I’ve been going to sales training for over ten years. Occasionally, my friend the sales trainer shows movie clips or tells stories about sales people who are “doing it wrong.” One story he tells is about the car salesman who makes no effort to understand the buyer.
The customer appears on the car lot and the salesman asks what they are looking for. The customer replies, “a car.” The salesman responds, “have I got the car for you!”
The story always gets a laugh because the salesman makes no effort to understand the buyer. He doesn't ask a single question. He just starts pitching.
In B2B sales, a consultative approach to selling is becoming more important. That's because the way people buy has changed. Dramatically.
In the past, buyers had to approach the seller early in the sales process in order to research their purchase. Once contacted, the seller could exert influence over the buyer and the sale.
The seller’s leverage was based on information. The seller had it and the buyer needed it. Each time the buyer went back to the seller for more information, the salesperson could extract another pound of flesh from the buyer and influence the sale. Buyers hated it.
Now, the buyers are researching their purchases online. They can read product reviews, get pricing, and talk to friends (and even strangers) about their experience with your company’s product or service.
Studies show that B2B buyers are now 60% to 90% through their purchase BEFORE THEY FIRST CONTACT THE SELLER. The seller's information leverage has vanished.
With buyers in control of the buying process now, trying to exert pressure on them does not work. It often backfires because while the buyers want to buy, they do not want to be sold to.
The most successful salespeople these days take a much more consultative approach. They listen for opportunities to help, teach and delight the buyer. Pitching is dead – teaching is the new pitching.
When done right, selling doesn’t even feel like selling. It’s more like a consultation.
To take a more consultative approach to selling, here are six things to zero in on to increase your effectiveness:
1) Research – Every lead that comes in or that you generate needs to be researched. Things like company size, how many of your website pages they have visited, etc. Even if a lead calls you out of the blue, start researching them while they are on the phone. And while reaching prospects has never been more difficult, the ability to research them has never been easier. The research phase will help with the five steps that follow.
2) Ask – The more information you get, the more you can help, add value, differentiate yourself from your competition and close sales. Questions are the most important sales tool. Ask open ended questions that begin with words like what, how, why, where, when and who. Try to avoid yes or no questions. One of the biggest mistakes a saleperson makes is to assume something about the buyer. Asking questions minimizes the perils of assuming.
3) Listen – Once you ask, listen! Don’t think about what your next question will be. Instead, repeat back what they buyer has said. This will make the buyer feel understood and will force you to focus on what the buyer is really saying. Strive to do only 30% of the talking. This may feel awkward at first, but you’ll be amazed at how well it works.
4) Teach – Teaching is the new pitching. In the course of actively listening to the buyer, look for teaching opportunities that can help educate them. Teaching helps the buyer discover that what they want might not be what they need. When a customer learns something new that will help them, the psychological power of reciprocity helps build preference and loyalty. When teaching, avoid talking about your own product or services.
5) Qualify – “Always be closing” was a mantra from the old days of selling. If you're still using that approach, stop. Now, the mantra should be “always be qualifying.” This tells you what your next steps should be. When qualifying, follow the popular GPCT and BANT approaches:
Most failed sales opportunities don’t have good answers for GPCT and BANT.
6) Close – If you’ve done the first five steps correctly, closing will feel more like an agreement than an arm-twisting manipulation (which doesn’t work anyway). The buyer will feel comfortable and will know what they need to do next and have fewer questions and less buyer’s remorse.
With the exception of number 6 (closing) it’s perfectly fine to repeat steps 1-5 at any point during the consultative sales process.
Buyers want to buy, but they don't like being sold to. They do, however appreciate being helped by a trusted advisor. If you ask questions and listen to what the buyer is actually telling you as you qualify them, a consultative approach will lead to more sales.