As a trusted advisor your client wants your opinion and advice. To provide honest, impartial counsel which is also well received is often difficult. Most people don’t want to be told what they are doing wrong, nor what you think they should do about it. Continuing to look at 'The Trusted Advisor' by David H Maister, Charles H Green & Robert M Galford here are some ideas about providing advice as your client's trusted advisor.
When people ask for advice they are looking for help. Try to understand the issues at stake, maybe reputations and promotion opportunities. Don't only suggest ways to improve, it implies things are being done wrong and won't be welcomed. The trick is to understand the politics of the situation, to be sensitive to individual personalities and to be tactful.
Your client wants you to remove their concerns and provide support and confidence. As their advisor, by default, the risk is that you appear arrogant, something your client will resent. Your role is to diffuse any defensiveness by showing that you are trying to help not criticize.
Create a dialogue, a conversation
To show that you sincerely what to provide helpful advice try to create a dialogue. This requires sensitivity and a careful use of words, replacing: 'You should do X' with something like: 'Let's explore the possibilities together.' When you make a suggestion, invite a contribution: ‘This is what I am thinking, what about you?’. Keep the conversation alive, replacing questions such as 'what are your problems?' with: 'What areas do you think need improvement?' Try to turn assertions into questions.
Create the right atmosphere
Think for a moment about a classroom instructor. Often they will ask the class whether they have understood, but they rarely get an honest response. This is because they have created an atmosphere where to respond is to admit weakness. To create the right atmosphere and get the desired response a better question would be: 'Have I made myself clear?' or 'Shall we stay on this point or move to the next?' This avoids individuals admitting confusion but the instructor clarifies comprehension!
For advice to be accepted, and be really effective two skills are essential:
(i) The ability to ask good questions and listen
You need a clear grasp of where your client is starting from; their view of the situation, what they believe, what they are currently doing and why. Asking the right questions and being an attentive listener will achieve this and help determine what messages the client is ready for.
(ii) The ability to develop a reasoning process
Next a step-by-step reasoning process is needed to influence understanding. This helps your solutions to now resonate but allows the client to feel they made the decision. This is Socratic reasoning and it requires patience and practice to perfect.
The client as the decision maker
Your goal is to always to help the client feel that they have made the decision for themselves. You can make them aware of all the options, explore all the pros and cons and suggest recommendations, but let the client make the final decision. When confronted with a group and several individuals’ perspectives thorough prior research is essential, together with a concise summary of what has been achieved.
There is a never a one-size fits all solution. The essence of providing advice is to design a process to fit each situation and to be flexible in your consulting style.
What have your experiences taught you and what suggestions do you have? We are always interested to learn from you.
4 Sales Methodologies - Product, Solution, Consultative and Partnership Selling
We are often asked what the difference is between these sales methodologies, which one is the most appropriate and whether there is a place for all four? To answer this simply imagine this very basic scenario: you work for a well known high street coffee shop chain, at six in the morning the customer is standing in front of you, which approach do you use:
You decide to convince the customer to buy your best seller. You provide a description about the coffee. You explain whether it is medium or dark roast and you describe features (taste) of each type. You talk about how all your coffee is freshly ground ensuring optimum flavor and suggest that this will be the best coffee they have ever tasted. They buy the coffee and you meet their need. This is product-based selling.
In this scenario you take the time to find out a little more about exactlywhat the customer is looking for. You ask some questions to uncover their needs. Based on their answers you decide that they might prefer one of two to three different blends. Then you spend time describing the various options, you include information about where the beans were grown and how environmentally responsible your supplier is. You explain the care and attention to detail that went into the roasting process to enable the finest quality. You enthuse about your coffee shop, the ambiance it offers, the other food you sell and the uniqueness of your new cups and how well they insulate to keep the coffee hot. You let the customer make an informed decision, confident that your customer will buy, be satisfied and return as a loyal customer. This is solution selling.
This time, you don’t mention anything about what you sell but instead you focus completely on the customer. You don't try to determine which blend to sell them, but how to help them to make the best decision, one which they will feel is right for them. Maybe they don't just want a drink but want to want to relax and meet people. Possibly they would they like to try something new or maybe they actually prefer to keep to their favorite beverage. You try to establish what their needs really are and how you can help them.
You think about where they might be going next and whether they might like to have a bottle of water to take with them. If they are travelling, perhaps it would be good to take a sandwich with them. By talking to them and discovering this information you sell them one or maybe several of your other products and a cup of coffee! They think you were so helpful that they leave your coffee shop feeling good, determined to return. You have differentiated yourself not by the coffee, but by the nature of the overall experience.
They will tell their friends what a great experience it was. Next time they will come with a group of people. Some will want tea, others coffee, some smoothies; but they will all enjoy the experience of buying in your coffee shop. This is consultative selling.
Partnership Selling is possibly the ultimate goal of most sales people. To establish yourself in the eyes of the customer as someone who will work alongside them, someone who will help to clarify their needs, their direction, their goals and what they are trying to achieve. Just as in the consultative selling approach, you establish why this customer is in your coffee shop and how you might be able to better address their needs. Perhaps they will suggest things to you that will enable you to add-value in other areas – thereby helping you to attract more customers: quiet sitting areas perhaps? Newspapers to read? A TV to watch while they wait for their favorite brew? Wifi so they can work and relax? You ask them for input. They ask you for suggestions. They start to become regular customers visiting your coffee shop at different times of the day maybe more than once a day. They become a regular client. You get to know each other, they are impressed by you, the interest you have taken in them, the way you listen and ask questions, you made them feel you care about them. You become their chosen barista and the one they recommend to others. This is partnership selling.
