Benefits to Adopting a Consultative Sales Approach
In my previous blog I highlighted the key elements to consultative selling. I also shared with you that over the past 20+ years there has been a rapid shift from selling features and benefits and pitching to that of a consultative sales approach. This change in large part has been driven by the customer. Simply put, the customer wishes to engage sales people much differently today than they did in the past. Gone are the days of Always Be Closing!
Before we go any further let's be clear on our definition of consultative selling. I refer to consultative selling as the sales person following a sales methodology in which the goal is to help the client solve a problem. Following a consultative sales approach is all about the sales rep removing his or her personal agenda of making a sale and instead focusing on understanding the customer's goals and objectives and the challenges that stand in their way. When this becomes the sales reps mindset sales people will start to ask the questions that need to be asked in order to diagnose the customer's issues and come up with a solution.
Sales professionals who have successfully made the transition to adopt a consultative sales methodology have reaped huge benefits including higher value sales (larger deal values and bigger profit margins), quota attainment and bigger commission checks, improved customer satisfaction and retention, increase in customer referrals and overall improved customer loyalty not to mention differentiation in the marketplace. You might be thinking, “Really, they accomplish all of this just by changing their sales style?” The answer is YES.
I have actively coached thousands of sales reps over the years. Below are two examples of transactional sales behaviors that I commonly see that end with a poor result but can easily be resolved by following a consultative sales approach (which I will demonstrate below):
- Sales reps conducts a sales call to a customer or prospect without completing a call plan and says “I’m just calling to check in. Do you have any needs?” This call of course ends abruptly because there is no value in this call for the customer. The customer says "no." The sales rep moves on to his or her next call. End of story.
- Sales reps attending sales meetings and walking out of the meeting without an understanding for why the customer would buy from them or how (what steps the customer would have to complete) the customer would buy from them. This is where deals “die on the vine” because the sales rep doesn’t understand the customers purchasing process and therefore doesn't know how to compel the client to take the next step in the purchasing process. The client goes MIA.
So, how can consultative selling benefit an IT staffing sales professional with the scenarios I listed above?
What if instead of saying “I’m just checking in,” the sales rep said:
Sales Rep: “Mr. Customer, I'm reaching out to you today because one of the trends we are seeing in the data management space is the need to make actionable insight and data available on a mobile device for front line managers. However our customers are sharing with us they are struggling to set up their meta data repository when it comes to this task. What are you finding most challenging in this space?”
Customer: “That is interesting to hear. One of the things we have been working on to address that is….”
Remember, consultative selling implies that the sales rep acts and conducts him or herself as a consultant. I think this is a pretty good example of acting like a consultant. The rep demonstrates their knowledge of the customer's business and their role in the company when they reference "one of the trends we are seeing in the data management space is the need to make actionable insight and data available..." This sends a strong message to the customer that the sales rep "gets it." The customer is now inclined to engage with the sales rep and the sales rep is now in position to learn more about what the client is doing or not doing and uncover challenges that can be converted into sales opportunities.
Here is the major kicker! The sales rep from the competition called this same IT hiring manager and said "I'm calling to check in do you have any needs?" The customer of course said "no." Here is an IT manager telling another IT staffing sales rep "I have no needs," but the other rep who applied consultative selling is able to engage in a thought provoking conversation and change the customer's experience. This is differentiation! This is changing the buyers experience.
In the second example, the sales rep spends one hour in a sales meeting with a new prospect but walks out of the meeting knowing nothing about how the client would buy from him or why the client would buy from him. He or she might have an order but how are they going to close the deal? They don’t know how to close the deal because they don’t know how the buyer will buy. And because the sales rep doesn't understand how the buyer will buy the sales rep can't possibly know how to compel the customer to take the next step in their purchasing process. This is a classic case of the "the job order is hot but the client goes MIA." This can be avoided.
What if the sales rep used the following consultative sales approach?
Sales Rep: “Mr. Customer I understand you need the consultant to start by XYZ date. Part of my job as you know is to ensure we secure you the talent to get your project started and completed on time. In order to do that I know that there will be steps in your approval & purchasing process that will need to be completed before the consultant can start. For example, I know from my personal experience that most of my clients have to get approval from their HR department, their supervisor and often the CIO and of course the finance department. I also know this can take up to several weeks for all of the approvals. To ensure your project starts and is completed on time, please walk me through your purchasing process and all of the approvers. Second, I suggest we work together to come up with a plan to ensure all of the steps are completed before your desired start date of ___. How does that sound?"
Following this approach will layout precisely what needs to happen for the deal to close. And notice the sales rep is injecting himself into the client's purchasing process. Now the sales rep who is following this consultative sales approach knows what needs to be done to win the deal and can now begin to think about how they will compel the client to completing the next step in their purchasing process. Finally, the sales rep also engages the client to take ownership of completing the steps in the purchasing process by suggesting they work on a plan together.
Benefits of Consultative Selling for the Customer
In each of the examples I listed above I highlighted the benefits to the sales rep for following a consultative sales approach. But it is important to note that the client also gets clear benefits when they work with sales people who follow a consultative sales approach.
In the first example the client has the opportunity to learn from the sales rep how other companies are going about making data available on a mobile device and how they are setting up their metadata repository. This is a value add! The customer is getting better service as a direct result from the sales reps consultative sales approach. How does the client receive value from the sales rep who calls and says "I'm checking in, do you have any needs?"
In the second example the sales rep is thinking ahead in the process AND on behalf of the client. The client is only thinking about having the consultant start. They have not thought about what needs to happen before the consultant can start. Completing all of the steps in the purchasing process however takes time to complete which could impact the start date and even the completion date of the project. This is not at the forefront of the customer's mind. By following a consultative sales approach the sales rep makes the purchasing process a top of mind priority to ensure the customer secures the talent they need in order to start the project on time.
In short, consultative selling benefits the customer in the following ways
- Improved customer service
- Value add-the customer learns and gains valuable insights
- The customer gains a greater understanding and appreciation for their needs including the challenges that stand in their way and potential solutions to solve those challenges
- The customer has a better understanding and appreciation for their own purchasing process
- Because the sales rep is always coming from a place where they are trying to help the client, the client builds trust with their sales rep. Anyone who has ever hired a vendor for ANYTHING needs to be able to trust their vendors.
What are some other benefits of following consultative sales approach? What benefits have you experienced from applying consultative selling? What benefits have your customers experienced? Please share in the comments section below.
About Dan Fisher
Dan Fisher is founder and owner of Menemsha Group, a provider of sales enablement solutions dedicated to helping IT staffing firms improve win rates, shorten their sales cycle, and increase revenue per sales rep. Since launching Menemsha Group in 2008, Dan has consulted with over 200 IT staffing firms and has invested over 5000 hours coaching IT staffing sales reps. He’s authored is his own proprietary sales methodology and has previously spoken at Staffing World, TechServe Alliance and Bullhorn Live 2012. Prior to launching Menemsha Group, Dan spent 16 years in the IT industry running local, regional and national sales teams. Dan worked for Kelly Services, Oracle Corporation and Alliance Consulting. Dan currently resides in Boston, Ma.