By Paul Reilly

Don’t let what you can’t do affect your ability to do what you can.

Last week, I met with a group of high-performing salespeople (and sales leaders). This group pursues large deals with long sales cycles. This team is also battling a formidable competitor who is a marketing machine. This competitor has a fiercely loyal customer base hell-bent on sticking with the status quo—even when my client’s solution is better.

These top performers described this selling environment as “a daily kick in the teeth.”

How do you manage these big, complex deals?

Act small.

The key to managing this type of opportunity is focusing with laser-like intensity on the next best outcome. In Value-Added Selling, this is called a small-wins approach to selling. Top achievers break down large, complex opportunities into manageable small wins. Along the path to success, there are a series of small wins that move the sale forward. These small wins keep salespeople focused, motivated, and engaged. Small wins give salespeople a sense of control.

In the January 1984 issue of American Psychologist (vol. 39), Karl Weick wrote about redefining the scale of social issues and how to create change. In his article “Small Wins: Redefining the Scale of Social Problems,” he argued that large-scale change doesn’t happen through large, significant events. Instead, big change happens through a series of small, moderately significant events.

Weick defines a small win as a “concrete, completed outcome of moderate importance. By itself, one small win doesn’t mean all that much. But a combination of small wins can attract allies, deter adversaries, generate momentum, and lower resistance to subsequent proposals. A small win is a controllable opportunity that produces a visible result.”

Once you achieve a small win, the next small win becomes easier. You generate momentum.

When putting together a puzzle, each subsequent puzzle piece becomes easier to place. Since puzzles are easier to complete as you place more pieces, the puzzle seems more difficult and time-consuming in the beginning. The same is true with a small-wins sales approach.

Practically apply this concept by outlining the small wins in your current sales process. On paper, analyze your large, complex wins and ask yourself the following question:

“From initial contact to contract, what were the immediate next-best steps leading to the culmination of the deal?”

Here are common small wins to consider: initial customer meeting, conducting a thorough needs analysis, demonstration or trial, site visit, obtaining additional contacts, strengthening relationships, securing a smaller (initial) order, discussing total cost vs. price, and meeting with a high-level decision maker.

One small win doesn’t mean all that much by itself; however, the outcomes are generated in the aggregate. Traditional performance metrics are misleading indicators of progress. If you plan to win big, you must dream big and paradoxically act small. Consider this sage advice from the philosopher, Lau Tzu: “The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.”

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