Your channel partner is probably working with many vendors, so how can you keep your channel partner focused on working with you and selling your products? Here are my 7 tips to help you build a successful channel partnership.
1. Keep your channel partner's mind share
Keep your company, your products at the front of your channel partner's mind. Let them know why focusing on your product will be a benefit to them. Be visible and in communication with your channel partner, providing easily understood incentive programs, pertinent to their needs, along with regular training and discussion.
2. Explain the benefits of working with you.
Are you sure that your channel partner is clear about the benefits of working with you? Often partners may not immediately see these benefits, make sure they do. Keep following-up and refreshing the benefits of your products over the competition’s and how representing your products will mean increased profitability for you both.
3. Provide clear, concise training.
Make sure that the programs you offer positively impact everyone involved in the partnership, not just the top decision makers. Keep the training clear and easily understandable so that your product, not your competitor’s is the one that remains fresh in their minds and that your channel partner remains excited to be working with you!
4. Be in constant communication and recognize successes.
Ongoing communication and recognition of the team or individuals is critical to keep your channel partner engaged. Make sure that the channel realizes what support you are able to offer, ensuring that it is simple to access and use.
5. Involve your channel partner in long term strategy planning.
Involve your channel partner in your long term strategy planning. Let them know that you will support them through any market transitions and all technological developments. This will show the channel partner your commitment to a collaborative approach whereby you are both winners. Make it clear that your future plans involves them, and as such you are vested in their success. As part of this, send them qualified leads to show them your level of commitment to help them grow their business. Keep engaged and interested, providing reward incentives both at the company level and individual. Keep in mind that there is a difference between a channel incentive program and a channel promotion. A program should drive and change longer term behavior. a promotion drives short term goals.
6. Ensure your programs lead to attainable results!
Partners are looking to represent companies who will make them profitable. Make sure that any programs you make available really offer the best sales practices, ones that lead to results. Support this by providing good sales tools and accurate information within an integrated communications network that allows reps to share best practices and interact with product experts. Ensure timely payment procedures so that partner feels immediately rewarded for their efforts and that their company’s cash flow is kept on track
7. Provide Partner Accelerator Programs
Consider offering Partner Accelerator programs to keep the channel partner’s mindshare and to drive the partner’s behavior in a direction which is mutually beneficial. In addition, provide them with good business analysis, weekly reporting of their success, of their upcoming renewal business for the year. Stay on their channel weekly pipeline calls to track closure and teach the channel sales force to use those opportunities to drive new sales.
Always be looking for new and innovative ways to create trust. If your channel partner trusts you he will listen to you and want to continue to work with you which will ultimately drive new sales going forward and give you both what you want, increased profitability. Let us know what you experiences have been!
How do you know that you are working with the right channel partner? Recent research shows that at least one third of channel partners are unproductive and damaging to both parties. The cause could be the vendor’s failure to properly support and motivate their channel partners. However it might be that they simply choose the wrong partner, one who cannot, or will not, produce results. So how do you select the right channel partner? Here are my suggestions, a set of criteria to help you select the best partner:
1. Market Focus
Determine your potential partners' specific target markets, whether they are based on geographic considerations or business type. Discover their current selling and networking activity. Is their existing customer base demanding better, more advanced solutions? Does their existing customer base suit your business in terms of size, location and application?
2. Target Market
3. Business Stability
How stable and secure is the channel's business model? Consider factors like size, viability, suitability for target market, management competency, their profitability and growth.
4. Financial Security Soundness and Structure
Understand the the channel partner's financial position. Request information about their revenue, size, growth, gross margin and profit, balance sheets and cash flow, are they a private or public company, how is their business financed?
5. Does their process and practice fit with yours?
Will partnering with you create a ‘solution conflict’ potentially reducing maintenance revenue, territory size or services? Are you able to provide new business opportunities, services and competitive advantage? Will your solution allow them to sell more and provide maximum potential revenue for you?
6. Skills and Experience
Does the channel have the skills and experience to sell and support your solutions? What is their sales experience, what might your solutions be as a proportion of their total revenue? What specialist skills can they offer? Who are their employees, their background and experience? What is their SE capability, their marketing strategy, their staffing resource and their contact level for their customers and prospects? Do they have the staffing capability for field sales, telesales marketing etc? How do they measure progress and customer satisfaction?
7. Technical Expertise
What specialist resources does the channel partner have? Do they have sufficient training plans, experience in network infrastructure, experience in presenting/demonstrations, knowledge of your implementation issues, the ability to be self-sufficient technically, a customer service mentality?
8. Who else are they resellers for?
What is the channel's track record, and their experiences, (good and bad) are they locked-in to any specific agreements?
9. What Knowledge do they have of you?
10. What is their Partnership mentality?
How committed is the channel to partner with you? Are they willing to dedicate staff to your business? Do they have lead generation plans and lead follow-up processes? Are they prepared to invest in demo-capability and training? Are they focused on a long-term partnership, willing to work together to develop a partnership plan and to commit to minimum targets ?
Remember that unlike direct selling, the sales relationship between you as the vendor and your channel starts after the sale. Finding the right partner is definitely the first critical step. After that the key to building a successful partner relationship will depend on the education and support provided by the vendor.
What suggestions might you have, as a vendor, to maintain the mindshare of a channel partner and to help them sell, sell more of your product so that they win and you win too?