Sales Secrets II – Staircases Not High Jumps

I learned this lesson the hard way.  And like all lessons learned the hard way it’s worth its weight in gold.  Mummy may have told you not to put your hand in the fire, but it’s only when you put your hand in the fire that you never forget again.

Over a decade ago I was busy marketing and selling my strategic risk system – Stratos.  This was (and is) a unique approach in so far as it looks at the chance of revenues falling below costs – ie a “real loss”. It may surprise you to know that all of the banking risk systems in the world – zillions of dollars worth – just look at the chance of income falling below zero – which is a very different thing.

The first thing I learned the hard way is evangelical selling.  This a rare thing – so rare I don’t think I have ever read much about it at all.  If you are selling a new toaster or new car people already understand the concept of toaster and car, and you are doing comparative selling.  Why is your toaster/car better? But if you have invented a whole new concept the sell is more around why the concept is valuable – you need to create the market – a veeery different type of sale.

The second thing I learned which has been extremely useful in all subsequent sales contexts is incremental commitment.  Contrast this staircase…

small staircase… with a high jump 🙂


All too often one sees businesses with sales processes that are effectively like this high jump … they require the client to take a huge leap and it’s a leap that looks risky and might go badly wrong.  At which point of course the poor old sales folks get the blame for lack of sales as the client essentially goes “oo er” and says no.

But it’s a poorly designed process at fault not the sales folks.  One needs to see things from a client’s perspective.  First they need trust in you.  But second they need trust they aren’t taking a huge leap, that your product will meet their needs and it won’t risk someone breaking their neck – or rather taking it in the neck for a failure.

So in my case I stopped trying to do the killer presentation that would end miraculously with someone suddenly writing a cheque out for the better part of a million dollars.  I gave up “high jump selling” and moved onto “staircase selling”.

So then the pitch became “look from this you can only get a feel for whether, in principle this might be relevant to you guys”.  What matters though is whether it is in practice.

And of course one then inserts a pilot study, or a trial or some such. It’s important that the client pays something for this though (another lesson learned the, cough, “best”, cough, way) – otherwise you haven’t even made the tiny sale of “pilot study” and there has been no incremental commitment from the client.  You need to ascend the staircase together … little point you going ahead on your own and calling to them from the top.

For the client incremental commitment is a risk reduction device. For you it’s “paid for marketing” as working with the client you get to see more clearly how to match your solution (key) with his problem (lock) and it takes “selling” out of the equation and turns it into “solving” which is more amenable to both sides.

Are you or your organisation right now doing any high jump selling?  Does any step on your staircase demand a “leap of faith”?  If so how can you reduce the size of the steps for both sides?


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