When we teach people about consultative selling, adopting a consultative sales approach, what exactly do they need to do? We believe that becoming a consultative sales person requires becoming more proactive and developing a new mindset. A mindset which is different from the traditional transactional focus.
Transactional salespeople focus on the transaction, on making the sale. They focus on what they have to sell, their products and services and how these might be able to benefit the customer. The focus is on closing the deal; and therefore it tends to be short term.
Truly consultative selling requires a new mindset, a different approach, a change in the way we are seen by the customer. A consultative sales person wants to be viewed by the customer as being an expert, as someone who is focusing on them, and on their clients too i.e. the customer's customer. Consultative sales people focus not simply on winning the deal but on helping the customer to win. This requires developing a more long-term focus. Clearly the objective is to still win the business, but at the same time a consultative sales person wants their customer to win too – so more business can be developed with their customer in the future.
Developing a new mind set
This new mindset is fundamentally about being more proactive and less reactive in the sales approach. Reactive, transactional sales people respond to customer needs and react to customer demand. Proactive sales consultants look for ideas and opportunities to help the customer to win in their market.
Consultative sales people understand that customers value insight
Research conducted by Huthwaite research reinforced this point; thousands of senior executives said they would be willing to meet with a sales person who was proactive and could deliver real value and insight. These executives said they would be happy to meet with a sales person who could do the following:
1. Identify unrecognized opportunities
By this they meant they wanted ideas, proactive ideas about new opportunities, opportunities ‘that they had not recognized themselves’. In other words, the value to the senior executive wasn't from the sales person’s products or services but from their potential insight, being able to suggest and discuss new ideas and opportunities which the senior executive had not yet considered and
helping to identify a new business opportunity.
2. Find solutions to problems
Senior executives also said they would talk to sales people who could help them to find a new solution to an existing business problem, which they were struggling to resolve. They thought that the sales person might be aware of a solution from talking to other customers. Again the belief was that the sales person could bring insight from outside the company.
3. Highlight future business problems
The third area was perhaps the more challenging for sales people. Senior executives said they would meet with sales people who could highlight a future business problem which they might not have realized was coming. Again, the sales person's value is in their insight and expertise, because they are out in the market, they are aware of what’s happening; observing trends, being proactive.
The insight and value of a consultative sales person
The value a consultative sales person provides comes from their expertise and insight, not just from their products and services. It comes from their ability to identify new opportunities, to find new solutions and to identify future business problems. A consultative sales person's value is in their proactivity and in being able to articulate these to the customer - this is the approach and mindset we advocate for consultative selling.
When we talk about consultative selling we are constantly stressing the importance of developing trust to help build a successful business relationship. Think about it for a minute, who would you prefer to buy from, someone who puts your back up and makes you feel uncomfortable or someone you like and respect? Trusting people is the key to any successful relationship and it should be the consultative sales person’s continual focus throughout the entire sales cycle. ‘How to develop successful sales relationships’.
The relationship test
There are three basic tests to a relationship with someone, which your customers almost certainly consider when they start to get to know you:
Do you trust them? - Trust is the most important. If you can’t trust the other person, you have no relationship or partnership.
Do you like them? – 'Can I get along with this person?' 'Do I want to work with them?'
Can they do the job? - 'Can they provide the service?' Your customer often has many choices as to who can provide the service they are seeking. Have you ever wondered why a customer has bought an inferior product or service from another supplier? It’s because they trusted the person who sold it to them.
People buy from people
The reason that trust is so important is “people buy from people” and “they buy from people they trust and like it” - ‘people do business with people’. To illustrate this point let’s look at the example of Mark McCormack, founder of a company called IMG and well known from his book “What they don't teach you at Harvard Business School”. McCormack built the largest sports marketing company in the world - he developed sponsorships for golfers, tennis players, racing drivers and was once considered the most powerful man in sport. He was renowned for having built most of his successful relationships with the world’s greatest sports people, on the basis of a handshake! McCormack said: “it's a basic fact that all things being equal, people prefer to buy from friends, it is also true that when all things are not equal people still prefer to buy from friends!”
How to build trust with the customer
So what can you do to develop trust with your customers and successfully build your relationship with them?
Focus on the customer first. Think about the customer's customer and show that you really care about their success.
Demonstrate your experience, your knowledge and your expertise all of which will add value. People will then start to trust the information that you give them.
Deliver what you promise. It sounds simple but you would be surprised how few sales people simply follow the basics.
Be reliable and trustworthy. Become known to the customer for being reliable and trustworthy. This means simple things, like returning calls on time; sending follow-up information if you promise to do that. It means maintaining confidences. More than anything else it simply means "if you say you're going to do something, do it"
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?
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?!