IT Staffing Sales Effectiveness
Sales best practices for improving sales win rates, shortening the sales cycle and increasing overall quota attainment. Sales strategies to make revenue growth repeatable, and scalable
Over the past several years we've been hearing how the IT staffing industry continues to become more and more commoditized. There are a number of reasons for the staffing industry becoming commoditized including low barriers to entry, the proliferation of the job boards, MSP and VMS systems and the rise of the Chief Procurement Officer to name a few. But another reason why the industry has become commoditized, one that is rarely ever mentioned, is how sales professionals sell. Part of the reason why the industry has become so commoditized in large part can be attributed to the way in which sales professionals sell IT staffing services. Of course, if you go ask your salespeople, how do you sell? They will surely tell you some variation of "consultative selling." To help you see the difference between commodity based transactional selling and consultative selling, I share 5 examples of each.
How do you sell? Whether you know it or not, you have a sales methodology of some kind. For most sellers, they have their own preferred way of selling and typically it centers around the activities they are most comfortable with, not what is most effective. But it doesn’t matter if you’re an entrepreneur, a sales rep on a sales team of one or, part of a large enterprise sales team, every seller and every sales team has their own way of selling. So, how do you sell?
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In case you haven't heard, buyer behavior has dramatically changed. Buyers are empowered and more sophisticated and, thanks to the internet, are flooded with information and research overload. At the same time your buyers are searching—often in vain— for new ways to innovate, compete, and improve their success. When salespeople bring valuable insights and ideas to their buyers, they strengthen their relationships, differentiate from their competition, and win more sales.
Consultative selling represents a sales approach in which sellers disengage from pitching products, services or their candidates and instead focus on sequencing strategic questions to engage in dialogue in which the customer reveals their goals and objectives and the challenges that lie in their way. Consultative selling also includes sales professionals sharing ideas, insights and best practices with the prospect on how to go about solving a problem or achieve a goal. By sharing ideas and insights the salesperson positions him or herself as an authoritative thought leader. With this approach sellers are able to challenge the customer's thinking, thought process, assumptions and beliefs and by doing so, effectively shape the solution. This is how consultative sellers create value and build trust with the customer.
Not surprisingly, most sellers think and believe they’re consultative in their sales approach. But are they? Think about it for a second. When a customer goes MIA and you’re awaiting candidate interview feedback, do you remain consultative? In a typical conversation with a customer or prospect, how many questions do you ask, and are your questions open-ended? When a prospect or customer replies to one of your questions, how often do you reply with a follow up question such as “why do you say that?” Answering those questions should bring some clarity and self-awareness to just how “consultative” you truly are in your sales approach. To take it a step further, check out the six-step consultative selling framework to see which consultative sales components you’re applying and which you need to work on. Below is the six-step consultative selling framework. Planning & Research Leading with Questions. Asking well thought-out, thought provoking questions that are properly sequenced. Listen Educate Your Customer Qualify Close These six steps provide the basic consultative selling framework for applying consultative selling. Planning & Research One goal for all salespeople and of consultative selling is for the salesperson to always be coming from a place in which they’re perceived as an authoritative thought leader and equal partner. If you attend your sales meetings with little or no preparation, then you will likely continue to ask silly questions and be perceived and treated as a transactional commodity supplier. Meeting preparation is critically important because it is what provides the context for the meeting and how you will frame the consultative sales conversation. If you want to run your sales meetings in which you’re perceived as an authoritative thought leader and equal partner and not a trivial commodity supplier, you should plan on spending twice the amount of time on meeting preparation as you do in the meeting itself. Your preparation will have a lot to say about the overall quality of your meeting and whether the client commits to a next step. So, how do you engage a prospect or customer in consultative conversation and create a memorable experience in which you position yourself as an authoritative leader? Some of the best resources to learn about your customer’s business are the various corporate reports that all public and many private companies produce and make available to the public. By reading key sections of these documents you can get a high-level overview of their business including their business model, strategy, goals and objectives and even some of the tactics they intend to employ to achieve those goals. The more you know about your customer’s business the more likely you will be to ask intelligent questions which will lead to productive sales conversations. Lead the Conversation with Questions You should always assume that when you engage a new prospect they will NOT have a predefined, budget approved job order to give you. Your job as the sales professional is