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The Importance Of Push And Pull In Sales

by David Brock on January 9th, 2012

There is an interesting discussion on Focus on transforming sales organizations from Push to Pull.  I can see the reason for the discussion, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a comment about “pushy sales people,” I’d have a huge pile of nickels.  It’s also both fashionable and realistic to talk about the customer’s buying process.  Customers are in the driver seat, social business can provide customers a lot of information that sales people previously provided.  Marketing is developing rich content strategies to nurture and develop relationships with customers–theoretically enabling them to “pull” when they have a need.

There are a lot of important changes that enable us to engage customers in different and more impactful ways.  However, with all that said, I remain an unabashed proponent of the sales person’s obligation to Push!  I don’t believe sales can afford to be Pulled–in fact it’s irresponsible to be Pull only.

The problem is sales people (and businesses) have always gotten the notion of Pushing wrong.  It’s always been focused on the wrong thing:  What’s our elevator pitch?  Let’s go pitch our product!  I need to get this order now!  It’s been almost exclusively focused on the sales person, the sales person’s goals and the sales person’s company.  It should be clear why customers react so poorly to this, it’s not about them.

Push is important, it’s the obligation of sales people–but it must be correctly focused.  It has to be about the customer.  It has to be focused on them and what they can achieve.  It’s the obligation of the sales person to help their customers think differently about their businesses, to discover new opportunities, to discover opportunities to improve–operations, customer satisfaction, quality. profitability, reduce risk, or whatever.  Customers are sometimes buried in the day to day, losing perspective about opportunities to grow their businesses.  Often, as prisoners of their own experiences, they don’t realize that they might try something new, there might be a different or better way that improves their results.

Whether it’s called “Challenging,” “Provocative,” “Solutions Oriented,” or “Customer Focused,”  top sales people bring new ideas and opportunities to their customer.  They create a vision and engage their customers in owning the vision.

Push doesn’t stop there, it continues through the buying process, helping the customer engage the right people, structure their process, and make a decision.  Great sales people help the customer keep focused on the goals they are trying to achieve.  As the buying decision stretches out–as it often does, the great sales person pushes the customer–helping them realize the lost opportunities and opportunity costs of delaying the decision and implementation.  The objective is not the order, but helping the customer achieve their goals on as aggressive a schedule as possible.

Push is critical, push is important–but only if it is focused on the customer and pushing them to achieve their goals.

But Pull plays an important role in supporting Push.  Pull is a measure of customer ownership  and engagement in the opportunity, and the business result.  If the sales person has done the right job in Pushing, all of a sudden the customer starts to Pull.  They embrace the initiative, they get actively engaged in the opportunity and in owning the results.

Great sales people look for their customer to Pull as a result of their appropriate Pushing.  By itself, Pushing can be slow, but if the sales person can get the customer engaged in Pulling as well, the entire process gets accelerated.

A Pull only strategy is the kiss of death for sales people.  However powerful our customer nurturing and development programs, if we wait for the customer to Pull, we are in a seriously disadvantaged position.  The customer has already done their research and arrived at some decisions.  They have evaluated alternatives (correctly or incorrectly) and narrowed alternatives to a short list.  At this point the value the sales person can create is seriously constrained–primarily to responding to the customer need.  At this point, too often, the difference between alternatives is very small–often leaving the key differentiator to be price.

Pull is bad for the customer, as well.  It puts too much responsibility on them.  They probably can never be a knowledgeable in solutions as the people who build those solutions.  While there is a wealth of information in the web, the customer in their research may emerge informed, but not well informed.  They may emerge mis-informed.  Pull is even worse from another perpective–it puts the onus of recognizing opportunities on them–they may miss opportunities, or be late in recognizing them.  Customers get great value from others making them aware, challenging them, Pushing them.

Push and Pull, artfully combined is the winning formula for the customer and for sales.  They work well with each other, but to my mind, it all starts with a little Push.

What do you think?

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5 Comments
  1. That is true, David. As an author and business man, I can relate to how you said, “There are a lot of important changes that enable us to engage customers in different and more impactful ways”. I hope more people discover your blog because you really know what you’re talking about. Can’t wait to read more from you!

  2. I totally agree, David. I’m practicing a bit more “push” these days and this triggers some positive outcomes from the customers. I’m happy to see that they start engaging the conversations with me and they are happy to know I can help them do more than what they expected.

    It’s always nice to come back and read your essays. Thank you!

    Rachel

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