Selling the Wheel

Have sales roles always been a mystery to you? Or alternatively, do you find yourself sitting on a plateau in your own sales performance?

In Selling the Wheel, author Jeff Cox and Howard Stevens tell the story of a “technology startup” – a fictional company inventing and marketing the wheel – evolving into a large corporation.  Through his humorous and inspired story, Cox gives readers a look into the entire ecosystem and lifecycle of a business, focusing his attention on which elements are integral to specific sales processes.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

There is no Perfect Salesperson

"For one thing, we learned that there is no such thing as the perfect salesperson who is universally effective with all customers."
- Selling the Wheel, page 9

Cox clearly illustrates through his story that different types of salespeople or sales systems are more impactful than others at various points throughout the life of a company. There simply is not one-type of perfect salesperson.

For example, in the early years of a company’s life, it’s crucial to have someone who is able to close one-time deals with as many early adopters as possible. This salesperson sells not only a product or service, but also sells the opportunity associated with the product. As this salesperson is one that will do anything to seal the deal, he often neglects the other aspects of relationship management, such as client support or service.

However, as a company begins growing and taking on larger clients, the ideal salesperson’s role starts changing: instead of getting clients simply to sign the dotted line, the role is more about building a system that helps instruct the early majority of users on how to use the product. The system also offers support for any damages to the product.

Later on, when the majority of clients have started using the technology (in the case of our story, the wheel), the salesperson’s role once again evolves: instead of instructing or converting non-users into users, it is now about maintaining relationships with everyone, client or not. Most people have now tried this technology. In order to acquire customers, a good salesperson waits patiently for their prospect’s current business partner to mess up, either through neglect or poor service. Once this happens, the salesperson then intervenes and attempts to win the client.

As the company and the competition begin to saturate the market, one salesperson is no longer enough to capture the entire market. Instead, our original salesperson is now leading a sales team that simply try to remove barriers for clients to buy their product, and outdo the competition by adding more value per client.

As we can see through the various iterations of company growth outlined above, the most appropriate salesperson, sales style, and set of priorities can vary dramatically. While you may have always thought that “sales” wasn’t your strong point, it’s worth considering that you may just need to switch the type of sales that you’re exploring. If you’ve hit a plateau in your sales, it could be because your style and focus isn’t aligned with your company’s (current) needs. Try moving to an earlier or later stage of the process.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Ozzie the Oracle

"For the price of a burnt offering, you could ask any question and the Oracle would tune in to the infinite and tell you what was what."
- Selling the Wheel, page 21

Throughout the plot of Selling the Wheel, whenever the entrepreneurial protagonist was stuck at an intersection, or faced with an overwhelming competitor, he and his business partner would pay “Ozzie the Oracle” a visit. It was here that they received pivotal strategic advice that would change their company and their approach to sales.

While the notion of an all-knowing and all-foreseeing mentor is just as nonexistent as the perfect salesperson, the real-life Ozzie the Oracle could be a board of advisors, mentors, or directors.  Where will you turn to when you have no idea what to do? Who’s got your back?

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

The Power of Focus

"Would you try and harness the falcon to the chariot? ... By the same token, would you try to train the horse to fly?"
- Selling the Wheel, page 228

As Ozzie the Oracle explains to the protagonists, these four types of salespeople (outlined above) are like different animals, each one driving your business with their own methods. While each animal is capable of certain methods of travel, harnessing all of them to one vehicle is not a good idea.

Each one has its own ability, and it’s up to you to figure out which type of salesperson you need for your organization. Similarly, if you’re looking to improve your sales, perhaps you’re targeting the wrong market or types of sales opportunities.

Failing to focus, and trying to use all four types of salespeople for your organization (particularly with uniform training and incentive programs), spells out almost-certain doom for your business. Focus (at most) on a primary market and a secondary market, and find the two types of salespeople that correspond best to each one.

Selling the Wheel is an excellent resource for those just getting into sales, and can also be an interesting exploration for those looking to take their sales skills to the next level. Cox manages to transform what could have been an extremely dry topic into a remarkable story that’s easy to follow (and introduces some hilarious historic equivalents to the modern world). If this summary even remotely piques your curiosity, you need to give Selling the Wheel a read.

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Herbert Lui

ABOUT Herbert Lui

Herbert Lui is exploring the intersection of entrepreneurship, art, and technology. He is passionate about writing and design, and believes in learning by doing...
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