Most salespeople believe that consultative selling involves asking questions prior to presenting solutions. They would be right, but only if they also believe that software programming is one’s ability to configure email accounts on multiple devices.
We do a tremendous amount of role-playing when we train and coach salespeople and sales leaders. The main purpose is to demonstrate the two primary components of consultative selling, uncovering compelling reasons to buy, and differentiation. The lessons learned from our role-plays provide us with enough feedback to know how they were selling prior to their training.
Over and over again, I hear some version of, “Wow, you asked about 25 more questions than I would have asked. I would have explained how we could help as soon as I heard their first issue.” Or, “Why did you continue asking questions? I would have presented after about the third question.”
Some believe that asking questions means having a list of 50 questions. Others think it’s to conduct a needs analysis. There are even some who think that consultative selling means that they should behave like a consultant.
The reality is that consultative selling is a horrible phrase and there is little agreement on what that phrase actually means and how it should be executed. In my opinion, it refers to the critical conversation that takes place early in the first scheduled meeting or call, and it requires mastery of four crucial skills:
- Asking questions
Those four skills appear very simple but nothing could be further from the truth. It takes most salespeople 8-12 months to develop those skills to the degree necessary to master consultative selling. Why does it take so long? I don’t think it’s the questioning, but the listening, inspection and note taking are very difficult for people that have spent most of their careers talking.
For example, in a role-play today, I said, “You said the company needs to make improvements after falling 10 years behind. What compelled the CEO to begin this initiative now – what changed?”
The prospect responded with, “My role is to bring the company up-to-date and I was hired to do that.”
A question was asked and an answer was provided and for most salespeople, that’s good. But skill #3 calls for inspection and after quickly inspecting that answer, it becomes obvious that the question I asked wasn’t answered. That is a very common occurrence early in the conversation, and most salespeople miss it. So I asked, again, “But what changed to make this important now?”
When you are selling consultatively, you’ll find yourself using dozens of the same words and phrases from one meeting to the next. Here are 10 that I like:
“What does that mean?”
“How does that manifest?”
“Could you elaborate on that a bit more?”
“Tell me that story!”
“How long has that been a problem?”
“Why is that a problem?”
“Who else cares about that?”
“How does that impact you?”
“Why have you put up with that?”
“What would be better?”
As we head into the New Year, I hope you can incorporate some of these tips into your selling. But more than what you’ve already read, the single most important tip is to refrain from presenting until you have a completely qualified opportunity!