Consultative selling is about building a trusted partnership with the customer and call preparation is the first step in this process. A good starting point is an analysis of the company’s market position and an internal analysis of what is happening within the company itself. (See ‘Consultative Selling: why bother to prepare for the sales call?’ )The second component is analyzing the customer’s business. An effective way to achieve this is by looking at the customer’s business from the perspective of an investor; making an investor recommendation based on a personal analysis of the customer.
Analyzing the customer as a prospective investor
Determine business strengths and challenges
This involves interpreting information from contacts and discussions with members of your team and the customer’s team to determine the strength of the customer’s company and the challenges it faces.
Customer first, focus on them as a business
Many sales people are so focused on what they have to sell that they don’t take the time to understand what the customer wants. A consultative sale’s person turns that thinking around, they think customer first, what are the customer’s needs and goals; thinking about the customer as a complete entity, not just the department or specialist area that their solution might address.
Imagine you could buy stock in the company
Once you have a clear understanding of the customer’s business strengths and challenges and what their goals are, you are then better placed to think about the scenario that the customer’s company has stock listed on the stock market (even if they don’t) or that they are about to launch themselves on the stock market. What recommendation would you make to a potential investor? To do this you would need to provide an analysis of their business.
Components of the analysis
What the analysis would need to include
- An organizational overview - to clarify the customers’ goals and objectives. How well they doing against their own plan, are they achieving the objectives they set for themselves; if not, why not? If so, what will they want to do next?
- A comparison to their competition. Remembering that a company might be growing but if their market is growing at a faster rate, they are actually losing market share to their competitors.
- Consider what they do well - and what they might need to improve.
- Search for the organization chart or try to build this up from your knowledge and conversations with people. Try to identify key members of the senior management team, who might ultimately be those to have the most influence on your own success with this company.
- Now you are well prepared to be able make your analyst recommendation, but before you do step back and think ‘what is this business really all about?’ ‘If I was to make a recommendation, would I suggest that people hold, buy or sell stock in the company?’ Try to explain to yourself why you reached that conclusion.
How can a business analysis help the customer?
Why is thorough call preparation of such critical importance? Haven’t you already spent enough time in research through the process of reaching out to prospective customers and getting the appointment? The customer has agreed to see you, so must be interested in what you have to sell, surely all you need to do next is to prepare a succinct presentation articulating the benefits and features of what you have to offer to convince the customer to buy from you?
This is not the thought process of the consultative sales person. A consultative sales person isn’t aiming to just make a ‘one time’ sale but to position themselves as someone that understands their customer’s needs, someone to be trusted, someone that the customer can turn to for solutions to their problems. Good call preparation is a key component in building this partnership relationship. (See ‘How to develop a successful sales relationship’) Consultative selling starts with thorough preparation, a preliminary analysis of the customer’s market position and what is happening internally within the company itself.
Understanding the customer's market position
This means determining the customer’s areas of business stress and what their future goals might be; understanding who their customers are and what they expect from them. It includes looking at their competition and why they might be more successful; a review of their channel strategy and how it operates; their competency and utilization of technology; considering their regulatory environment, the economy and how trends and groups like banks, unions and business analysts might impact their business.
Understanding the customer's company
This is about understanding the customer’s company’s key priorities and business issues, researching their organizational structure and business strategy. Do their people have the required skills and systems, to do what it is needed? What is their company structure, is it well aligned to their strategy, what is their corporate culture, their values, are they innovative and likely to be responsive new ideas?
Where to source this information
Web Research is the most obvious source, the customer’s website and also their competition’s which often includes useful information in annual reports and brochures. Look at the press, industry pages relating to their specialty, industry periodicals and the financial press. Consider reference sources like Yahoo finance, Google and Hoover's, business analyst’s reports, credit status reports and ‘Hold, Buy or Sell’ recommendations.
There are several sales apps available to help keep you updated on industry news, competitors in addition to the achievements, projects and thoughts of people you follow, take a look at apps like Cloze and Newsle.
Never forget the importance of talking to people, both in your internal team and in the customer’s external network. Allies in your customer’s company are an essential way of supporting and adding to your research. Also talk to the customer; customers love to talk about their business and if they detect your interest they will more likely share information with you.