What kind of salesperson are you?

Please don’t be that Salesperson!

No one likes a “salesperson,” but everyone appreciates working with a professional sales consultant. If you’re a new salesperson, here’s the buyer reality: Salespeople are irritating! That belief comes from the customer experience of dealing with multitudes of salespeople who pitch and push – fit or no fit. Their goal is obvious – make a sale whether the customer needs the solution or not.

OUCH!! That approach is painful for both parties – buyer AND seller. It’s a sure-fire cycle of failure.

Try Consultative Selling Instead

Consultants take a very different approach. They ask strategic questions, listen intently, and patiently learn the buyer’s business goals and constraints. Ultimately, consultative sellers help buyers connect the dots without ever offering a solution. Only when the buyer is ready – psychologically ready – will they offer options and solutions.

From the buyer’s perspective, consultative sellers are radically different from the typical salesperson. It’s why selling consultatively is still the most productive selling approach bar none (here’s a quick read on Consultative vs. Insight Selling).

So, what are the basics of good consultative selling? Hopefully, the following is the advice you’re already getting from your sales manager.

Consultative Selling 101

Value First, Friendship Later

The early few minutes of a sales call can be awkward. After all, it’s strangers meeting for the first time. Even if you’re Sammy Social, here’s a good rule of thumb for all new sellers:

Get down to business sooner rather than later!

We often see inexperienced salespeople spend far too much time early on with small talk. This is an obvious attempt to build a relationship, but it’s a bad way to do it. Here’s why:

Today’s buyer is VERY busy (at least the ones who have power and influence in decisions). Above all else, they value their TIME. Bottom line – they aren’t interested in being your best friend. So instead of spending too much time schmoozing early on, get down to business sooner rather than later. Ditch the superficiality, instead spend your time learning if (not how – that’s presumptive) you can help this buyer/organization by learning about their situation.

I’ve developed many great friendships in the business world over the years, but those relationships began AFTER I captured and delivered value, not before. So, if you’re going to make a mistake in a sales call, make it by getting down to business sooner rather than later. Buyers will appreciate your professionalism!

Summary: Gain the buyer’s respect first by delivering solid business value through a consultative approach. As a result, you’ll be the type of person they’d like to have a relationship with.

Mindset for Consultative Selling

Early on in the relationship, don’t worry about “selling” – worry about helping. Your attitude must be ‘can I help this person or organization?’ This is where the consultative part comes into play – listening, learning, and guiding. After a conversation, if you can help someone, tell them; if not, be candid and walk away (note: they’ll let you back in at a later date when their situation changes because you’re the kind of professional they want to do business with).

You would think this attitude is so obvious that every seller has adopted it, but the sad reality is that the helping mindset is in surprisingly short supply these days. For you, that market deficiency is an opportunity to separate and differentiate from the rest of the sales herd.

Summary: Always lead with a helping mindset. Nothing is more important.

First Call Strategy

Determine Buyer Stage

First and foremost, on that very first face-to-face call, learn what stage the (potential) customer is in for their decision-making process. There are typically two stages that buyers reside when salespeople first engage:

  • Satisfaction Stage: Buyers aren’t yet ready to commit to change, but are considering it for situational reasons. Their question is whether their problems are strong and serious enough to warrant an investment. Your goal is to help them answer that question, not pitch your solution.
  • Shopping Stage: Buyers are actively looking for a solution around your offering category (stage hint: they probably contacted you). Their goal is to choose the best option among an ocean of alternatives. Your objective is to help them make the best decision.

To determine the stage of the buyer, simply ask them – that’s a smart strategy to ensure you’re psychologically aligned. Perhaps ask a question as follows: “Ms. Buyer, can I ask where you are at in regards to a decision around ‘X’? Are you just considering it but aren’t sure, or are you actively looking for a solution?” Then, based on their answer, default to the appropriate selling strategy.

Utilize the Appropriate Strategy

Regardless of the buyer’s answer, the salesperson must act as a sales consultant, but the selling strategies are very different for the two stages.

Satisfaction Stage Strategy

When the buyer is in the Satisfaction Stage, the strategy is to understand the client situation (objectives and problem severity) to collaboratively see if the situation warrants change. When you’re highly effective at this competence, you’ll help buyers see that the problems they’ve accepted as normal costs of business are a lot more expensive than they’ve realized.

For this stage, learn a great questioning strategy like SPIN or FOCAS (the Predictive Conversations model for this stage). There is no more important competence to master for those aspiring to be a true consultative seller.

Shopping Stage Strategy

If the buyer is in the Shopping Stage, it’s all about finding and influencing buyer decision-factors. Decision factors are things like capabilities, specifications, etc. They’ll have a few criteria, but your job is to teach them new criteria they hadn’t thought about. In this phase, you’re learning, but you’re also teaching.

In this decision stage, buyers are trying to differentiate you, not commoditize you, so don’t hesitate to tell them early on what separates your company from others. Don’t jump into solutions yet – just broad brushstrokes.

Too often sellers rush to presentations and demonstrations with buyers in the Shopping Stage. Our advice: SLOW THE PROCESS DOWN! Just like your parents or your Uncle Tommy advised, “measure twice, cut once.” Your customers will intuitively appreciate that wise approach, reinforcing once again that you’re the kind of person they want to do business with.

Summary: Determine the buyer’s decision-making stage (Satisfaction vs. Shopping) then utilize the appropriate strategy for the buyer’s psychological readiness.

But wait, there’s more to consultative selling…

That’s it for this time around. I’ll spend more time in the next blog on the Basics of Consultative Selling, so keep an eye out if you found this valuable!

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