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Methods Without Principles Are Meaningless

3 min readAugust 13, 2020

What are your sales principles?

I love the following quote from Harrington Emerson, a renowned business theorist.

“As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”

So, let me ask you a question: What are your sales principles?

This question strikes right at the heart of the problems that many sales teams face.

There are no shortages of sales methodologies (or technologies or processes) being put into practice today. And, yet, these methods rarely appear to have been developed on a foundation of unambiguously simple sales principles.

One result of this is that companies spend $20 billion per year on sales training in the US at the same time as annual research on B2B sales performance finds that an ever declining percentage of salespeople (fewer than 50%) are achieving their quotas.

Without a clear understanding of your sales principles, how do you know exactly what you are attempting to accomplish in your sales? It’s like playing darts without a target. Exactly what are you aiming at?

Take Amazon as an example. They are obsessed with serving their customers and have developed their methods and processes to go the extra mile to support their customers.

These are all informed by their primary sales principle, which is “Start with the customer and work backwards from there.”

And, throughout the organization there is no misunderstanding about the principle on which Amazon’s business is built. As a result, everyone is working together to achieve the same outcome for their customers.

If your sales team doesn’t have a similarly unambiguous understanding of your sales principles, you can try any selling methodology you wish, but as Harrington said, you’re “sure to have trouble.”

For instance, take something as basic as how you define the job of a salesperson. In most companies, the job of a seller is defined along the lines of “winning orders for our products.” However, I n other companies, it is defined as “helping your buyer make a purchase decision.”

Which one of those strikes you as a more principled way to sell?
So, if you’re not consistently hitting your goals, the problem may be that you aren’t connecting with your customers at the right level. Because they don’t know what you believe in and stand for.

Are you all about you (“winning order for our products”) or focused on them first (“helping your buyer make a purchase decision.”) Buyers are human. They can tell where your focus is.
This can also apply to the principle you apply to how you enable your sales team. For many companies sales enablement is about providing sellers the right content to provide to their buyer at the right time.

Yet, leading companies define sales enablement as enabling their sellers with the skills, acumen, tools and training to have knowledge-based sales interactions that their buyers find to be valuable.

Which one of those definitions embody principles that put the buyer first?
Before you decide that the solution to your sales problems is to train your sales team in a new sales method, or to implement a new sales process, you must first answer some questions:
What do we stand for?
What do we want the buyer’s experience to be with us?
What value do we put in our customers?

In short, what are our sales principles that guide how we want to buyers to experience us?

Follow Andy on LinkedIn.