Miller-Heiman and Sun Tzu

The Miller-Heiman systems (strategic selling, conceptual selling, and its large account management program) are some of the most broadly used selling approaches in the world. Part of their success comes from the fact that they share a great deal of the conceptual framework of Sun Tzu's Warrior's Rules. However, they are specifically tailored to selling large, complex accounts where many people affect the sales decision.

The Miller-Heiman systems (strategic selling, conceptual selling, and its large account management program) are some of the most broadly used selling approaches in the world. Part of their success comes from the fact that they share a great deal of the conceptual framework of Sun Tzu's Sun Tzu's Rules. However, they are specifically tailored to selling large, complex accounts where many people affect the sales decision. Like Sun Tzu's strategy, strategic selling and conceptual selling are based upon understanding competitive positions, requiring the analysis of competitive positions. Conceptual selling specifically addresses the specific issues of solution selling and differentiating products and services from competitors. As with classical strategy, the Miller-Heiman system starts with the assumption that both buyers and sellers have multiple options and that their decisions are based on "positioning." Conceptual selling is designed to find a win-win situation where both the seller and buyer meet their goals.

Sun Tzu's strategy helps Miller-Heiman salespeople by giving them better tools for making the small decisions that feed the sales procedures defined by these management systems. Front-line strategic tools directly feed the each of the four-steps in the Miller-Heiman process:

  1. The formulas of nine-step analysis providing a faster and yet more in-depth systems to help salespeople understand their current position with respect to their specific sales objective.
  2. Sun Tzu's strategy's listening formulas give salespeople more insight into their possible alternate positions by identifying openings.
  3. Sun Tzu's strategy's aiming formulas for selecting opportunities allows salespeople to more easily determine which alternate position would best secure their objectives.
  4. Front-line strategic formulas for moving and claiming help Miller-Heiman salespeople implement their actions plans especially in dealing with unique situations, which cannot be be foreseen.

Sun Tzu's strategy also opens up salespeople to strategic opportunities working with their largest accounts in the large account management program (LAMP). Most of Miller-Heiman's system was devised for handling standard sales in a standard way. However, classical front-line strategy looks at selling as a method for market exploration, which can identify unique opportunities that must be handled in a unique way. It offers a "big-picture" view of strategic positions, where organization can work with customers in value creation that goes beyond standard selling cycles. Sun Tzu's strategy opens up the sales process to organizations leveraging each other's core competencies to get the best from their relationship and create new forms of products. Beyond merely creating win-win situations from controlling the sales process, Sun Tzu's strategy views selling as a relationship between equals which can work to create new value that neither could create alone.

Sales Goals

Like Sun Tzu's strategy, a large part of the Miller-Heiman system is designed to organize the wealth of confusing information associated with a complex sale and put it into a meaningful framework. Both systems fill the often unrecognized need for common vocabulary so salespeople and those working with them can easily communicate the key elements involved complex situations. The Miller-Heiman vocabulary is very useful for communicating the steps and position in a standard sales process, while the Front-line Sun Tzu's strategy is very useful language for clarifying the multiple dimensions of competitive situations that make each situation unique.

The two systems differ broadly in their goals, but both sets of goals are critical to sales success. The Miller-Heiman strategic selling approach is process-oriented with the specific goal of making sales more predictability by reducing variation. The goal of Sun Tzu's Sun Tzu's Rules is to enable individuals to make better decisions on a day-by-day basis in a wealth of unexpected situations dealing with a range of conditions that not covered by the Miller-Heiman standard model.

In a sense, strategic selling and Sun Tzu's strategy are complementary opposites. Miller-Heiman seeks to introduce better planning and control into the sales process where Sun Tzu's strategy focuses on generating ideas, insights, and opportunities that are missed within the traditional framework of sales planning. While Miller-Heiman offers and excellent system for clarifying and tracking sales progress based on clear standards, Sun Tzu's strategy generates the insights that fueling that fuel the process of organization growth, creating rapport and trust within the process.

Miller-Heiman salespeople are encouraged to analyze the values of their accounts and their own values to find a good fit between them. However, this is done at the same level of comparing the fit between people and their personalities. In Sun Tzu's strategy, motivation is much more important than personality so determining motivation is a much higher level task. People's and an organization's values are the key to understanding their motivations. The tools of Sun Tzu's strategy give salespeople a more comprehensive way to perform this analysis.

Much of the value of the Miller-Heiman system is that its systematic approach makes it easy to identify specific "red flags" in a sales process. Red flags can related to missing information, uncontacted buying influencers, organization changes affecting the sales process and so on. While Sun Tzu's strategy directs gathering information in certain areas, its methods are much more focused on making good decisions in the absence of certain key information. While the Millter-Heiman system puts a more absolute value on specific information in a deterministic process, Sun Tzu's strategy balances information in a relativistic way in a stochastic process.

