Early in your career in sales, you work on solving your dream client’s problems by displacing your competitor and providing them with your product or service, believing this is all that is necessary for better results. When your company fails your client, you blame your company, especially when you could have easily avoided the failure.
Much of the time, your first reaction is to be embarrassed and inform the client you will intervene and straighten things out for them. Because you are accountable for the outcomes you sell, you are responsible for putting things right.
Over time, you recognize a particular pattern. You call on your dream client, you elicit their existing dissatisfaction, you share with them all the things you are going to do differently from your competitor to improve their results, and you win their business. Your company, like all others, has service failures, occasionally disappointing your clients, and you have to clean up the messes your team makes, believing that all failures belong to your company, the individuals responsible for taking care of your client.
The deeper you burn in this pattern, the less likely it is possible for you to transform into a consultative salesperson. There is another pattern you must recognize if you genuinely want to give your clients sound advice and competent counsel.
The Second Pattern
You sit down with your dream client. They spend an enormous amount of money in your category. In your early sales conversations, you are excited by how easy it is to uncover all the sources of their dissatisfaction.
During the call, your primary contact explains all the ways your competitors have disappointed them over the years. There is no chance that they don’t move the business, and you are confident you are going to displace your rival in your territory.
The problems this prospective client is experiencing looks like a case study for your company’s value proposition. All you need to do is remove your competitor’s solution and install yours.
Very early on, your company and your solution fail your dream client. You chalk it up to the learning curve, something that is often necessary when standing up a new program with a new client. But the problems persist, and over time, not only do they get worse, but your client is more unhappy and critical of your results and your effort. No matter what your team tries, nothing seems to work. You become belligerent, embarrassed, and push your team to do better.
At some point, someone recognizes that the client hasn’t made a change they would need to make for your solution—or anyone else’ s—to work. They realize that without the client making the necessary change, they will never have the result they want. Consciously or unconsciously, instead of making a change internally, they are simply swapping out their external partners, trying to find someone who can get them the result they need.
The second pattern is different from the first. In the first pattern, your company is at fault. In the second pattern, the failure belongs to your client. Becoming a consultative and a trusted advisor depends upon your ability—and your willingness—to see the second pattern and to recognize it early in the sales conversation.
Speaking Truth to Power
What makes you a consultative salesperson is not the fact that you ask the right questions and avoid all high-pressure sales tactics. While those attributes are helpful, they are not what makes you consultative. What makes you consultative is your ability to provide your client with the right advice about how to improve their business.
Your advice may include your solution, and in some cases, that may be all that is necessary to provide your client with better results. But in many more examples, the advice you need to deliver will require your client to make changes on their side for your solution to produce the best result.
A large part of consultative sales is speaking truth to power, explaining to your prospective client—while they are still a prospect—the changes they are going to need to make on their side. Selling the change your client needs to make is more complicated by order of magnitude, especially if they are aware that they need to make a change and, for whatever reason, refuse to do so.
When you recognize your client’s problem requires them to make a change, and you allow them to believe they can get better results without making that change, you are not consultative. You are not exhibiting the traits that might lead to your clients believing you are a trusted advisor. Instead, you’re just another salesperson in a long line of salespeople they believe have lied to them and failed them.
Here is a hint as to how you recognize this pattern early enough to determine your client has a problem they need to solve.
- They will very quickly provide you with all the ways your competitors have failed them very early, often being critical of the individuals assigned to their account and their companies.
- Their complaints are around problems that other clients, ones who do something different, are not experiencing.
- They continually switch partners or add new partners, complaining that no one can effectively take care of their needs.
- When asked what changes they have made to improve their results over the last twelve or eighteen months, they will have nothing to report outside of changing providers.
What makes you a consultative salesperson is recognizing the pattern and telling your prospective client they need to invest more money, change their overall strategy, remove and replace their existing equipment, change their internal processes, add additional resources, or completely abandon something they have been unwilling to give up.
In complex sales, specifically complex B2B sales, you are going to see both of these patterns. Sometimes your company will fail your client, and you will have to make adjustments. Other times, your client will have to make adjustments to produce the better results they need. Occasionally, both you and your dream client are going to have to make changes to dial in a solution together, with both of you making changes.
Becoming consultative includes solving difficult problems, not avoiding them. The best salesperson isn’t the one who ignores the client’s real challenge; it’s the one that helps address them effectively—even if that is a more difficult sale than merely selling them their solution.
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Filed under: Sales