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
Like many who decide to go on a diet January 1st, sticking to that diet and exercise routine is difficult just like it is for IT staffing sales professionals adopting and mastering consultative sales skills. With so much to know and learn it can be down right overwhelming and even frustrating. Take it from me, it took me years to master my craft and I am still learning every day.
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 with you examples of consultative selling vs. transactional selling.
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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?
In case you haven't heard, buyer behavior has dramatically changed. Buyers are empowered and more sophisticated and, thanks to the internet, 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. But when salespeople bring valuable insights and ideas to their buyers, they strengthen their relationships, differentiate from their competition, and win more sales. Insight selling is a key component to consultative selling because with consultative selling, the seller makes the customer's needs the focal point of the conversation in which they focus on helping the customer achieve a goal or solve a problem, not on hiring the sales rep's candidate. Sharing fresh ideas and insights AKA, insight selling, is a big part of the consultative selling framework and critical to how salespeople create customer loyalty. While it may be a new concept to you, insight selling is the heart and soul for how top performing sales professionals sell. It's why they crush their sales quota year after year after year. Rather than talking about insight selling I thought I would share this great video illustrating insight selling.
They key to prospecting and creating new sales opportunities resides within the salesperson's ability to get the prospect or customer to admit pain. Getting customers to admit that they have a business issue that needs to be addressed – or a potential missed opportunity if they fail to act – is the first major step towards making a sale. Those who fail to master this skill, getting customers to admit pain, will always struggle to fill their sales funnel with new sales opportunities and meet their sales quota.
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.
What is insight selling? While it may be a new concept to you and many in the staffing industry, insight selling has been around for years and has been deployed by sales professionals in other industries including enterprise software, financial services and systems integration. Perhaps you have heard the terms "selling with insights, "challenger sale," "provocative selling," and others. Either way, they all essentially imply the same thing which is sellers sharing relevant insights with with their prospects to position themselves as a thought leader in order to quickly establish trust and credibility and move deals forward in a way in which traditional sales techniques cannot. The act of executing Insight selling supports and aligns with a consultative selling.
Adopting a consultative sales approach is paramount for today's IT staffing sales professional. Gallup Group reports less than half of customers believe sellers adequately address their problems. This problem stems from the sellers misunderstanding of the buyer persona and misalignment with the stage of buyer's journey. Salespeople need to master consultative sales skills in order to differentiate from the competition and build customer value into the sales process. This is where a consultative sales approach comes in.
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.