The shift from ‘product selling’ to ‘solution selling’ has brought huge benefits for sales professionals and selling organisations over the past decade.
The benefits of this shift include: higher value sales; greater customer satisfaction; and more long-term customer-supplier relationships.
However, solution selling has also brought the following challenges: more advanced selling skills are required; sales cycles are longer; and deal closure rates tend to be lower.
The last two challenges are the biggest reasons why so many sales leaders resist the shift towards solution selling. Yet our experience tells us that the sales process does not actually have to be longer when selling solutions.
Feedback from our sales training courses shows that an effective consultative selling methodology can make high-value solution selling a speedy process and will transform the efficiency of a company’s solution sales force in terms of successfully closing deals on time.
Common Causes of Failure to Close a High Margin Sale:
So what causes so many high margin sales to result in failure?
Over the hundreds of case studies we have reviewed, we find that the main reasons why sales individuals and sales teams fail to close their deals on time (i.e. in line with their sales forecasts) include:
- No external pressure or compelling event was driving the client to make a change.
- The internal pain-points and cost implications facing the client didn’t hurt enough to make ‘change’ a real priority.
- The perceived benefits (e.g. return on investment) were not great enough and were not differentiated from those of the competition.
- The solution didn’t actually satisfy the client’s needs.
- The risk of the solution was too high for the prospect (in some cases, no relevant case studies were presented, there was insufficient trust or the impact of failure was perceived as being too high).
- The client didn’t have the authority to sign the deal (i.e. the sales person was spending time with the wrong contact).
- The customer never intended to buy from the selling organisation (the client may have been using the selling organisation as a benchmark to leverage a better deal with a stronger competitor).
- The decision makers were too busy to sign the deal.
We found that these factors increase the number of sales objections raised by clients, lengthening the sales process and reducing the rate of successful closes unless sales professionals and sales teams develop adequate sales techniques to counter these objections.
In observed sales calls and role-play simulations we also found that sales people failed to close deals because they:
- Failed to take the lead in sales meetings – often they failed to start their meetings at a business level with a clear objective to obtain a formal commitment.
- Were poor at funneling from ‘open’, or ‘semi-open’, questions down to closed questions at each phase of their meetings.
- Didn’t use a compelling event, the cost of “doing nothing” and/or the value of the solution as a pressure to close.
- Went for the big solution sale in the medium- to long-term but missed the opportunity for immediate wins.
- Couldn’t bridge the gap between the client’s needs and the selling organisation’s products or services with a value-added solution. In other words, they jumped to a product sale too early and killed the higher value opportunity (and often killed the client’s interest!).
Using a Consultative Selling Approach:
By comparison, we find that sales professionals who apply a consultative selling methodology are able to overcome many of the above challenges. This is because they proactively sell their solutions more effectively and efficiently, while they are more likely to close their deals in line with their sales forecasts.
We also find that consultative selling works in any industry – working just as well in the world of B2B selling as it does in any other scenario where companies sell high value solutions to personal clients. Indeed, hundreds of senior decision-making buyers have told us that they hate product selling. It’s what gives a sales person a bad name.
Effective solution selling in today’s world has to start with the shaping of the client’s needs and has to drive the need and urgency of the buyer. This can be achieved by using:
- The external pressures on the client to change.
- The pain and cost implications of “doing nothing”.
- The client’s (often unconscious) desire for a better world.
By driving the buyer’s needs and creating urgency with a compelling event, sales professionals can speed up the solution sales process and significantly improve their ability to close sales in line with their forecasts.
Sales people and selling companies therefore need an efficient and effective methodology for consultative selling that enables them to:
- Plan and execute sales introductions and meetings in a way that creates a high-priority need and a compelling urgency to set up the close.
- Articulate how the value proposition aligns directly to the client’s needs to compel the client to commit to moving forward. This will ensure that a desire for a close is created in the client’s mind.
- Leverage the urgency, the need and the desire to drive the close of the sale in terms of a sales roadmap (from immediate wins to medium- and long-term, higher value solutions).
- Efficiently repeat the process for any client on a ‘sell-to’ and ‘sell-through’ basis.
This structured approach to selling will help you and your company avoid the common causes of failure which sales professionals regularly experience when attempting to close solution sales and will enhance the bottom-line sales performance.
In summary, we believe it is wrong to say that consultative selling techniques are only appropriate for the longer term (and more complex) solution selling environment. Wherever a company aims to sell a bundled solution (or a set of services), consultative selling works – regardless of an individual’s experience or the industry they are selling into.
Written by: Steve Eungblut, Managing Director of Sterling Chase