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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 selling 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.
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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.
In my previous blog post, How to Prepare for and Open the Sales Discovery Call, I discussed the importance of the sales discovery call itself (for the sales person), and how to prepare for and open the call. Now I'm going to walk you through the process of structuring and sequencing your sales discovery questions.
In most instances, the sales discovery call is the first real conversation with the prospect, and often the most important conversation. I would argue that the sales discovery call actually sets the tone for the entire client relationship. Why? The discovery call is "make or break time" for the sales rep because he or she will either pigeon hole themselves in the commodity bucket or they will establish themselves as an authoritative thought leader who brings credibility and adds value to the conversation. The real key is to applying and mastering a consultative sales approach. Not only that, have you ever actually seen the calendar of a corporate decision maker? It looks something like the calendar below. When you you get on the calendar of a corporate decision maker (hiring manager), you sure as heck better bring your A game and nail the discovery call.
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.
It has often been said (or at least I say it often:) that professional selling is a lot like be a detective or a journalist. What makes a good detective or journalist?? They ask questions. They ask lots of questions and they ask well planned, thought provoking questions. They also ask tough questions. Detectives of course need to ask their questions in order to re-create the crime and determine who the perpetrator is. Journalists ask lots of questions to find the truth.
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 audience went up. I thought to myself, "interesting, what is holding them back or, why aren't they teaching consultative selling skills? Heck, 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 staffing 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 heck 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 learning how to pitch their service offerings, how to pitch a candidate, how ATS fields and workflows, their company history and accolades and their recruiting process and candidate database. The problem is NONE of this is going to drive revenue. Do you know any hiring managers who want to be pitched to? Of course not. What Happens When Your Sales Onboarding Focuses on Your Services? What do you think has been happening to these salespeople when they make sales calls? They're getting hung up on blow off and sales objections. Their prospects are saying things like: "I'm not interested" "Send me your information" "I'm not hiring" "I'm all set" The problem for these salespeople is their sales onboarding program is actually TEACHING THEM TO GO INTO SALES PITCH MODE. I know, it sounds crazy but it's true. They're going into "pitch mode" by talking about their company service offerings and company accolades because they have absolutely nothing else to talk about. This is what they've been trained to do! To encourage consultative selling you need to refocus your sales onboarding to teach and educate your sales new hires on consultative selling skills including understanding buyer personas and following a consultative selling framework. By restructuring your sales onboarding program designed to educate your sales team on who their ideal target buyers are, how and why they buy, and how they evaluate IT staffing firms and hire IT consultants, your sales team will be in a much better position to not only apply a consultative sales approach, but they will also accelerate time to sales quota attainment. 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.
With consultative selling the customer's needs are the focal point of the conversation, not the salesperson’s personal goal or agenda or his or her service offerings or their candidate. With consultative selling the goal is to understand the customer's goals including the problems they're trying to solve and the goals they’re trying to achieve and then co-creating a solution. When this becomes the sales reps mindset salespeople begin to effective probing questions which reveal the customers current state and desired future state and the challenges they help resolving.