What is Consultative Sales?
Consultative selling is a sales approach in which the salesperson dialogues with the customer to understand the need that the customer is presenting before recommending a solution to address that challenge.
This collaborative approach engages the client; effectively probing them to define the issue and/or specific need and strategically allows the salesperson to design a solution/services to meet those needs. It invites feedback and continued communication; pillars of an effective and enduring professional relationship.
At The CEO’s Right Hand, we work closely with the leadership of our client companies to first understand their vision for the company. We then shape our process around each client to help them drive growth, avoid common pitfalls, and implement a sound fiscal strategy. This consultative approach allows us to transform businesses strategically, operationally and financially which, ultimately, is how enduring businesses are built.
How to Implement?
Closing New Sales in an Hour
Someone recently asked me how long I spend on sales. I told them I typically spend between 30 and 60 minutes from start to finish with a prospect. They seemed perplexed by my response because they were anticipating that I would say I spend weeks/months with multiple calls, e-mails, meetings, etc. While it is necessary to cultivate the sales pipeline in order to turn a latent buyer into an active buyer, when a prospect is ready to buy, the close can occur in less than one hour.
I did not receive formal “consultative selling” training. Instead, I spent my career building, growing and managing technology companies. Critical to my experience, and that of my team, is that we learned to a) listen, b) ask valuable questions, c) be timely and professional in my responses, and d) deliver on what we say we will do.
Working with Referral Partners
The process of building a sales pipeline begins with how to market yourself to prospective clients. We use a network of referral partners that send a steady stream of leads. These referral partners sell complementary services to a similar target market on which our firm is focused: small but growing companies whose revenues are between $2 million and $25 million.
We cultivate these partners so that they know our capabilities well and how I we can help solve their client issues. I do this by sending the partners examples of our work, case studies of client engagements, sales collateral, and our monthly newsletter. This way, they know not only the types of services we provide, but the actual deliverables that we provide to our client base.
These referral partners then have the necessary information about what services The CEO’s Right Hand provides and how. When they are talking to one of their clients (or even prospects) and they hear something that points to a need that we can provide, they are able to suggest that their client/prospect call me our firm. It establishes credibility as a trusted advisor with their client and suggests that they are thinking beyond simply selling additional services to that client.
When first meeting a prospective client, I seek to establish a connection that has nothing to do with their business specifically. For example, when I was speaking with a prospect in San Diego, I shared that I went to college at U.C. San Diego. We spent a few minutes talking about the area, hotspots, restaurants, etc. Establishing a personal rapport helped build my professional relationship with the prospect (now client). This part of the call (or meeting) helps set the prospect at ease and lets them know that a successful practice is not built on “closing a deal” but rather on understanding what makes them tick.
It is imperative that this dialogue continues beyond the initial call/meeting. Often, as we run across an article, connections, information, products, etc. that we think may be of interest to our clients, we send them a quick note. We are not looking to do anything more than show that we have their interests in mind.
“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and
sells itself.” –Peter F. Drucker
Listening Before Speaking
In my introductory call with a prospect, I ask them a series of open-ended questions about how they started, their business model, the leadership/management team, goals for the business, etc., before ever discussing their need for our services. Once we discuss the essentials (which only takes about 5-10 minutes), we then dissect their pain points, i.e. what isn’t working well or where they see a gap in their capabilities that our firm can fill.
Having the context from which to craft a roadmap, to deliver the services that they need to either achieve growth, cut costs, raise capital, or solve a problem, is critical to ensuring a successful plan and engagement. Good practice, and at the conclusion of your call, is to repeat back what you heard them saying and requesting so that you know you’ve heard their needs correctly.
Sharing Background, But In Context
The conversation that follows is typically when the marketing begins. We want our prospects to know what they will be getting upon choosing to work with our team. We provide several relevant marketing pieces (background and bios, dashboards, specific engagement services, etc.) that indicate that I we a) understand their problem, b) have solved similar problems before, and c) most importantly, that we’ve achieved excellent results providing similar services for previous and current clients.
There are several approaches to consultative selling and while our firm highlights these with effective use of time in closing a sale, the value of working with referral partners, building a client rapport, really listening to your prospect (their challenge and their need), and then complimenting this challenge with your own skill set, there are primary differentiators that distinguish a Consultative Salesperson/Selling. Consultative Salespeople often as more questions, provide customized versus generic solutions, are more interactive and engaged in the sales process, and provide valuable insight to their prospects and clients.
The goal is the same, however, and that is to engage the customer in dialogue; to first learn the what before determining the how.