Research from the Objective Management Group involving over 1.1 million salespeople tells us that the lowest performing 10 per cent of salespeople, have less than 42 per cent of the consultative sell skills need to succeed.
In short, businesses that continue to use old, outdated sales models will struggle to make headway in their sales and to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Could this be you? If you’re at your wits end trying to keep your sales quota above water, it’s a sure sign that something needs to change. And a consultative sales approach is likely the answer.
1. It beats relationship selling, hands down
In many parts of the world, relationship selling is the preferred selling strategy. What many people don’t know, or realise, is that it is extremely ineffective.
“We’ve seen plenty of instances where salespeople call on clients for years, doing what we call ‘coffee and doughnut’ visits,” says Alex Chan, Head of Learning and Development at SalesStar Global. “They check in to say, ‘how are you this month?’, read the paper, use the bathroom, then continue on to the next client in their call cycle. Divide the number of visits and calls by the amount the client has purchased and the end result is often a very, very low return on time.”
The benefit of consultative selling lies in how the strategy is executed. Instead of an aimless, ‘how are you?’ relationship-focused strategy, it sets out to learn about the client, understand and find solutions from the get go. In some instances, it can close a sale in a single meeting, but it’s on complex sales (typically of the big B2B kind) that consultative selling really comes into its own in terms of return on time.
“Consultative selling was really designed for the more complex sale,” says Alex. “The more complex the sale, usually the bigger the dollar value and the longer the gestation period.
“The consultative approach really helps to expedite the process along. It’s proactive. There’s no waiting and hoping someone will buy from us just because they like us.
2. We’re living in a commoditised world now
Globally, most industries have matured. Very few businesses are able to offer a special service or feature that their competitors can’t match (or copy).
“Say you buy a photocopier that has a ten-stacker collating tray, does four colours and is also a scanner. But its competition can say exactly the same thing,” says Alex. “Whatever you say, your opposition can say ‘me too’.”
What does that mean for sales? If you use a sales features-and-benefits strategy that emphasises the product and its bells and whistles, you’ll quickly find that your competitors can (and will) do the same. Moreover, your unique feature is no longer unique, and, as more competitors pipe up “me too”, it soon becomes clear your features are the same as all of your competitors. The end result is a sales “strategy” that quickly turns into a pricing war over who can offer the product or service for less.
Consultative selling doesn’t rely on the features of a product or service. It focuses on outcomes. Its goal is to enhance client profit through increased sales and reduced costs.
“The savings made from cost reduction fall directly to their bottom line, and the margin that is made from increased sales also falls to the company’s bottom line,” says Alex. “Either way, a consultative selling approach focuses on helping companies improve their profits, rather than offering discounted products or services to close a sale.”
It’s this point of difference that can really distinguish one business from the rest. In fact, according to Alex, many companies that use this strategy have some of the highest prices in the market. Why? They’ve realised that they can do more than just peddle wares, they can offer a strategy to help their client become better off in the long run.
3. Modern buyers don’t like being sold to
“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.” —Theodoor Levitt.
For too long the sleazy, pushy sales rep has typecast the sales industry. And now, more than ever, people’s hackles rise when they’re sold to in this fashion—with good reason. Consultative selling changes all that.
As Theodoor Levitt’s famous quote points out, modern consumers are more concerned about the outcome than the means. So as salespeople, it makes sense that we too should place more emphasis on a client’s goal—that is, making a profit—than on the tools to achieving that goal.
Unlike the traditional product-and-feature sales pitch that’s guaranteed to put a customer on edge, a consultative seller establishes themselves as a trusted advisor who works with the client’s interests at heart. Instead of forcing product specs and pricing down the client’s throat, consultative sellers listen and question their customers to understand what their pain points are—or could be.
When a solution is offered, it is tailored to address those pain points, and as a result, it is far better received. Why? Because, from their perspective, the sales rep is helping them, rather than pursuing their own agenda.