Consultative selling is not a new concept. Initially developed in the 1970s, it gained prominence in the 1980s and in today’s world of the empowered buyer it is more important than ever. The reality in which salespeople are operating, however, has changed significantly in that time. While it used to be considered good practice to cold call someone and ask searching questions about their business needs, that is no longer the case. These days you have to show up to the call with insight, ready to add value and offer solutions. Let’s take a look at why sellers need to be consultants to bring value to the empowered buyer.
There’s no excuse for not doing your research before approaching a new customer. The information you’re looking for is just a few clicks away. While it’s unlikely that there’s a website spelling out your customer’s pain points in a series of handy bullet points, experienced salespeople will be able to identify what those pain points might be based on a relatively brief analysis of the customer’s business and – critically – its competitors. Though you cannot be expected to have an in-depth knowledge of every industry with which you interact, you should know precisely the kinds of problems your product/service is there to solve, so that’s what you’re looking out for – gaps in their business that you could fill.
Asking smart questions
Getting ahead on the details by doing your research means that when you do have the opportunity to connect with your customer, whether over the phone or face to face, you can ask smarter questions. A consultative seller would be able to let the customer know that they already know where the company sits in its industry, some of its recent achievements and could compliment them on a specific success, gaining the customer’s attention as someone who is coming to the table prepared.
Having established this much, the seller would then be able to share their insights about the company, perhaps in relation to the competitor analysis they carried out, or a particular gap they noted. Consultative sellers know to phrase this carefully to avoid putting customers on the defensive, and to ask for their input by using phrases such as ‘Am I right in thinking…?’ Once the customer is reassured that the person they are dealing with is not a time-waster, the seller is able to jump in with the deeper questions that will help identify exactly the problem that needs solving.
Partnering to solve problems
In order for your customers to open up about the challenges they face, you have to build trust. As a consultant, rather than a salesperson, you take on those challenges as your own and work together with your customer to find ways to solve them. The goal, then, is not to sell your product, but to solve the customer’s problem. This is a total shift away from transactional selling and is the key to engaging the empowered buyer.
Incidentally, it’s not enough just to act the part of the consultative seller. The buyer will see straight through you. You have to embrace consultative selling as an intrinsic part of your sales identity in order to make a success of it. In essence, if you succeed in selling the product but the product doesn’t solve the problem, you have failed.
An empowering ally
Obviously this approach is antithetical to the proverbial ‘used car salesman’ sales persona.
When describing the consultative salesperson, the analogy is often made of a doctor treating a patient. A good doctor listens, is sympathetic and understanding, but firm and sure when presenting a solution. They make you feel as though your complaint has been heard and understood, and their surety gives you confidence in the solution they’ve offered. In short, you can trust them.Customers want the same from sellers. No bullying; no pushing; no prescribing solutions for problems the customer doesn’t have. A customer should come out of a conversation with you feeling empowered, not wondering what the heck they’re being conned into buying.
The personal touch
If a sale doesn’t require the kind of value-adding input that I’ve described above, it doesn’t require a salesperson. Simple as that. Like Eric Esfahanian says in his recent Selling Power blog: ‘(I)f your job performance is so one-dimensional and static that it can be taken over by a robot, it probably should be’.
Don’t panic: you can both beat the robot revolution and keep your sales job by becoming a better, more valuable salesperson – and being more valuable to your employer means bringing more value to your customer!
What’s your experience of consultative selling? We’d love to hear from you!