Have you ever considered what it’s like to go through the consultative sales process from the buyer’s perspective?
If so, wouldn’t that make it more of a buying process rather than a sales process?
What then would be the role of a salesperson if the buyer is in control and making all the decisions at every point in the process?
Before answering these questions, let’s clarify several points.
What is Consultative Sales and How Important is it?
First, a consultative sales approach may be appropriate for organizations (B2B) as well as individuals (B2C), but for now we will focus on organizational sales.
Second, we are referring to a consultative sale versus a transactional sale.
In transactional sales, the buyer is focused on the product or service and its price and features. Of course, availability is a factor as well. For example, the retail sales process often involves a transactional process where the buyer chooses the product they want, takes it to the register, and a cashier rings up their order and accepts payment. Note that there are exceptions to this rule when retail sales transcends mere transactions.
In consultative sales, the buyer is focused on value, and not necessarily your product or service itself, nor its features and price. Value considers gains to be realized by your product or service, and how this benefits the company as well as the individual buyer, then compares this to the costs associated with receiving it.
Third, effective consultative salespeople should follow a process. Being personable, good looking, and intelligent won’t necessarily guarantee success in sales. The process followed should closely mirror the process a buyer goes through when making a buying decision.
Fourth, every business is involved in sales even if they don’t realize it or have a dedicated sales force. In order to operate, all companies have plans and activities that enable them to perform in several major functional areas. For the sake of discussion, here are some basic definitions.
Marketing: you and your products and services becoming known to your prospects.
Sales: helping prospects become customers by deciding to buy your product or service.
Delivery: delivering what was promised to customers during marketing and sales.
Support: supporting the marketing, sales, and delivery of products or services to customers.
As you can see, sales is one of the four major functional areas in business, whether we do it well or not. As with all four major areas of the business, the better we plan and perform the sales function, the better the outcomes will be.
The Buyer’s Perspective and Consultative Sales Response
Some of today’s sales training includes a series of steps to take and certain tactics to use in order to convince a prospect to buy something they may or may not want. There is certainly merit to following a process, and skill definitely helps the conversation flow smoothly. However, if your product or service has the potential to add value for the prospect or their company, there is no need to convince them to buy something.
So, if most qualified buyers are sincerely interested in adding value to their organizations and benefitting personally in the process, what is their perspective and how should consultative sales mesh with this viewpoint?
The Buyer’s Perspective: The process begins with an introduction. The potential buyer gets an opportunity to meet you as the salesperson. They are getting their first impression of you, assessing your appearance, demeanor, confidence level, professionalism, communication style, personality, etc. Within a matter of seconds, they have decided whether they like you enough to continue with a conversation or not. If so, the conversation continues. If not, they may be too kind to end the meeting abruptly, but their enthusiasm level will certainly fall sharply if their first impression of you is not favorable.
Consultative Sales Response: Although this may be the first time you, as the salesperson, ever met this prospect and thus have not yet introduced your company or its products and services, the sales process and your prospective buyer’s decision-making process has already begun. The truth is they’re not going to buy whatever you’re selling until they first buy you. It begins with the introduction, and you must make a good first impression.
The Buyer’s Perspective: Assuming the potential buyer’s first impression of you is favorable, the process continues with the prospect forming an opinion of you and the company you represent. Consciously or not, they will judge your communication style, your sincerity, your openness and honesty, your trustworthiness, your representation of the company and its products and services, whether you waste too much time with small talk, whether you ask good questions, whether you listen, whether you care about them, etc. Prospects are people, and people tend to do business with other people they like and trust.
Consultative Sales Response: Developing a good rapport with your prospect after the introduction will determine whether they trust you enough to answer any additional questions. You must gain your prospect’s interest and earn their trust in order to continue asking questions as the meeting moves forward. Otherwise, you won’t have an opportunity to learn enough about their situation in order to know if your product or service will add value for them.
The Buyer’s Perspective: If the introduction went well and the prospect thinks favorably of you and has learned to trust you, then they will likely be expecting questions from you about their company and its situation. If they believe you genuinely care, they will likely be anticipating questions about how the organizational situation affects them personally. By answering such questions, the prospect will feel understood, gaining more confidence that you will be able to recommend appropriate next steps in their company’s best interest and for themselves.
Consultative Sales Response: Learning about the situation within your prospect’s company and their needs, as well as your prospect’s personal wants, will require their trust in you. It will also require that you ask good questions to uncover these things and listen carefully and empathetically to the answers. Learn to ask good questions and listen well, so that you can discover the real situation, gain an understanding of the company’s true needs, and appreciate the impact these things have on your buyer individually and personally.
The Buyer’s Perspective: By this time in the process, the prospect expects to receive your recommendations, and is looking forward to the potential value those recommendations represent for them and their company. They will want to know and understand the benefits of doing business with you and even the consequences of not doing so. They are more interested in the value that you can deliver and less so your products and services, their features, and prices. In fact, if the process has gone well up to this point, your prospect is looking forward to not only hearing your recommendations but to doing business with you. Even if obstacles exist in the mind of the buyer, assuming your recommendations will actually add value, they are hoping you will help them get past such barriers. Buyers don’t expect to be sold with hard closes, rather they are anticipating making final decisions and giving their commitment to working with you and your company as a natural part of the conversation with you.
Consultative Sales Response: Whether your process includes a formal proposal or not, you must enter such a conversation with solid recommendations already in mind, addressing the needs of your prospect’s company, being able to demonstrate the value proposed, preferably while simultaneously satisfying what they may personally want to accomplish as well. Anticipate obstacles and understand you are in the process of becoming a valued team member expected to help overcome such barriers to moving forward. Once the buyer makes their final decision to work with you, help create a smooth transition to project implementation (i.e. delivery of products or services that will provide the value that you promised).
The Buyer’s Perspective: Once the prospect commits to doing business with you, they expect you and your company to deliver what has been promised, whether that promise is formalized in writing or verbally stated. Since you are the person they have learned to like and trust, they expect you to continue looking out for their best interest, serving as their advocate throughout delivery of your company’s products and services. If the project goes well and the outcome is what was expected, they will look forward to the possibility of continuing to work with you as opportunities arise. They may also be interested in telling their friends about you and your company.
Consultative Sales Response: Don’t sell and run, disappearing after signatures are affixed to the contract. The consultative sales process does not end when the prospect agrees to your recommendation, commits to doing business with you, and becomes a customer. To the contrary, this is just the beginning of a new professional relationship that will hopefully be enjoyable and rewarding, while resulting in repeat business and referrals to other potential buyers who you can assist through their buying process, given their own unique situation.
The Consultative Salesperson’s Role
To summarize, assuming that your product or service has the potential to add real value to prospective customers, and the buying process is not merely a simple transaction, the salesperson’s role in the consultative sales process is to assist the prospective buyer in their decision making process.
Since the buyer is in control of their own thoughts and decisions and has no intention of being manipulated, the salesperson may guide the conversation at times, but not for the purpose of convincing the prospect to do something not in their best interest. Rather, the consultative salesperson’s role is to help the buyer make a wise buying decision that will meet needs within their organization by adding real value, while benefitting them individually and personally in the process.
For more information or help on this and other topics, contact our team.