Recently I came across  Holden’s Four Stage Model of Sales Proficiency. As a model it represents everything that I knew but was never able to articulate regarding sales performance. It provides a framework for us sales professionals to benchmark our own sales proficiency and provides a path for future selling. I hope you enjoy the read.

Sellers: the final frontier to customer value

Sellers who are able to identify strategy to achieve relative superiority in their accounts are a powerful source of competitive advantage. However, most companies fail to recognize this—even though sellers are a company’s final frontier to customer value, to engage and defeat competition (Figure 1).

sellers are a company’s final frontier to customer value

So, why is there this perception that sellers are not, themselves, a source of competitive advantage? Two factors seem to be at play here.

  1. Selling is intangible
  2. High-performing sellers and business developers are often not understood.

Management look at what they do as an art, they don’t understand selling for what it truly is: a mix of science, process, and interpersonal ability.

Selling is a management science, just like engineering, finance, operations, and marketing. Selling can be documented, measured, and replicated—and therefore, intelligently managed. But this assumes that people understand selling as a management science

Holden’s Four Stage Model

Holden’s Four Stage Model of Sales Proficiency presents the building blocks that enable sellers to formulate strategy to achieve relative superiority in accounts. The model shows how this type of advanced selling is a management science—one that can be understood, managed, scaled, and optimized to drive maximum revenue.

The Holden Four Stage Model shows that the best sellers do something that most sellers do not. They manage, well and in balance, both customer and competitive issues. These are shown in Figure 2. How well sellers manage this balancing act is described in terms of four stages of sales proficiency.

Figure 2: The Holden Four Stage Model

The Holden Four Stage Model shows that the best sellers do something that most sellers do not. They manage, well and in balance, both customer and competitive issues.

First, great sellers manage customer issues very well. Per the vertical axis in Figure 2, they present value to a customer along a continuum, starting with the specific value their product provides. Although all sellers address product value, performers go further and connect that value to critical business issues that move them up the Sales Value Chain. Behind these business issues often sit political considerations, such as aligning with powerful people and advancing their organizational interests. The latter is a nontraditional expression of value, which marks the domain of the high performer.

The top of the continuum presents an organizational expression of value. We know that when a seller can generate business value in a manner that supports the customer’s principles and beliefs—the factors that characterize that customer’s culture—the perception of value is maximized. Conversely, operate in a manner that the customer does not understand or appreciate and the risk that they will discount the value is very high. In short, the way in which you create value can be just as important within some accounts as the value itself.

Still, you cannot manage the customer environment in a vacuum. It must be managed in balance with the competitive environment, which is shown on the horizontal axis of the Holden Four Stage Model. This also works on a continuum and first requires that a seller assess the strengths and weaknesses of competitors’ products. As sellers then move to the right on the horizontal axis, life gets a bit more interesting. Here they determine how the competition has positioned its value in terms of business impact for the customer, political impact as it relates to powerful customer individuals, and organizational impact on the company. Moreover, they look at how the competition will likely capitalize on these expressions of value in terms of strategy.

Managing the customer and competitive environments in balance gives us the ability to characterize sales proficiency in terms of Holden’s four stage model. You will see patterns materialize that help us label each stage as follows:

Stage I: Emerging Sellers

Stage II: Solution Sellers

Stage III: Compete Sellers

Stage IV: Customer Advisors

Source: The New Power Base Selling: Master The Politics, Create Unexpected Value and Higher Margins, and Outsmart the Competition by Ryan Kubacki, Jim Holden