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.
Customers’ objections are a normal part of the sales process. Here are Integratis’ 8 tips to develop the skills and strategies to handle objections effectively and be more successful in selling.
Confidence is critical in all aspects of the sales process but especially when handling objections. People assess your confidence by your body language in 3 ways:
Your Manner: remain calm, welcoming the concern.
Your Expression: don’t panic or look alarmed but equally don’t be dismissive or overconfident.
Your Tone of Voice: remain serious and unwavering, conveying your wish to resolve the customer’s concerns.
2. Listening skills
Never respond to an objection until you are sure you understand it. Listen attentively, it will show your sincerity and desire to understand the concern. Let the customer do the talking! Make eye contact; be aware of your facial expression, posture, and stance. Take notes and refer to them. Stay focused on the customer; be sensitive to their feelings, noting their body language, and facial expressions. Don’t interrupt but try to summarize when appropriate using your notes to show you were listening.
3. Acknowledge the customer’s concern
Never ignore the objection always acknowledge it. Be sincere and empathize, go with the flow, not against it. Mentally walk with the customer. If applicable use reference stories and validate the concern.
Ask questions to clarify your grasp of the customer’s concern. Make this dialogue two-way, verifying you both share and understand the objection and its’ root cause. Use open questions to help you to explore and probe. For example: “Who else do you think would be concerned about this?” Use closed questions to help you get straight to the point: For example: “This sounds as though it’s a big issue for you right now, am I right?”
Restating often uncovers a hidden objection because it shows you care and encourages customers to talk further, revealing other concerns. First paraphrase the initial objection to reinforce your sincerity. Then summarise the subsequent dialogue focusing on how you have clarified the concern. Finally state the real objection, as agreed to by the customer during the discussion reconfirming your understanding of the issue. At this point consider a ‘trial close’ - “if I was able to put your mind at ease on this issue, would that mean that you are comfortable with the remainder of what we have discussed?”
Responding is especially critical if the objection is linked to a competitive comparison. A good response can demonstrate that you can do all that the competition can do….and more! Be confident and positive in your response or agree to return to the issue later; either later in the meeting (whenever possible), or in a later meeting (in which case you should set this meeting up before closing the call. Then confirm that the customer is satisfied and comfortable with your response.
7. Appropriate responses
If the customer is sceptical provide proof regarding what you have told them and always answer any misunderstandings. If there are product concerns, emphasize product benefits and value. If it appears that a decision is not going to be made create a sense of urgency, stress the business benefits and always check you are talking to the right person!
8. Know when not to respond
Don’t respond if you don’t fully understand the objection, keep asking questions until you do. If you realize that you will need to address the concern later in the meeting, seek the customer’s agreement to do so. When you don’t have a convincing response agree a plan with the customer to address the issue later, checking you have grasped the main objection and have addressed all other concerns. If you have to adopt this approach, make sure you make an appointment to get back to the customer.
Maybe you have further sales objection handling techniques you would like to share? We would love to hear from you!
Some sales people really work hard to earn our hatred and loathing don’t they? In our experience, top of this list is the timeshare sales person. Have you experienced this type? I’m not talking about the pleasant, calm and informative sales person who appears genuinely interested in helping people to find their dream vacation solution. No, I’m talking about the deceitful type whose sales approach is based on trickery and lies.
We’ve all been there right? You’re on vacation and you’re offered a great deal to listen to a harmless presentation in return for a free dinner or boat trip or whatever. You decide that you have time to spare and it will help off-set the cost of the vacation so you decide to attend. You pretty much regret your decision as soon as you walk into the ‘welcome center’ and see all the other gullible people like yourself, who have been prepared to sacrifice 90 minutes of their precious vacation time to sit and be sold to!
I should explain that we had been persuaded to buy our timeshare many years ago on the recommendation of some trusted friends and it has proved great for us and the family, no regrets there. The ability to swap the timeshare always leaves something to be desired but that’s another story. I decided to treat this one as a field trip – to learn about how their sales process works. I was horrified.
In the first instance their initial approach to get us to attend was based on a false premise. They had ‘sold’ us on having a meeting on the basis that the system for swapping our existing timeshare had changed and they wanted to tell us about the new plan. That was their first deception. There was no such ‘new plan’. They simply wanted to sell us another timeshare on ‘their plan’. Don’t they realize that as soon as you start lying to the customer, you’ve lost any hope of a sale? No trust, no deal! And it didn’t stop there. They went on to explain that we could trade-in our existing timeshare and they would add the benefits of their new deal. Not true. What they were offering was a one-time ‘bonus-week’.
Their whole approach was based on bullying and lying. Their process was very well rehearsed, right down to bringing over their ‘manager’ to offer us an even better deal that we couldn’t possibly refuse! They could have saved their time and ours if they had pre-qualified us as not being people who were about to spend $40,000 on a timeshare we didn’t want just because we were going to get a free dinner!
Using deceit as a sales tool is misguided. At the very best it might work to close a deal but it will lead to lose-lose, not win-win. In fact, any sale that is based on one side losing will end-up as a lose-lose. The sales person might think they have won, and in the sort-term they might, but what they don’t realize is that every customer that was forced, coerced or deceived into a sale that they regret becomes a vocal anti-sponsor for that sales person and for the company they work for.
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?