We have all heard that in order to be a good salesperson we need to be a good listener and we need to ask questions, but what does that really mean? Research shows that in a typical sales call the salesperson talks 80% of the time. Hardly a balanced dialogue, a true conversation should look more like 50-50. Obviously there will be times when the type of meeting dictates that the sales person is doing the majority of the talking, perhaps during a presentation or product demonstration, but even then, the secret to success is to involve the customer, to engage them. The more the customer shares with you, the better placed you will be to understand their thinking to then be able to help address their concerns.
So consultative questioning then really is all about listening, listening carefully to really understand what the other person is saying and trying to determine what they are thinking.
Suggestions to help you become a better listener
Try to remain silent after you have asked a question, wait and give the customer time to think about their response. In general people don't like silence; we all tend to fill silence by talking more. If you take that little pause … you may find that the customer gives you more information. And having established that that is going to happen, in other words once they've done that once, try it once more - if they give you more information, again just pause a little to see if they volunteer more information.
2. Attentive listening skills
Attentive listening involves things like body language; think about your facial expression, your eye contact, your body movement and posture. When you're in a meeting and you’re listening to the customer, just slightly leaning forward will help show that you’re really listening. Take notes, and refer to the notes, that will help show the customer that you are listening and that you care about what they're saying. Aim to remain focused on the customer. Watch for their signals, watch for their body language. Try not to interrupt the customer and use your notes to summarize.
Finally, one of the best ways of showing the customer that you are really listening to what they were saying is to summarize the discussion.
In consultative selling listening is very important. Think about developing meetings with a customer that are more of a dialogue and less of a presentation. More questioning and listening and less ‘tell-sell’. Practice your listening skills, practice trying to pause and remain silent for a few seconds to get the customer to give you more information, and practice attentive listening, think about your body language and take notes.Try it and see!
What has worked well for you, maybe you have some other thoughts and suggestions?
In sales management circles there has been a lot of mention for a while now of concepts such as ‘value selling’ or ‘consultative selling’. People say things like “We need to position the value of our solution better” or “For this deal we need a consultative approach." Many sales people get confused by this. In workshops I keep getting questions about what consultative selling actually means, so I decided to write a few sentences to clarify the issue.
Defining what Consultative selling is NOT
It isn’t positioning yourself as a technical expert
Consultative Selling does not mean consulting the client on the technical intricacies of your solution in great painstaking detail. While this can potentially be an important step in the sales cycle, I’d call this presales consulting, or technical presales. I would generally discourage that Account Managers overly engage in this since there is a real danger that they shoot themselves in the foot. By positioning themselves as the technical expert, they run the risk of being labeled as a ‘Techy’, making it more difficult to get time in front of customer business executives who don’t care about – or might be turned off by - too much technical detail.
It isn’t about being a business consultant
On the other hand it also does NOT mean, acting as a business consultant by explaining to customer executives how they should be running their business. To start with, most sales people are not trained to do this. Secondly one needs a great deal of manufacturing experience to consult a manufacturer’s CXO on how to improve their business. Third there is the issue of credibility vs. self interest in selling and consulting respectively. So even if you did know the customer’s business well, from a management perspective, caution is in order, you risk irritating the customer and getting the: “ARE YOU TELLING ME HOW TO RUN MY BUSINESS???” response!
What consultative selling means
Now we know what is doesn’t mean, let’s define we at Integratis mean when we say ‘Consultative Selling’.
A consultative sales person:
- Actively reaches out and seeks discussions with non-technical buyers, who might be the technical buyer’s internal clients (customer’s customer).
- Reports on their findings from these non-technical discussion to the technical buyer, to enable them to serve their customers better.
- Uses consultative questioning techniques and active listening to collect the maximum amount of information, in order to come up with the best possible solution for the customer, technically and financially.
- Uses good process such as professional meeting planning to make life easier for their own team, also ensuring maximum meeting quality for the customer.
