Transaction vs. Systemic Sales: The “Inception” Fallacy

Transactional sales are typically easier to make than systemic sales – there is less perceived risk.

If I buy one brochure from your advertising agency, I don’t have to buy my next one from you if I am unhappy. My risk is limited. This is a transactional sale.

By contrast, a systemic sale impacts the entire organization and business model. Consider all the disaster stories about poorly executed computer system conversions. If the new system doesn’t work, the business is crippled – it can’t get information, bill, collect, price the product, etc. The risk is much greater.

Therefore, in general systemic sales are riskier than transactional sales.

There are exceptions. If the product purchased is a major component of the final selling price, even in a single transaction, non-performance could be the death-knell to a business. If a product bought through a transactional sale is needed in fixed proportions with many other products/services, even a small non-performance can be catastrophic.

Let’s say you need one cent of packaging for every 99 cents of product. Assume the packaging has an eight-week lead time. You buy the packaging on a transactional basis – this time only. However, if the packaging supplier doesn’t perform and you don’t receive the one cent of packaging needed, you can’t produce the 99 cents of product you have. The transactional purchase has a systemic effect.

This explains why, even in transactional purchases, customers can be reluctant to change vendors.

Even when there aren’t disastrous consequences for non-performance, transactional sales typically have systemic effects. For instance:

  • The information component – How fast do we respond to prospects, enabling them to move forward a process involving our product or service, reducing the resources they expend in using our product? Do we keep them functioning in “real time”?
  • The consultative component – How do we advise the customer to reduce the total cost in use and increase their total gain by using our product or service?

Against this background of systemic effects, consider the quest for selling’s Holy Grail – the one line or “move” that will close the sale. Ask yourself if it reasonable for a long selling process – geared toward satisfying systemic effects and risk, usually with multiple decision-makers – to be reduced to a very short process? Is the “inception” effect possible?

The science fiction movie Inception dramatizes how an idea can be inserted into a person’s mind, then fertilized and grown to the point where the person makes a life-altering change in behavior within a few hours. A business person hires the Inception team to cause a competitor to change his market strategy and the team builds the decision architecture through dream intervention. This is science fiction.

In real life this usually takes hard work over time – building the decision architecture for the prospect and helping the prospect:

  • See and appreciate the systemic effects of the purchase
  • Persuade visible and hidden constituencies

Whereas in traditional selling:

  1. The salesperson identifies the opportunity;
  2. Asks his company’s leadership to make their best offer;
  3. Presents this offer to the prospect; and then
  4. Waits for the prospect to build the internal consensus, based on systemic effects, and push the stone uphill in his/her organization.

In enlightened selling, we are consultants – showing the prospect the systemic effects of our product or service – and help the prospect build and push the stone – sometimes a very large stone – uphill in his/her organization. That means identifying and persuading all the constituencies.

Can we accelerate this process, possibly doing in months what it took years to do historically?

A selling system, based on urgency and proving, will reduce the selling cycle to the minimum necessary time. It will build the internal architecture of decision-making in a prospect organization. This is the true inception effect – based on subtle strategy and hard work.