Surely we can get rid of our salespeople? Customers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and dislike being sold to. With easy access to unlimited information about any products and services on the Internet, what’s the point of salespeople (especially those pushy ones who don’t give you time to think)? Happily, it doesn’t have to be this way either for you or the customer. There is a third way. Put your hands together for consultative selling.
Consultative selling is a method by which the salesperson behaves more like a consultant, giving genuinely useful advice to customers, rather than a salesman en route to bigger commissions. The result of consultative selling is that you will be able to promote your products and services effectively through a sales force, and the customer will actually look forward to the experience.
But, how do you sell consultatively and effectively?
1. Be knowledgeable
Consultative salespeople can only make the experience useful and genuine if they are experts on the products and services being promoted and the market in which they are being promoted. They need to know about competitors and how their products differ from competitive offerings. Without this knowledge, the customer will soon see that they are better off going to the internet for answers, than talking with an ignorant sales person.
2. Be relaxed
To master this approach, salespeople need to understand that you can only sell something to someone who genuinely needs it. So relax and understand that you are not in mortal combat with the customer. Rather, you are trying to help the customer achieve his objective of buying the product.
How you start the interaction with the customer will determine the next few minutes. It will affect whether the buyer avoids you, sees you as a necessary evil — or, alternatively, draws on your help. Most people know how to frame a conversation, and in sales it generally follows this process:
Succinctly describe your intention.
Ask permission to find out what’s important to the customer.
If permission is granted, the salesperson can go to the next stage (asking questions). If not, the salesperson offers support that will be available in the future.
If the framing is executed calmly, professionally and with sincerity, a customer will usually be open enough to accept the offer of help.
4. Ask questions
It’s useful to do some more framing before launching into questions (something along the lines of, “I’m going to ask you a few questions so that I can try and help you find what you’re most interested in, if that’s alright?”).
Once the framing is done, your questions could typically include:
Do you have any initial ideas of what you’d like and why?
Who will be the users?
How often will you use the products or services?
What’s most important to you?
It’s also useful to discover what the budget is, perhaps by saying:
If you’re working towards a certain budget, and are happy to tell me broadly what it is, I can try and point you to the most relevant options.
The point of the questions is to find out enough to be able to advise the customer well.
5. Offer suggestions
Armed with the answers, it’s time to offer your thoughts. Frame your suggestions with phrases like “I think I understand that X, Y and Z are most important to you. With that in mind, you may want to explore products 1, 4 and 7 as they most closely meet your requirements.” You can then identify what the differences are between each product so that customers can prioritize what’s most important to them.
6. Stay calm
At this stage, a salesperson can sometimes get over-excited about closing a deal. It’s very important, though, to remain calm, and not apply any pressure, just offers of genuine help. And, when the time’s right, a simple statement such as, “If you decide this product/service is right for you, just let me know,” will do the trick.
Consultative selling can be an enjoyable experience for all involved. If you’re knowledgeable about your products and the market and are comfortable giving advice, it could be the sales tactic for you. But, like anything in sales, you need to be positive to ensure your best chance of success. Take the advice of influential university reformer, Benjamin Jowett: “You've got to be success minded. You've got to feel that things are coming your way when you're out selling; otherwise, you won't be able to sell anything.” It’s hard to argue with that!