A recent post I wrote on competing and cooperating drew a comment on LinkedIn. The comment suggested that as salespeople we should try to be valuable to our clients, even if it doesn’t include selling them whatever it is we sell. It also suggested that we should be more like consultants, ensuring that the client is the ultimate winner as we compete for their business.
These are noble ideas, but they aren’t exactly right. Following them causes serious sales problems.
First, in sales, we should find a way to create value for our dream clients before their buying cycle even begins, something I have written about here countless times. But once their buying cycle and our sales process begins, you had better be damned biased towards your own solution—if you were wrong for your dream client, why weren’t they disqualified?
Once the competition begins, it’s game on.
Second, in sales, we share a lot in common with consultants. But unless you are a consultant, you are not a consultant.
What Sales and Consultants Have In Common
Salespeople and consultants have much in common. Both salespeople and consultants need to have extraordinarily high business acumen. The more complex the sale or the business problems, the more business acumen is required.
Both salespeople and consultants improve their client’s business performance. Both need to have the experience and the situational knowledge to do so. And both can be trusted advisers, even though this isn’t always the case for either group (it is something that is earned over time, and your clients determine whether or not you are one; you only decide if you behave like one).
But before we get the main difference, let’s dispel a few incorrect beliefs about consultants.
Consultants Are Not Impartial
Salespeople talk about consultants as if they are completely impartial, simply providing the trusted advice of someone with the business experience and acumen with no particular bias. This is, quite simply, wrong.
Consultants are completely biased, perhaps even more than salespeople. The good folks at the McKinsey Group aren’t very interested in recommending that their clients hire Boston Consulting Group. Consultants are very partial to their solutions, so much so that they build consulting practices around their ability to help their clients improve their business.
They are anything but impartial.
Consultants Don’t Sell
I know dozens of people who have entered the consulting world only to fail miserably. They knew their subject matter as well as anyone in their field, and in some cases, they were probably far better than most. The problem that they encountered was that to be a consultant you have to have a client with whom to consult.
It’s true that consultants are thought leaders. It is true their publishing brings them some clients. But most spend time pursuing new business because without it, they are no longer consultants.
What You Believe Consultative Selling Means
Mack Hanan wrote the book on Consultative Selling. The purpose was to shift the focus of salespeople to selling the value that they created instead of the product or service. It has nothing whatsoever to do with not selling, not competing, or being impartial. Mack would have advised nothing of the sort.
Consulting doesn’t mean either being impartial or not selling. And here, finally, is the crux of my argument:
Consultants sell their advice. Unless you sell and are paid solely for your advice, you sell something else and you are a salesperson. Embrace it.
Embrace it and understand that none of this is mutually exclusive.
You can be a salesperson who knows how to create a business improvement for their client, just like a consultant—in fact, you had better be that kind of salesperson.
You can also be a salesperson and be a trusted adviser—in fact, you’d be well advised to try to earn that moniker.
You can be consultative and still be a salesperson (even though most salespeople never get close to Mack Hanan’s vision . . . where selling price disappears completely). These ideas aren’t in any way mutually exclusive. What you cannot do, however, if you are to succeed in sales, is behave as if you get paid for offering your impartial and unbiased advice. Compete! Embrace it!
Are you paid solely for your unbiased advice and recommendation?
Do you believe that you are expected to be unbiased? That your dream client doesn’t know why you are spending time with them? How you are paid? Do you believe they are offended? Are they offended any more than their clients are when they sell?
If you are not biased towards your own solution for a particular dream client, how do they qualify as a dream client and why are you pursuing them?
Consultative selling requires that you sell the business outcome and present those numbers. Do you give your client a price for your goods or services, or do you give them a price for creating an increase in their revenue, a decrease in their costs unrelated to price, and/or an increase in profit?