Last month, I showed 65 reps, in one company, how to make the transition from a transactional, relationship-based approach, to a consultative approach to selling. It was eye-opening, dramatic and controversial. There was discomfort, resistance and fear. They observed how a consultative conversation sounds completely different from a transactional or relationship-based conversation. And they observed how dramatically different the outcomes are.
It was the subject of a company-wide podcast.
It was talked about.
It was celebrated.
What this salesperson accomplished had never been done before.
Before last month, most of the reps in this sales organization had visited their prospects an average of 15 times each with nothing to show for it. They thought they had developed relationships, trust and credibility but the reality is that they were merely reps, showing up, and wasting everyone’s time. The relationships weren’t strong enough to leverage and the reps didn’t know enough about their prospects for their products to be positioned as a solution to a problem. None of their prospects had even admitted that they had any problems, stating on more than one occasion that they were perfectly happy with the status quo.
Can a consultative approach be so much of a game changer that prospects who were resistant and unwilling to admit they had problems, to state that this “is a big problem” and want to fix it?
The short answer is yes. The longer answer is it depends.
It depends on how we define a consultative approach, how that approach is demonstrated, whether that approach is shared in the context of a sales process that supports a consultative approach, whether the sales managers have been trained to coach to the process and the approach, whether the salespeople are bought-in, coachable, and motivated to improve, whether the training is reinforced over time – for example – twice per month for a year, and whether the company is committed, from the top down, to change.
Ask 100 people to define consultative selling and you’ll get 100 different answers. Even after being trained to sell consultatively, most salespeople think they should write out some questions, start asking a few, and as soon as they get some answers, transition over to presentation mode.
But that’s not consultative selling.
A consultative approach to sales begins with a single question. One that gets the conversation started. There might be 50 answers and follow up questions before a salesperson has learned enough to summarize the conversation, packaging it in such a way that the problem can be articulated, along with the consequences, cost, prognosis, and personal, emotional impact. In order for all of that to come out, the salesperson would have to ask some good, tough, timely questions and have the difficult conversation that nobody else has had, causing an aha moment. That’s the point of differentiation. In order to ask all of those questions, they must have active listening skills, something that most salespeople never learn, role-play or execute.
Listening skills. That’s the number one prerequisite to successfully execute a consultative approach to selling.
Then there’s Sales DNA.
Specifically, there are 3 elements of Sales DNA that are needed to support a consultative approach:
- You Don’t Need to be Liked: When salespeople need to be liked, it’s difficult to ask lots of questions, especially good, tough timely ones, and even more difficult to challenge and push back. If you aren’t comfortable with that, you can’t take a consultative approach.
- You Control Your Emotions: When salespeople struggle to stay in the moment because they can’t stay out of their own head, and stop listening to their own thoughts, they aren’t able to listen and active listening skills won’t exist. Without active listening, you can’t take a consultative approach.
- You are Comfortable Having a Financial Conversation: When salespeople believe that it’s not polite to talk with people about their money, they avoid those conversations, making it extremely difficult to monetize or quantify the consequences of the problem that is uncovered. If you aren’t comfortable talking about money, you can’t sell consultatively.
So, this salesperson did it all, had the tough conversation, created urgency, turned her prospect around on a dime and it was such a big deal that she is now a hero.
Are you ready to follow in her footsteps?