To become a truly consultative salesperson, you need to know more than your clients in a few important areas (the idea of being “one-up”) and be in a position to share your perspective and offer your advice. These four areas of insight are not the only insights available to you, nor are they mutually exclusive. However, they do provide you with some guidance on how to think about developing and delivering the insights that will make you relevant and create a preference to work with you.
Why Change: More Than Dissatisfaction
Rather than eliminating something and replacing it, evolution tends to create something that transcends and includes what came before. The traditional idea that discovery is about eliciting dissatisfaction is still useful. However, consultative selling has evolved past that idea, superseding it with modern approaches built on the idea of compelling change.
The insights that now make you consultative stretch beyond identifying what the client already believes they need to improve or even forcing them to admit they need to improve. Instead, to be valuable your insights not only have to explain why your client should change, but also must include your perspective on the reasons that are driving that change.
These insights provide a proactive case for change, eliminating the need for your prospective client to struggle and fail to produce positive results before you can offer them your help. “Why change” insights need to provide the why behind the why.
Potential Solutions: Solving the Real Problem
Without any real insights, all you have left is your solution. Indeed, you are supposed to be selling your solution, and you are paid handsomely for doing so. But there is nothing consultative about selling your solution; what makes you consultative is helping your client produce better results by solving their problems.
The source of your prospective client’s problem may be that their current solution is no longer working or that their current partner is no longer taking care of them appropriately. But just as often, the obstacle is something your contacts are doing, inadvertently getting in their own way. It might be the assumptions they are operating from, or it could be something they refuse to change. In either case, they share some share of the blame for their problems.
One of the ways you can tell a consultative salesperson from one who isn’t quite there yet is that the consultative salesperson will tell their contacts what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. (Some clients will want to hear what they also need to hear, but only mature ones who insist on the truth.) The not-quite-consultative salesperson will not risk offending the client by sharing the insights that would shatter their assumptions— and reveal the changes they need to make as part of the solution.
Guided Buying: An Effective Process
The idea that buyers have a process is a fiction. First, there are all different kinds of buyers. Second, when they have a process, it usually resembles something like a Request for Proposal, a process they believe keeps things fair and allows them to acquire a low price. In most cases, RFPs aren’t designed to choose the best partner. A large number of deals will find you with contacts who need help, but have no formal process for making the change they need. Know for sure that selling is about change.
Like all the other insights here, you are responsible for closing any gaps in your client’s knowledge or experience by sharing your own. One of the primary ways you help your clients resolve their challenges and produce the better results they need is by teaching them how to make that change within their company. You can think of this as facilitating the buying process, an idea I call “controlling the process” in The Lost Art of Closing: Winning the 10 Commitments That Drive Sales.
Your contacts may not know why they need to spend time with you to design a solution that will work for them, or they may lack the knowledge or experience needed to build consensus early and improve their ability to make the change they need. The critical insights here help you recommend a process that allows your client to succeed in changing and in realizing the results they need.
Salespeople who don’t recognize this as their responsibility, or who lack the insights to have these conversations, settle for following their contact’s lead when they, in fact, should be leading them.
Ensuring Execution: Realizing Results
Many consultative insights are what you might call “situational knowledge,” representing what a salesperson has learned helping their clients over time. One reason you know how to help your clients realize their end goal is your experience with what doesn’t work, and why.
Here, you offer consultative insights into your client’s choice of solutions. You have to know why one choice fails under a certain set of circumstances and succeeds under other conditions. You also have to know which solutions are better—or even necessary. A good bit of these insights feel like intuition, but if you sit down and write all of the reasons you believe one decision is better than a competing option, you will soon recognize these insights and how best to present them. The end result for your client is the ability to execute the right solution and improve their business, something more important than adopting your solution alone.
Being consultative means that you provide your client with advice about how to make decisions around their business that improves their results. The less your advice is about your solution, the more consultative you are. If the only advice you have is that your contacts should buy your solution, your approach isn’t consultative.
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