How to ABC — Always Be Selling: P&G’s Persuasive Selling Format

Detergent AisleWhen I started my marketing career at Procter & Gamble, the 1-page memo discipline was in full force. Every communication had to fit on one page, and follow a fixed format. It was — and remains — a very powerful discipline.

I have used it ever since.

Here it is, with some of my own embellishments. Each 1-page memo contains five parts:

Background. What conditions have arisen that led you to this recommendation? Only include information that everyone agrees upon in the Background — this is the basis for discussion, so it needs to be non-debatable.

The Big Idea. What are you proposing? This is typically one sentence.

How it Works. The details. In addition to How, also What, Who, When, Where.

Key Benefits. This is the “Why?” There are usually three benefits: the recommended action is on strategy, already proven (e.g. in test market or in another business unit), and will be profitable. You can think of these three in terms of the old Total Quality mantra of “doing right things right.” The first (on strategy) means you’re doing the right thing. The second and third mean you’re doing things the right way, because you’re being effective (proven to work) and efficient (profitable).

Next Steps. Who has to do what and by when for this to happen?

The P&G salesforce uses the Persuasive Selling Format (PSF) in their sales pitches. PSF also had five steps. At some point it occurred to me that the two mapped to each other, which is why the P&G 1-page memo format is so effective for making recommendations: It is a document structure that is designed to sell. Because, let’s face it, we’re all selling, all the time.

All new sales people at Procter & Gamble attend a 1 week training course called NRTC, or New Rep Training Course.

At the core of the Sales Best Practices is P&G’s “Persuasive Selling Format”, also called “The 5 Steps of Selling”.

If you meet any P&G sales person in the world they will immediately be able to tell you these 5 steps. So, here are the 5 Steps of Selling according to P&G.

  1. Summarize the Situation: First, start the conversation by sharing information that gets the listener interested and that makes them receptive to what you have to say. It is best if you talk about things your customer said were important to them the last time you spoke. You can also share key facts, information or industry trends that set up the discussion.
  2. State the Idea: Now that you have their attention, don’t beat around the bush, get right to the point and tell them a brief statement of the idea. Just provide a headline of your recommendation stated in a way that makes it compelling.
  3. Explain How It Works: Once you’ve clearly stated the proposition, now is the time to provide details of the recommendation. Typically this includes more information about the product, pricing, and execution of the proposal such as timing and logistics.
  4. Reinforce Key Benefits: Now that they understand the detail, now is the time to hit home the key reasons they should agree to move forward. P&G also calls these the “3 Reasons”.  P&G says if you only have 2 reasons, it’s not enough, and if you have more than 3, then none of the 3 is powerful enough. So, we were taught to always have 3 reasons. I have found this very helpful because it is easy to try ‘win over’ the customer with a long list of why they should agree. But a prospect will only focus on the top couple issues, so it is an excellent practice to narrow down the list to the top 3 key reasons. To this day, I make it a practice to always say there are 3 reasons for my position, *even if at that moment I don’t know what the 3 reasons are* –because somehow three always seem to appear.
  5. Suggest Easy Next Steps: Naturally, no sales process would be a best practice without “The Close”. At P&G, we were taught to move very naturally right into the close by “suggesting easy next steps”. The emphasis was to make it easy for them to say “yes” by planning in advance to remove barriers and showing them a path to agreement that fit easily into their situation.