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Customer Centered Selling


Book reviews > Customer Centered Selling


This is the approach used by Xerox, where author Robert Jolles sold and taught for a number of years, and is one of the few books that take selling beyond the stage of 'Here's what I learned in 30 years of selling.' It uses an eight stage process, as below. The dual titles indicate what the customer/sales person is doing at each stage.

1. Satisfaction/research

Customers at this stage are happy with the products they have.

The sales person uses this period to research the customer:

  • Seeking problems which may be addressed by the product.
  • Finding people who will influence the purchase decision.
  • Building relationships that will help the sale later on.

Questions are deliberately used to determine the context (like SPIN 'Situation' questions) and plant the seeds for later stages. 

Identified problems are not highlighted at this stage, as this will only elicit objections.

2. Acknowledgement/analysis

At this stage, customers acknowledge that they have a problem, but may well not see it as being worth solving. They will happily spend a very long time in this stage.

The sales person seeks to get the person to the next stage by getting them to see the problem as worth solving, by:

  • Asking Identification Probes questions to identify the problem.
  • Asking Development Probes to identify the full extent of the current problem.
  • Asking Impact Probes to get them to feel the pain of future problem. 

Note the close parallels with the SPIN 'Problem' and 'Implication' questions.

3. Decision/confirmation

Now the customer has decided to solve their problem, but are still nowhere near selecting your product.

The sales person quickly verifies that the customer wants to solve the problem, checks for any other concerns and ensures they are ready to move on.

4. Criteria/requirement

The customer now decides on the criteria to use to select the final solution.

The sales person guides this process by eliciting the appropriate and prioritizing the needs that are behind the identified problem and which will lead towards the right decision.

5. Measurement/specification

The customer here turns the criteria into a coherent measure of what will constitute success. In particular, they are asking, 'What will it take to fix the problem?'

The sales person guides the transferring of the identified needs/criteria into a clear specification, and ensures the customer is committed to it.

6. Investigation/solution

The customer now goes looking for a product to meet the specification they (and hopefully the sales person).

The sales person checks that if they can meet the specification then the customer will give them the sale ('If I..would you...' trial close). After dealing with any objections, the target solution is presented, using the FABEC sequence:

  • Show Features that meet customer needs (in priority order).
  • Show additional Advantages.
  • Describe Benefits that the customer is really buying.
  • Explain how it works (but don't over do it!).
  • Confirm that they are comfortable with all of this. 

7. Selection/close

The customer now makes the final selection of the product to meet their specification and criteria and hence solve their problems.

The sales person summarizes benefits (Summary Close), asks for the sale (using their favorite close), discusses any logistics detail and reassures the customer that they have made a good decision.

8. Reconsideration/maintenance

The customer now takes delivery, uses the product and eventually comes around to buying a replacement.

The sales person should keep an eye on the whole delivery, setup and training to ensure that the customer stays satisfied in those crucial early days. It also helps to check that the solution really did solve the customer's problem. And staying in touch on an ongoing basis enables you to spot any future opportunities.


Overall, this book is a particularly good reference for sales people who sell over a number of visits to customers, and where repeat selling is important. This is unsurprising, given Jolles' background of selling for Xerox, where he was selling directly to other businesses and corporations.


Buy Me

Robert L. Jolles, Customer Centered Selling, New York: Free Press, 1998 

A marvelous book for business-to-business sales people giving full details of the selling system used by Xerox. It challenges many of the more traditional sales techniques and even goes beyond modern approaches such as Neil Rackham?s SPIN Selling (which Jolles acknowledges as a significant influence). See also the review of this book.



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