Dealing with Change

Unlike many other strategic systems, Miller-Heiman strategic selling deals directly with change (in classical terminology, "the climate") as a key part of the sales situation. It teaches that change is the only constant because technology, customer base, product line, competitive position, marketing strategy and even organizational structure all change. It is this change that creates the uncertainty that Miller-Heiman seeks to control through its processes. Like Sun Tzu's strategy, Miller-Heiman seeks to leverage change within the target account. Also like Sun Tzu's strategy, it connects these external changes with internal emotional states that it calls "response modes" that measure the level of need each person within the process feels about making the decision.

Both Miller-Heiman and Sun Tzu's strategy recognize that change is an on-going process that includes the gradual erosion of positions, sudden events, and trends. Sun Tzu's strategy, however, offers a deeper analysis that includes leveraging both the value of predictable, cyclical change, especially one-direction "trends" that must be, in reality, self-balancing. While Miller-Heiman trains salespeople to categorize change either as opportunities and threats, the view of Sun Tzu's strategy is that changes that are the most likely to be seen as threats are the most likely to represent real opportunity. Sun Tzu's strategy puts a much heavier emphasis on moving into empty territory opened up by change as opposed to duplicating past success.

The Sales Process

Since the goal of Miller-Heiman system is to make the sales process more predictable, an important element of this system is the sales funnel. The funnel is used to categorize accounts in terms of how much information has been gathered about them. If information suggests an account might be a potential fit, the account is at the "prospect" level. After sales contact, if information suggests that there is a potential order, the account is at the "qualified" level. As more information is collected, if the data verifies a potential order, the account moves to the "cover the bases" level. When the steps for securing an order are identified, the account moves to the "close" level. It moves to the final, "order" level when the deal is done and little or not luck is required to proceed. Salespeople are expected to work the funnel and have sales objectives in every stage for every account all of the time.

Nothing in Sun Tzu's strategy conflicts with this sales tracking system, but the purpose of Sun Tzu's strategy is quite different. The goal of classical Sun Tzu's strategy is to identify the best possible response to a given situation. Complex sales campaigns are seen in terms of the specifics that require position changes on the part of salespeople. While the Miller-Heiman system asks salespeople to look for alternative positions, Sun Tzu's strategy define the specifics. While there are nine "stages" in a campaign that tend to come early, middle, and late in the sales process, none of these stages are certain. The salespersons responses depend on the specific nature of the competitive situation rather than how certain the sale is to result in an order.

In the Miller-Heiman system, the salesperson is expected to have a sales strategy for each account. This strategy comes from analyzing the current position, analyzing changes as threats or opportunities, defining a specific, measurable sales objective, and then testing that position. This process is very similar to the listen, aim, move, claim cycle of Sun Tzu's strategy but Sun Tzu's strategy brings in many more specific, concrete highly organized tools into this process. These tools give salespeople many more small "edges" to work in terms of moving a sale position forward in small but significant ways. Many of these tools also prescribe specific responses to certain situations once they are defined. The entire process is designed to find the easiest path forward in situations that are, by definition, a unique constellation of elements.

The Roles of People

One of the great values of Miller-Heiman is the clarity it provides in terms of understanding the complex sales process and the roles that people play as "buying Influences" in the process. Its four key influencing roles are 1) economic buyers who release the money for a specific sales objective. 2) user influences who judge the impact on their job. 3) technical influences who just technology, and 4) coaches who can be users or technical influencers and want you to succeed. As these people are identified, they can be graded by their level of influence, response mode (the emotional reaction the perceived needs as growth, trouble, even keel, or over confident) and their advocacy level as a plus or minus.

Sun Tzu's strategy is also focused on people's roles but because its focus in on finding opportunities rather than planning, it see each organization as unique constellation of decision-makers and established methods. Buying decisions are made within the constrains of established methods, but decisions can also change those methods. Some decision-makers can determine some types of methods and some methods determine who makes what kind of decision. A given individual can affect a sale in three ways: 1) in their role as implementers of established methods, 2) in their role as a decision-maker creating new methods, or 3) in their role as in information source about methods and people. This analysis doesn't

Miller-Heiman classifies people's personalities as either: 1) charismatic, who are motivated by ideas that keep their companies competitive, 2) thinkers, who take time to think through plans to avoid risk, 3) skeptics, who distrust others and worry about not winning, 4) followers, who prefer proven, tested ways, or 5) controllers, who avoid change unless it is their idea. Classify people in this way allow the salesperson to choose the appropriate way to position the sales proposition to appeal to a given personalities decision-making style.

Sun Tzu's strategy's character analysis is much more specific, but it gives the salesperson an additional angle from which to address issues of character. Sun Tzu's strategy evaluates the individual characteristics of intelligence, courage, trustworthiness, discipline, and caring. It rates each of these five areas as a weakness, a strength, or an excess. Since each of these personality traits relates directly to one of the five key aspect defining a position, this analysis reveals a number of specific, specialized approaches that can be used with individuals. In Sun Tzu's strategy, "fit" is determined by adapting to specific weakness and strengths of personality, rather than categorizing any individual by generalities.