It takes a long time to become a consultative salesperson if you are not given the training, development, and coaching that would speed up your development. As you pass through the development stages to become a consultative salesperson, you will become a very good and effective salesperson long before you become consultative.
Your solution, even when it solves your client’s problem, isn’t consultative sales. Neither are products, services, solutions, your company, or any other factor. What defines you as consultative is your ability to provide your clients and prospective clients with good advice and counsel.
Everything Is Your Fault
When I started in sales, I did really well. I had good mentors, and because I wanted to help people get better results, my focus on trying to solve their problems made it easy for people to give me an opportunity, even when I lacked a good approach. As I studied sales and found new strategies, tactics, and approaches, I started to win deals with revenues in the tens of millions of dollars.
At some point, I didn’t have trouble winning big deals, but my company struggled to produce the results the client needed. It was a constant source of conflict for a long time until I turned my attention away from my team and toward my clients. It was then that I realized they were the source of their own challenges, and their challenges were the source of my team’s challenges. No matter what my team and I might do to improve things, nothing would change until the client changed.
Once I discovered that no one had ever told my clients what they were doing that caused both of us to fail, I recognized there was another level of value that could be deployed to improve their results—and one that was necessary.
Everything is your fault, even if it isn’t your fault.
As I started to tell my clients that they were the problem and that nothing would change until they changed, I did so with what you might describe as something less than “diplomatic.” I was a bit more direct than the conversations called for and sometimes maybe more than a bit. You cannot expect someone who is hearing something that sounds like criticism not to respond by being defensive, even when the person sharing it is excited for having solved the problem. To your client, it can sound like: “You suck.”
Over time, I found ways to share the bad news with my clients that everything was their fault, even though I framed it as being my fault. Instead of sharing the news in such a way that I caused my contacts to reject what they were hearing, I started by apologizing for not sharing what I knew to be an obstacle earlier. There were a lot of problems that were not my responsibility, nor were they something my company offered any help solving. However, getting results meant making them my responsibility.
Sometimes, the clients’ employees were the problem, resisting change, and making things more difficult than they should have been. Other times, there were cultural issues that caused our solution to fail. There were other factors that clients were oblivious to that ended up costing both of us time and money. Many conversations started with, “I should have recognized this sooner,” until such time that I was confident enough to start heading these problems off before signing a contract.
Your clients have a lot of different problems, some of which you can solve with your advice, your good counsel, and your solution. Many more of their problems will surround your problem, and one of the things that makes you a consultative salesperson is the fact that you recognize and address these issues.
Expanding Your Responsibility
Let’s assume you sell some sort of Software as a Service (SAAS). Your software helps salespeople manage a serious and value-creating prospecting sequence. The value you provide to your clients is the ability to professionally manage a larger number of prospective clients. You are not, however, responsible for the sales force’s compliance, that responsibility belonging to the sales manager.
But what if the sales manager doesn’t know how to hold the team accountable? Surely that isn’t your responsibility, is it? Assuming you do nothing, the client’s salespeople do less than nothing, and there is no case to be made that the investment was worthwhile—how likely are you to retain the client? The fact is that your client’s failure becomes your failure.
One of the things that define your approach is expanding your responsibility, whether or not your client asks for your help. In the not-so-hypothetical hypothetical above, your advice and your counsel needs to extend to the sales manager’s problem of compliance. One way to look at this problem is to take responsibility for things that are not really your fault. You sold your client an outcome, and if they are not realizing it, that is in part because you did not set them up for success.
Are you familiar with the best practices of holding people accountable for using a new software tool? What are the structures that your client needs to implement to improve? What if a sales manager lacks the background needed to create the content and scripts necessary to sell your product?
Your Expansion as a Salesperson
You can no longer be a know-nothing in B2B sales, especially complex sales, where you are going to need to be consultative. The good news is that by taking responsibility outside of what you currently believe to be your role, you improve your clients’ results—and their interest in working with you.
One of the ways you might think about sales is how you might sell so that you will have more opportunities to do so in the future, continuing an existing relationship instead of competing to establish one.
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Filed under: Sales