In sales, quality products and closing deals are the keys to success, right? Not if you’re taking the consultative approach to selling. Consultative selling approaches customers from a completely different perspective than traditional selling. You see, the traditional approach focuses on products; consultative selling focuses on solutions. Consultative selling concentrates on building a relationship with customers based on honesty, trust, professionalism and a sincere interest in the customer’s business. The consultative representative is out to help customers solve problems, and seizing these opportunities might involve something outside their usual bag of products.
Take for instance the case of a small company that supplied shelving to a giant retailer. A sales team from the small company met with executives from the giant retailer in order to review their relationship to see if any improvements were needed.
During the meeting, a retail executive brought up an issue unrelated to shelving. He said a real need they had was an organized system for regularly distributing a multitude of manufacturers’ store displays among its various locations. Then he jokingly suggested that a solution to that problem would really make them happy.
Rising to the challenge, the sales team brain-stormed on the way home and later devised a display distributions system that was successfully tested at the giant retailer’s stores.
The sales team responded according to an important principle in consultative selling: addressing the customer’s personal motives is a priority. The success of the customer is the key to the consultative seller’s success. It is an approach summarized by the acronym SEL:
Traditional selling is driven by techniques and formulas: The best way to gain an appointment, the latest method for closing a deal, and how to handle objections. Now, that’s not to say that techniques are never an appropriate tool. But today’s buyer is more sophisticated and resistant to manipulation through rote sales methods. Although consultative selling requires effort, over time it is more efficient and results in a sincere, ongoing business relationship, and customer for life. Let’s consider a four-step approach:
This involves establishing yourself with customers as a person with whom they want to do business. It does not happen in a one-time sales call, but over time, as you build a level of trust and personal credibility.
This is where you learn about your customer’s business, industry, and even your customer’s customers by asking open-ended questions and actively listening. You identify the customer’s critical success factors and look for gaps in their business – where they are and where they want to be – and begin developing ideas for ways to fill those gaps.
Here, you create a solution for the gaps you’ve discovered and begin advocating this solution to your customer. The goal is to provide solutions that meet needs and make your customer’s business more effective. As you discuss the benefits of these solutions, the customer makes the buying decision.
The sale is complete, but you’re not done. Follow-up insures that the solution you’ve provided is satisfactory. You continue building rapport with your customer as a solution provider and an indispensable partner.
Let’s go back to that bag of products. In today’s market, the competition has similar products and prices. In some cases, their product may even have features which yours doesn’t, which means you must either find ways to make your offer look better or find ways to differentiate your offer.
Differentiating means thinking creatively. Sometimes, the best ideas are very simple. Consider the fast food industry. In the rather fickle world of fast food frenzy, one franchise that was sandwiched between two other big competitors, studied the habits and preferences of customers. They realized that customers liked free refills and didn’t like to wait in line at the counter, so they introduced the stand alone, self-service drink dispenser. This small, simple difference helped them gain market share over the competition and become the benchmark for the industry.