic, regional or tribal affiliations can be stronger than any national identity. Regulations vary widely (as does enforcement). Infrastructure- transportation, electricity, and safety, is often unreliable.

This broad expanse of cultural variables is what the sales and marketing team at Oradian faces every day. The team work across a language gap and a culture gap. Infrastructure is a huge issue. Power, connectivity, traffic and travel are all often spotty or unwieldy. Now imagine a sophisticated product which can be disruptive to business processes and even business models. It brings huge value to some clients and less value to others, resulting in a nuanced pricing structure. Some of their potential clients are very sophisticated business people; they have MBA’s from top European and American business schools and a global view of finance and technology. Other lending cooperative board members making the decision to change their software system to the cloud are serving a rotating year on their employee lending co-op. They are assembly line workers or primary school teachers. No matter what your product is, this is a broad range of customer audience.

How many closed transactions in this widely varied context will follow any sales process step by step?

So few that you might ask — Is it even worth having a process at all?

This is what a wild and varied context does to assumptions. It breaks them. It seems obvious that it’s important to have a sales process that the team follow. But if no transaction actually follows the process, should you even have one?

For the next series of posts, we’ll look at some of the paradoxes this team has uncovered through trying to build a process to offer Instafin in the Philippines. These are things we knew were true about good salesmanship until we tried it in the Philippines, and now we aren’t so sure. The first one is…

Always have a sales process.


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