- Is aware of their specific sources of power / influence and uses these in a planned and professional way, with complete integrity.
- Moderates compromise between competing interests within the customer.
- Supports writing the business case/financial justification or writes one their-self.
- Never loses sight of the solution’s economies and profitability for the customer.
- Is capable of an intelligent discussion with the financial decision maker (FDM).
- Is capable of at least a high-level of discussion of financing options for their own solution.
- Helps the technical buyer to position and defend the economics of their solution.
- Is connected within the customer and can help technical buyers find budgets for their solution upon request.
- Doesn’t accept everything a customer says without reflection, but…
- Instead creates constructive solution-oriented discussion, again using consultative questioning techniques.
So there you have it, the consultative sales person. How many of these strategies do you currently employ? At Integratis it is our experience that engaging in any one or all of these behaviors will make your life in sales significantly easier and much more satisfying. Change is never easy, but rest assured, we meet lots of sales people and have seen incredible gains in effectiveness and success rates, once they’ve started applying some of the above concepts. They are the spirit and gist of the Integratis consultative selling program which we have rolled out to many clients on our customer references list.
How about you? Do you agree with our ‘traits of a consultative sales person’? What would you add? What works for you?
Author: Peter Schmitz
Peter Schmitz is an Integratis consultant representing Integratis in German speaking countries.
Peter is also owner/director of www.schmitzconsulting.com.
Contact Peter at: firstname.lastname@example.org
WHY, HOW, WHAT – how to inspire others to follow you
How often when explaining what you do, do you get little response? Have you ever thought why that might be? Most of us, when asked what we do, explain things in a prescribed order. We explain what we do; how we do it, but rarely articulate why we do what we do. The why is actually of critical importance, it is what will engage and inspire others to buy from you. Think about it, what type of marketing message entices you to want to learn more or even to buy something?
Start with the 'WHY'
Inspiring leaders and organizations are skilled in being able to clearly express their purpose and belief, why they do what they do. They are intent and passionate, such passion is infectious and compelling. By articulating the ‘why’, people are more likely listen to you, and become part of what you do, whether that be buying from you or following your cause. Simon Sinek provides three examples to help understand this.
Martin Luther King; - why was he the leader of the Civil Rights Movement? He wasn't the only victim in a pre-civil rights America, nor was he the only great orator of the day. However he had a belief, which inspired, his was the "I have a dream" not "I have a plan" speech.
Similarly, the Wright brothers, why were they the first to resolve control-powered, manned flight when their competitors were better qualified and better funded? They also had a belief, what they were trying to achieve, it kept them focused and determined to succeed.
Apple, under Steve Job’s inspiring and much missed leadership is an excellent contemporary example of a company who differentiated themselves and captured a huge market following by communicating the why in what they do. Most marketing and sales is expressed by what we do, how we're different and then an expectation, a purchase or a vote.
If Apple followed this, their marketing message would be:
WHAT we do - We make great computers.
HOW we do it- Our products are beautifully designed and simple to use. Want to buy one?Apple actually communicates like this:
WHY: Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently.
HOW: The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly.
WHAT: We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?
Great Leaders INSPIRE
Apple, Martin Luther King and the Wright brothers are leaders. There are leaders and there are those who lead. A leader may hold a position of authority but those that lead, inspire. They are the ones that start with the why, people don't buy what you do; people buy why you do it.
We can all learn how to inspire and be successful by knowing our own why. Defining our why, how, what has helped us at Integratis to be clearer about our purpose and intent and be more effective in our marketing. We have continued to improve and redesign our website and develop our social media presence:
The Integratis ‘why, how, what’
WHY - We believe that people do business with people. We believe in people and that people can be helped to develop their skills, to become more successful and more fulfilled.
HOW – A good example of how we do this is that we provide our clients with a unique partnership planning process. This enables them to learn the right consultative skills
WHAT- We sell effective training. Want to go on a course?
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?