- Being consultative means that you provide someone with sound advice about their future decisions.
- The more time you spend sharing information about your company and your solutions in early conversations, the less consultative the conversation.
- The real value you create is providing your client with a new perspective, one that leads to better results.
A consultant is a person you pay to provide you with their professional advice. When you are ill, you consult a doctor. When you have a legal issue, you consult a lawyer, seeking their counsel. In both cases, the person who is providing you with their direction and their assistance will expect you to pay them for their advice—the doctor for providing you with a care plan and the barrister for providing you a legal strategy and a strong case.
In the world of B2B sales, most salespeople want to be “consultative,” but many think that just means asking their clients good questions, avoiding anything that might be interpreted as a high-pressure tactic. While it’s important to ask powerful questions and not bully your client, those two factors do not guarantee a consultative approach. What makes one consultative is their ability to provide sound and effective advice about the decisions their client makes for their business.
The Challenge of We
Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, assembled a research team to examine the statements of leaders of publicly-traded companies, analyzing how often they used the word “I” versus “we” in their communications. The more these leaders used “we” instead of “I,” the better results they got. Good leaders take responsibility when things go wrong while giving the credit to their team when the company performs well.
While the word “we” is good in leadership, it’s not so helpful in early sales conversations, where a client might hear, “We have been in business for thirty-seven years, we have seventeen locations in the area, and we count some of the best and well-recognized companies as our clients.” These “we” statements might be followed by “our approach would be to use this method” or “our solution is designed to provide lower costs in this way.”
Measuring how often you say “we” or “our” in early sales calls helps indicate how consultative your conversations are. The more you try to prove that choosing your company is a safe and sound decision or that your solutions are somehow superior to your competitors’, the more certain your conversation is anti-consultative.
For decades, the idea of discovery has been built on asking questions that elicit the client’s “dissatisfaction” or their “pain points.” That idea is built on a general truth that there must be a reason for a client to change, and it assumes once your client admits that they have a problem, you can move to sharing how your company, your solution, and your contract will fix that problem. Let’s call this a legacy approach to discovery, the way that we have always done things.
You win and lose deals in discovery, not later on when your contacts make their decisions official. If your legacy approach to discovery is indistinguishable from your competitors’, it’s doubtful that you are enacting the kind of differentiated value creation that would create a preference to buy from you. The decision your client is making reflects who they believe will provide them with the best results, based on their experience throughout the sales conversation.
A modern sales approach to discovery is designed for both the client and the salesperson to discover and learn. The consultative salesperson is educating the client about the trends and factors that impact their decisions, providing context that helps clarify the nature of their challenges and opportunities. At the same time, the salesperson is being educated by their prospective client about the client’s experience, providing another data point that sharpens their view.
Juxtaposing the legacy approach and a modern approach shines a light on the value of a consultative conversation. If you ask a decision-maker what amounts to “what’s keeping you up at night,” they have learned nothing about the nature of their problem, why they are struggling, the choices that might be available to them, or how to go about choosing a solution and a partner. They are no better off than before they committed an hour of their life to a conversation with an anti-consultative salesperson.
Creating Value Worth Payment
Here is a test you can use to determine how consultative you are in the sales conversation: how much should your client have to pay for what you taught them during the sales call? Put another way, what is the knowledge and the deeper understanding you provide worth to them and their business?
If your client is no better off for having spent time with you, then there is no reason they should pay for that conversation. But if your contact has a better understanding of why they should change, how they should change, the factors they should consider, and how to improve their results, that’s value worth remuneration.
Here’s the punch line: the way you prove that you are the right partner to help your client with the better results they need is by creating value for them through the sales conversation, not just by selling them a quality product. If that experience is not valuable enough that they should have to pay for it, they’ll know full well just how little value you can create for them—why should they bother buying from you?
In the end, the value you create as a consultative salesperson must be created within the boundaries of the sales conversation. Your expert advice on the business decisions your client must make should be the primary source of value creation, without relying on your company or even your solution.
Do Good Work
- Eliminate the tendency to use “we” during discovery, so you can limit any conversation that isn’t focused on the client.
- Determine what you need to teach your prospective clients that will help them make better decisions.
- Measure yourself by how valuable the conversation was to the decision-maker by assigning it a monetary value.
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Filed under: Sales