While consultative selling has become a very familiar concept to most in the selling profession, it is still frequently listed as one of the behavioural changes that many sales leaders would like to instil their sales teams.
The term was applied to sales as early as the 1970’s and marked a transition from the sales person as a conveyer of product information to a far more collaborative dialogue, where the client’s needs and not the product becomes the focal point of the conversation.
With this approach the sales person tends to:
- ask more questions
- provides more customised versus generic solutions
- have more interactive conversations as opposed to scripted
- demonstrates more insight
- show an understanding of the clients world, needs and challenges
- show a desire to solve the clients problems over and above pitching a product or service.
Consultative selling is often referred to as solution-based selling, which is a helpful term to understanding the emphasis of the methodology. The focus is not on the product or service but on the needs and pains of the client – before presenting how the product can solve or meet those needs.
There are broadly six principles to taking a consultative approach to selling:
- Do your research
- Ask the right questions
- Listen to your prospects answers
- Educate your prospect
- Qualify your prospect
- Close the deal
It’s a very broad outline that will need to be tailored to an individual product, service or organisation, but it should provide enough of a framework to start building a consultative sales process. The methodology you adopt for your business will also need to reflect, your product or service, your sales cycles, your industry as well as your buyer personas.
Doing the research
As with any sale the first step is to do your research using the intelligence that you have acquired in the process of generating the lead.
If you are using an automated marketing system you will already have a great deal of information to hand; name, company, pages visited on your site, email address, perhaps number of employees and potential budget. More importantly with automated marketing you will have a great deal of knowledge about what content your lead is most interested in, this will give you an indication of what questions they are trying to answer or need they are trying to meet.
If the lead is a referral or from another source, you may need to start the research phase from scratch.
Spend time looking at your prospects website, their company news section, their LinkeIN profile, twitter stream or other social profiles.
Once you have thoroughly done your research you will be ready to make the next move.
Ask the right questions
After many sales people have done their research they begin to form a mental picture about what the prospect is looking for. Be very wary of making these kinds of assumptions, or, at the very least don’t give the prospect the impression that you have already come to some conclusions.
Now is the time to ask open ended questions and get your prospect to volunteer this information over the course of the dialogue. This will help to build up a level of trust.
Ask questions that start with the words Who, What, Where, How, Why, and When. Avoid starting questions with words like Do, Are, You, and Can.
The aim is to slowly uncover the prospects goals and plans, their challenges in executing the plan, as well as establish a timeline for reaching their goals.
You will also need to find out what their likely budget is and whether there will be other people involved in the final decision. Are they a gatekeeper, an influencer or the decision maker?
Listen To Your Prospect
Sounds obvious, but a lot of sales people have a predetermined script; they may nod at the customer before going right on ahead with their same old sales pitch.
With the consultative sales method the salesperson will carefully listen to and consider the customer’s exact needs before offering any advice and well before trying to match a product or service with the customer’s needs.
The aim is to ensure that both parties understand what the other is communicating.
Documenting all of the information the customer is relaying whilst taking in their needs is a key skill in customer service and care. Having that information to hand after speaking with them tells them that the salesperson has listened and understands the clients’ needs.
Focus on the person and respond to what they have said with either another relevant question or simply by repeating what they have communicated.
The information gathered through active listening will help you to summarise and present an opportunity. It will also help to qualify your lead and move you towards a close.
Educate and Inform
Throughout the process of asking questions and listening you will be presented with opportunities to educate and inform your prospect. This is not about teaching them about your product or service, but about helping them to overcome their challenges and building a plan to overcome them and realize their goals.
This may involve your product or service, but again, the focus should be on how that product or service will help your client.
Be wary of giving away too much knowledge. In the aim of demonstrating expertise many sales people move into the territory of offering too much free consulting, it’s a delicate balance matching the right amount of knowledge transfer with the questions you ask and the answers you receive.
Qualifying Your Lead
The old IBM-pioneered approach is still relevant today as a framework for qualifying leads. The acronym BANT stands for Budget, Authority, Need, and Timeline.
The question, answer and listening phase of your consultative selling approach should already have uncovered many of these points. However don’t be afraid of addressing them with further questions if you need clarification.
Qualifying or weighting a lead will allow you to focus and allocate the appropriate resources to clients that are worth the effort.
Unqualified leads give you the chance to help, be friendly, inform and build a level of trust, however if through the question and answer process you can identify that the customer isn’t a good fit for what you have to offer, you can politely move on.
Don’t make the mistake of spending too much time trying to close an unqualified lead. It will be a time and resource drain for both of you.
Closing the deal
There is never a sale without a close and you shouldn’t be reluctant to move to close once you have qualified your lead.
Closing a qualified lead should be relatively simple, as they will have already considered factors such as timeframe and budget.
If, however, the customer isn’t sold, or you receive push back during your closing sequence, try to paint pictures with counter questions, such as:
“What will happen if you can’t reach your goal?”
“What will happen if you can’t overcome your challenges?”
The closing process must feel natural and not forced – the customer shouldn’t be made to feel nervous or uncomfortable with any questions. This is why only focussing on the customers you feel are right for what you are offering will maintain the highest hit rate.
Consultative Sales Training
As with most sales techniques consultative selling is a skill which can be taught and learned. It will come more naturally and instinctively to some people, but that does not mean that others won’t benefit from training.
If you are considering consultative sales training for either yourself or for your sales team there are a number of areas that should be incorporated.
Make sure training covers or reinforces the basics, the skills and qualities of a top sales performer, how to recognise strengths, weakness and areas for development.
The course should cover the buying state, why people buy and the different decision making styles.
Most importantly training should focus on helping sales people to becoming trusted business advisers for their clients. It should provide the necessary skills to ask effective questions and genuinely listen so that clients feel understood and valued.
The goal is to move the sales person away from solution pitches to having a results-driven dialogue with their clients, enabling them to craft solutions that exactly match their clients’ needs, challenges and buying criteria.
For more information on consultative sales training visit: http://www.turnstone-sales.com/sales-training/