Traditional selling techniques focus a lot on reaching out to as many people as possible with your sales pitch and working the “average”. Assuming that for example, you reach out to 100 people, and an average of 10 people respond, you may be able to close 5 sales.
This high-pressure approach is therefore focused exclusively on the targets that you want to achieve rather than the actual needs of your potential customers.
The most successful sales organizations, however, apply a more impactful technique called “Consultative Selling” which requires you to identify the characteristics of your target clients; understand their needs; and develop your sales materials, communication and presentations around these needs.
The idea is simple – become like a consultant, someone who takes time to understand the customer’s needs and responds effectively.
Rather than just try to make the most out of “averages” and pushing your product to everyone, your sales approach can be more focused and yield even better results. You too can apply consultative selling techniques to your business in the following ways:
#1: Understanding Customers’ Needs:
The first step in building a consultative selling approach is to be clear about your customers’ needs. To achieve this, you have to first be able to describe what your typical customer looks like – age, gender, marital status, geographic locations, tastes, habits, economic/social background, etc., as applicable.
Taking time with your colleagues to think about the characteristics of those more likely to purchase your product is very critical. For example, for a crèche, your typical clients will be single parents, first-time parents, with demanding jobs, with very old mothers or no mothers at all (to help support), living or working close to your crèche.
For someone selling technology products and gadgets, your typical clients will most likely be workplace professionals, students with a taste for things that are trending who use the internet and social media a lot.
Once you have taken time to identify this “archetypal” customer, the next step will be to identify the needs of this customer from the various perspectives of marketing: product: (how should our product and product delivery be designed to fit their realities); place: (where will be the most appropriate location for our business, what distribution and sales channels – online or otherwise will be most effective) pricing (what can such a customer afford, and what type of payment/commercial terms will work best for them); and promotion: (what type of marketing pitch will resonate with them, where will you find them, and where what sales techniques and platforms will create the most impact).
By answering these questions, you would have discovered a number of important things regarding your target customers and be in a better position to attract them.
#2: Consultative Proposals:
Now that you are clear about who your customers are, what they want and how to reach out to them, you must begin to apply all of this to your sales materials – brochures, adverts, proposals, and other marketing documents. When preparing a proposal for your business, you should always craft your messages from a consultative perspective.
To achieve this, your proposal must connect to the needs of the customers in a powerful way, showing that you understand their needs and the risks/rewards of dealing with the particular circumstances they find themselves.
For example, if I were a gym instructor, I will most likely find clients taking long walks in the morning or evenings. If I wanted to give them a flier, it should try to connect to some of the needs of fitness enthusiasts and highlight the importance of healthy living.
As a school owner, I will focus on the importance of technology-driven education, character-based education or something that I am quite sure will be of interest to potential parents.
Often times, business owners develop proposals and adverts that just “speak about their products”, sometimes paying glowing tribute to its efficacy – awards and accolades received or its competitive advantage over others without first creating a connection with the real needs/risks of potential customers.
A good consultative proposal may start with something like: “Forward-thinking parents appreciate that good academics alone do not guarantee the success of a child later in life, rather it is a combination of academic, life skills and character that are more likely to predict success”.
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but also the most neglected. Skipping breakfast increases the chances of diabetes, high blood pressure and stress-related illnesses”.
“The design of your office furniture and the seating arrangements can contribute up to 30% of your effectiveness in the office. It is important to ensure that your furniture is ergonomically appropriate” By now I believe you should be able to create a consultative statement for your business/products.
#3: Consultative Presentations:
Similar to your consultative proposal, you should apply this consultative thinking and approach when you need to speak publicly about your business/products.
A good consultative presentation begins by connecting with the needs/risks of the client rather than showing-off what your product can do. By getting your audience to identify with the needs and risks associated with the problem or challenge that your product deals with, you create a powerful emotional connection.
We recognize that selling is about connecting with hearts and pockets and find that even if there is nothing in your customer’s pocket today, a good connection with his heart can create a connection to the pocket that transcends time.
So, ensure that your first slide captures a powerful problem statement or case scenario regarding the business/personal need/challenge/risk that your product helps to address. Get your audience committed to agreeing with this problem/challenge/risk and then sell your product to them consultatively.
#4: Consultative Engagement:
In just the way a doctor or a consultant will engage with their clients, you too should always engage in a consultative manner. Good consultants focus on getting to know more about their customers, their needs and challenges using powerful questioning and listening techniques – just like doctors do.
They also take time to research their prospective customers and use a lot of data about existing relationships to up-sell and cross-sell to current customers.
If you are going to create healthy sustainable relationships with your customers and prospects, you too should take time to research them properly, keep ahead on news events and activities relating to them and their industry (as applicable), and when in a meeting or conversation, take time to ask questions that will help you understand them better, while listening with empathy to create the right connections.
So instead of showing up at a business meeting and kicking-off by “selling” your products, begin by asking questions and talking about interesting things about the customer that you may have picked up in the press or via your research.
#5: Product Innovation:
One of the things that being consultative does for your business, is that it provides you with so much real-life perspective on your customers, that you can be at the cutting edge of product innovation.
The deep insights that you now have arising from your better understanding of your customers’ needs will help you enhance your products and services and deliver even better results for your customers.
Business owners who are at the cutting edge of innovation and new product development are able to achieve this because of their consultative approach to selling. As you release new products or enhancements to your existing products they are aligned with the needs of your customers, you will find such products easier to sell and gain new customers.
#6: Thought Leadership:
To crown your abilities as a consultative sales organization will be your ability to position yourself and your business as thought leaders in your specific industry or field. A thought leader is an expert to whom the rest of the industry defers on issues regarding that industry.
As a business owner, you can position yourself as a thought leader by continuous and impactful investment in learning – learning that is applied in innovation projects as well as taught and dispensed to others.
So, drawing on your experience and expertise in your specific field of business, you can begin to publish articles in leading journals and magazines, write a blog or become a conference/workshop speaker on issues related to your industry or products.
As you position yourself as a thought leader, even your competitors recognize your work, and your network of influence and clients will continue to spread.
The beauty of thought leadership is that it is a very subtle yet immensely impactful way of promoting yourself and your business.
Opportunities to provide thought leadership are quite distinct from making a sales pitch and there is, therefore, no need to focus your article or speech on direct marketing of your products when wearing your thought leadership “hat”.
Consultative selling is transforming the way businesses relate with their customers today. You too can transform your organization’s approach to selling and make it more consultative and impactful.