to create an opportunity. To create an opportunity, you will first need to ask well prepared probing questions based on your preparation and planning to uncover and understand your prospect’s current state of their team, department and/or project and their level of satisfaction as well as their desired future state and the challenges preventing them from arriving at their desired future state. This will require you to ask open-ended probing questions that will reveal your prospects level of satisfaction regarding their team's performance, progress of their projects and goals. To be clear, I’m not talking about asking questions like "what is keeping you up at night?" or "what is your biggest pain point?" Your questions must be asked in a more tactful manner and within the flow of the conversation. You will need to wrap your expertise around your questions in order to position yourself as a thought leader and generate meaningful dialogue. Another key component to asking probing questions is the seller’s ability to asking open-ended questions. Sounds easy enough but I’ve worked with hundreds of experienced salespeople who think they’re asking open-ended questions but are asking close-ended questions. Asking closed ended questions could be costing you tens of thousands of dollars in commissions every year. I’m not exaggerating. Finally, do NOT answer your own questions. Be patient and allow your customers think and be thoughtful in responding to your questions. Listen You don't need me to remind you that you have two ears and one mouth, so be sure to use them in proportion. Educate Your Customer As you’re actively listening, you need to be responding with follow up clarifying questions to your customer’s responses to your original question. But you also need to be incorporating ideas, data points and insights into your discussion. Your focus should be on educating your prospect, not pitching your candidate or services. And no, I don't mean educating your prospect on your service or company. You should be educating your customer on how they can do their job more effectively and improve their operations. Selling is all about helping your prospect overcome their challenges and build a plan to reach their goals. Qualifying You’re always going to be qualifying your prospects and their associated opportunities. A qualified opportunity includes a prospect who shares with you a goal they're trying to achieve, but also openly shares with you that they are experiencing challenges (admitted pain) that they must overcome in order to achieve those goals. They might not yet have a plan for achieving those goals or they might have a half-baked plan or the wrong plan. In consultative selling, it is the job of the seller to help the customer create the right plan. This is far different from how most staffing sales professionals sell. Most wait for the customer to give them the job order and tell them what they need. I refer to this as order fulfillment. In this instance the customer comes up with their plan on their own, without input from the salesperson. Finally, a qualified opportunity should highlight the customer’s level of commitment to resolving the challenges and arriving at their desired future state including their timeline. Closing For sellers who follow a consultative sales approach, closing is relatively easy. It is easy because consultative sales professionals understand that closing is not a one- time event but a natural conclusion to a series of discussions. And, because the consultative salesperson has "checked" with their customer throughout the sales process for agreement and understanding, they rarely experience surprises or objections at the end of the sales cycle. Which of the six-step consultative selling framework are you excelling at? Which do you need to work on? How do you know if you’re a consultative sales professional and taking advantage of all of the benefits of a consultative sales approach? Let’s start a conversation in the comments section below.
A consultative sales approach is one in which identifying and discussing the needs of the customer including their challenges and issues are the focal point of the conversation and basis for the sale. Adopting a consultative sales approach is critical for today’s sales professional because competing in today’s competitive IT staffing industry requires one to understand the changing world of IT hiring managers including the challenges they face and adapting their sales approach accordingly to drive meaningful value.
I think we all agree that selling IT staffing services and more specifically, differentiating from the competition is really, really difficult. Fortunately I have an idea that I think can help IT staffing sales professionals not only differentiate themselves in the eyes and minds of their prospects, but also help them engage customers in a deeper and more meaningful way than they traditionally have.
A study conducted by Forrester Research tells us that sales professionals must tailor their message specifically to each unique buyer type (IT hiring manager) they interface with because corporate decision makers expect the time they spend with a sales person to be educational and valuable. For those selling IT staffing and IT professional services you most likely call on and sell to many different buyers. For instance, you may call on the CIO or VP of Application Development but you may also sell to the Manager of Help Desk Operations or the Software Quality Assurance Manager or the Director of the Project Management Office (PMO). Chances are you also interface with Human Resources such as the VP or Director of HR or a Recruiter or HR Generalist. Having said that, how can IT staffing sales professionals-especially those who never worked in a corporate IT department and/or were never trained in software engineering and/or never led a team of IT professionals-create a valuable and memorable customer experience?
