June 16, 2016

Consultative Sales: Five Keys to a More Modern Sales Approach

Consultative Sales: Five Keys to a More Modern Sales Approach

How would you feel if a salesperson said, “I can give you this great deal right now, but if you have to go think about it or talk to someone else, I’m not going to be able to make this offer”?

If you’re like most people, you’d think, “Wait, how can that deal be good today but not tomorrow? That doesn’t feel right.” That’s why, in today’s increasingly savvy marketplace, many smart salespeople are moving away from those kinds of strong-arm sales tactics and toward a more nuanced, win/win approach.

Whether you’re offering a product or service, almost everyone has to be a salesperson now and again. This shift from pushy hard sales to more consultative techniques has made sales less of a “must-win-every-call” pressure cooker.

But just because you’re using a less stressful approach, doesn’t mean that it’s simple or that you don’t need systems and processes in place. If anything, today’s approach requires more professionalism than ever — a consultative sales approach.

Here are five sure-fire ways to selling without being that salesperson.

1. Take it slow.

Take it slow.Unlike old-school tactics, consultative sales — or "selling without selling" – requires that you use less chest-pounding and more self-restraint. Instead of coming in shouting, “We’re the best! Buy our brand!,” take the time to use a more consultative or educational approach.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t always be moving toward a close or trial close, just that it may take a little longer to get there. Be patient. The trust you will build along the way will pay off in the long run.

Buyers are smarter these days. Studies on human and buyer psychology tell us that many people start putting up resistance if they feel like they’re being shoved in a particular direction. The bottom line is, while a pushy approach can and still does work for some situations, the best thing you can typically hope for out of it is a one-time, short-term relationship.

If you forgo the immediate close, however, you have the opportunity to develop a longer-term, more satisfying relationship — both for the customer and for your bottom line.

2. Sell to the right person at the right time.

Sell to the right person at the right time.Depending on where they are in the sales cycle — or as it is more appropriately called, the “buyer’s journey” — your customer will have different needs and desires.

Are you dealing with someone who has just become aware of a problem or opportunity? Someone who knows the general solution they want but hasn’t researched specifics? Or someone who has spent time investigating the options available to them and is almost ready to commit? Your approach should be vastly different depending on the scenario.

Someone who has some spare time and is considering a new pet is not going to commit to purchasing a $6,000 Brand X aquarium from you. Neither is someone who has decided that they want to keep fish but doesn’t know anything about fish breeds, the time commitments involved or the difference between a saltwater tank and a freshwater one.

Attempting to push either one of these people into a close at that stage will not only annoy them but will also, in all likelihood, drive them to your competitor when they are finally ready to make a purchase.

3. Share your knowledge and expertise.

 

The fish novices we just met are not ready to make a purchase, but they are ready to start learning more. Fortunately for you, as a professional luxury aquarium salesperson (that is what you are, right?), you’re in the ideal position to educate them and help them better understand what they want.

Enter inbound marketing.

Share your expertise.

Inbound marketing is a perfect, cost-effective way to convert leads into customers through information rather than through forceful, unwanted sales pitches. These prospective customers are going to get information about their options somewhere, why not from you? Use your expertise to help create informed customers who can make informed choices.

Again, the type of inbound marketing you choose to offer will depend on where the recipient is in that buyer’s journey. The more you nurture leads, the more acceptable it is to talk a little bit about your brand and products, but at the beginning, think of yourself as a consultant. Don’t mention your brand until they have moved closer to closing.

Offer ebooks, guides, blog posts, white papers and other useful content to help them get closer to a decision. To continue with our example, you might offer a downloadable ebook called “A Beginner’s Step-by-Step Guide to Starting an Aquarium,” or a blog post that asks “Saltwater Tanks vs. Freshwater Tanks: Which Is Right for You?” Use Tweets, Pinterest pins, Instagram pictures and Facebook posts to get the information out into the world.

Inbound marketing can walk leads closer to the close, moving them through the buyer’s journey. Along the way, they will begin to trust your brand as a resource and thought leader — but it's not a matter of just throwing a bunch of content up then sitting back to wait for the money to roll in. There’s still more work to be done. Creating valuable content is just one piece in the larger puzzle.

4. Be inquisitive and listen.

Be inquisitive and listen.Even leads who have carefully researched the available options by reading all of your well-written, valuable content may have questions and concerns. As they get closer to making a decision, try to identify their goals so that you can match their problem with the correct solution.

Let’s throw our aquarium example overboard and look at a real-life scenario from my own experience. When I sell advertising, my goal is to understand the customer’s goals and budget. I also want to find out what they have used in the past that has been effective and what they’re thinking about trying now and in the future.

Ideally, they would say, “Look, here’s my goal: I want to reach this type of buyer. Here’s the range I can spend. We have a print creative that’s worked well for us but we want to start including more digital.”

But many people need help formulating that plan. Regardless of what you sell, during this final stage of the sale, you will want to ask questions until you get a thorough understanding of the problem they are trying to solve and how you can help them get to a solution. Be inquisitive and listen with an ear for how you can help them, not how fast you can close the sale. For example:

“What’s your budget?”

“Oh, I don’t really know. We don’t have one set.”

“Okay, no worries … Did you guys have a budget for last year or do you know what your overall spend was last year?”

“Oh, yeah, we spent about $100.”

“And how much of that was on the same audience you’re reaching now?”

“It’s always been the same. That’s our only audience.”

By being patient and asking the right questions with a goal of being truly helpful, you will eventually get to the information you need to help them make the right purchase.

Share the facts; don't pander to myths.5. Be honest and genuine.

Speaking of being helpful, I have found that being honest and frank about what is best for the customer always works best for me and my team. Never misrepresent yourself, your product or your offer. If you can’t commit to that, then selling today is probably not as right for you as it was in the 1880s when you could’ve been a barker on the street corner, hoodwinking passersby. Today, you need to be sincere and genuine. It has to be real or they’ll feel it.

Forget about wanting a sale. Forget about trying to trick them or hook them into something special. Forget about stretching the truth to get the close. If you don’t know the answer, tell them you don’t know but that you’ll get back to them.

If you genuinely care about them and what they’re trying to do, you’ll be able to help them more times than not. And, while it goes against everything that traditional sales is about, don’t be afraid to tell someone that it’s not the right time for them to make the purchase. “If I were you, I don’t know that I’d spend the money on this right now. I would hang tight until your sales are a little higher.”

By doing what’s right rather than what’s best for short-term, immediate gain, you’ll not only sleep well at night, you’ll build trust so that when that customer is eventually ready to make the buy, you’ll be at the top of their mind.Free Magazine Evaluation

Adam Weiss

Adam is a business development and sales-and-marketing expert who has spent more than two decades in the media industry. As the manager of content and advertising portfolios for local, national and international associations, he has launched tradeshow advertising venues; overseen ad sales into countless publications; launched and published digital magazines and annual directories; and developed new sources of ongoing advertising revenue for clients.