How do you measure sales success?
Is it all about making quota or is it about having customers that like to work with you? If you were to judge by the way that most sales people are managed, goaled and rewarded, you would say that the only thing that matters is the achievement of quota. What you measure is what you get! So it is little wonder that many companies find it very hard to manage the difficult dichotomy between making the sales number and maintaining happy and delighted customers.
Do your customers need to like you?
There are many businesses that might focus on delighting the customer, and use ‘customer sat’ as a key measure of success. But customers can be very happy and not buy anything. That doesn’t enable sales success does it? Of course the reality is that both are important. But there’s the conundrum. How does a sales leader manage the joint goals of sales quota and customer satisfaction? On the positive side we can see that happy, delighted customers are more likely to be loyal, and thereby more likely to be returning, to be repeat-buy customers. Happy customers will be more likely to provide good references and even introductions to potential prospects. But do happy customers actually ‘like’ the vendor sales people? Presumably they grew to trust them, otherwise they would not have bought from them, but do they need to like them?
The importance of trust
“TRUST – LIKE – DO THE JOB” these are the 3 key tests of any partnership and a buy/sell
partnership is no different. Customers must trust the vendor. They must like the vendor (meaning their people, especially the sales people). And the vendor must be able to do the job that they promised to do
when they sold their solution. The problem for sales teams is that in an increasingly competitive marketplace there are many, many different providers who are actually perfectly capable of ‘doing the job’. Providing the solution just gets you a seat at the table.
How customers decide to buy
Customers make buying decisions based on the sales team and the service, support, implementation team that they feel they can trust and the one that they feel they will actually enjoy working with.
If you are selling a complex solution, or a solution which will involve a long-term vendor/customer relationship, being ‘liked’ is as important as providing a win-win solution. You’re going to be in this together for the long-term. It’s not enough just to be able to say you made quota this year when you made the sale if you lose all the other sales in the future. Or is it?
The answer probably lies in whether you work for a company or a manager who only cares about the quarterly numbers, or one with an eye on long-term, sustainable success.
The importance of customer satisfaction
With so many companies changing their typical go-to-market model to focus more on ‘software-as-a-service’ and other similar service-based delivery models, it will become increasingly important to measure, motivate and incentivize sales teams to deliver long-term customer-satisfaction, not just short-term business results. Many sales teams are ill-equipped to be successful in this new market because they have spent their entire careers chasing the monthly or quarterly target with little regard to the next 2-3 years.
It’s no wonder that so many companies are focused on trying to improve the consultative selling skills of their sales teams.
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
The previous posts about how to become a trusted advisor 'The Trusted Advisor' by David H. Maister, Charles H. Green & Robert M. Galford,' discussed how to earn trust, give advice and build relationships. Along side developing these skills, it is important to know how to focus on the other person, to be self-confident, to put your own ego aside, to be curious, to maintain a high degree of inclusive professionalism and always be sincere.
Focus on the other person
“The only way to influence someone is to find out what they want and show them how to get it” Dale Carnegie. To achieve this degree of influence it is essential to be able to focus on the other person giving them what they need and want. It is not about providing them with your knowledge or expertise but more about giving reassurance, helping the client see new approaches and make decisions. The ability to become an empathetic listening is key to this. How well we succeed in this depends on how able we are to truly feel what the other person feels, focusing on them not our own self-promotion. This is a skill that takes years of learning to master but it reaps great rewards.
What is being referred to in the context of being a trusted advisor is the ability to have the self confidence to listen and understand and brainstorm before offering solutions. To put aside the fear that we are squandering critical influencing time by not immediately providing solutions.
This is the ability to focus on the consultative relationship process, the issues at hand and not on any blame or credit attached to it.
To solve other’s problems we need to ask questions, and to listen, in other words to be curious focusing not on what we know but what we don't know. It is our curiosity which creates the situations which allow us to contribute.
By this we mean being able to align with our clients to work collaboratively by acknowledging and engaging them to find solutions rather than just providing them ourselves.
We demonstrate our sincerity to others by caring behavior, by our attention and interest, by our research and by how we listen. When we then respond enthusiastically we invite the other person to explore with us the possibilities and solutions. Being sincere is a critical element of any relationship and of trust. Sometimes we might find ourselves in a situation where it is impossible to relate or be sincere. As long are really sure that you have tried everything you can there are times when you have to accept the situation for what it is and walk away. In relationships there really are only win-win and loose-loose combinations.
Being sincere and building a strong client relationship doesn’t mean you have to become your client’s friend. To be a trusted advisor you have to care and show you care. Being sociable with your client will definitely deepen your understanding of your client’s needs and fears but that doesn’t imply that you have to become their good friend. If you are attentive to your clients needs the effectiveness of the sales process will be enhanced. To earn trust you will need to do this and to be vested in the long-term benefit of the relationship.
Ultimately you are not trying to build a relationship that is simply a means to an end but you are trying to create a partnership that will mean you go on a journey together to resolve your clients needs. What do you think, do you have any other suggestions, we would love to hear from you?!
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.