I had the opportunity to speak at Bullhorn Engage earlier this year. During my presentation I asked the audience, "how may of you wish your sales reps applied a more consultative sales approach to engaging prospects and customers? Everyone's hand in the room went up. I thought to myself, "interesting, nobody seems to be applying a consultative sales approach yet everyone seems to want their sales team to adopt a more consultative sales approach. How come their sales team is not already doing this?" Consultative selling is not a new phenomenon. Next, I asked people in the audience to walk me through their sales onboarding and training program as if I was a new hire. A few different people described to me their sales onboarding and sales training program. In each case I heard some variation of the following: Our new hire training and on-boarding focuses on teaching our company history and background, how long we have been in business and our service offerings. We have a three ring binder with all of our training content and we have a sales pitch deck and marketing literature that sales reps are to go over and share with their prospects. We also go over pricing and how we document in our CRM/ATS and of course we teach new hires how we recruit and screen candidates. My first thought was.....Where is the sales training? I asked the audience what sort of impact this training was having on their sales team and their results? Here is what I heard in response: My sales reps are struggling to get call backs My sales reps struggling to get returned email messages My sales reps are struggling to get in front of hiring managers My sales reps are struggling to generate new opportunities No matter how hard they work, their activity level doesn't seem to make an impact We've been experiencing turnover, I think our salespeople are frustrated No Kidding! What in the hell is going on here? The problem is staffing firms have structured their sales onboarding and employee training to focus on teaching their new hires the wrong information. Their new hires are spending days, weeks and in some cases months focused on learning to pitch their service offerings, company history and accolades and their recruiting process and candidate database. Do You See Where I'm Going With This? What do you think has been happening when these people hit the phones? They're going to go into "pitch mode" talking about their company service offerings because they have nothing, absolutely nothing else to talk about EXCEPT. This is what they've been trained to do! Nobody wants to be pitched to. Instead of educating new hires on the bells and whistles of their service offering, the sales onboarding should have been focused on educating their new sales reps on their customers including their buyer personas and how to engage in a conversation. To encourage consultative selling, refocus new hire onboarding. What is Consultative Selling? Consultative selling represents a sales approach in which the sales person disengages from pitching the features and benefits of their offering and instead focuses on using strategic questioning to engage in a conversation to better understand the needs and goals of their prospect and then co-creates a custom solution for the prospect. With consultative selling, the seller put the customer’s needs front and center in which the sales rep is always coming from a place where he or she is trying to help the customer solve a problem or achieve a goal. Encourage Consultative Selling Restructure Sales Onboarding Here is what the typical sales onboarding schedule looks likes for most staffing firms: CRM training ATS training Company history training Services overview training Recruiting process training Shadow training (shadow top seller/top recruiter) The problem of course is, none of this training is designed to encourage let alone teach a salesperson how to apply a consultative sales approach. Organizations that teach and encourage consultative selling restructure sales onboarding to reflect something like this: Buyer Persona Training (learning a day in the life of a hiring manager) Understanding The Buyers Journey The Anatomy of a Buying Decision for B2B corporate buyers How Customers Think and Why They Buy Defining Your Target Market Learning to Speak the Language of Your Buyer Delivering Personalized Value Propositions based on Buyer Persona See the difference? This is 100% focused on understanding the customer so that salespeople can learn how to properly engage them without going in to a sales pitch. How does your sales onboarding encourage and teach consultative selling? Let's start a conversation in the comments section below.
As I have mentioned in my other blog posts on the topic of consultative selling, changes in buyer behavior has created a paradigm shift in the world of sales. Simply put, the customer wishes to engage sales people much differently today than they did in the past. Today's informed buyer is highly educated and empowered. They no longer need salespeople to educate them on their product or service, they want and expect salespeople to educate them on how to improve their business operations and run their teams, projects and departments more effectively and efficiently. This is where consultative selling comes in.