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Use Consultative Selling Techniques to Win Business Faster

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

2 thoughts on “Use Consultative Selling Techniques to Win Business Faster”

  1. There are many similarities how a Doctor approaches a situation and how a good salesperson should; I have been involved in training both professions (right now, I am doing a lot with medical folks).

    If a doctor started the consultation by telling you the F.A.B of a new pill, you would get worried. If you mentioned that you had a headache and, immediately, the Doctor said, “I’ve got just the pill for you”, you would probably run for the door. Medical people at every level, have ‘diagnosis’ as the focus of the consultation; they will ask about your symptoms (pain etc), your lifestyle (drink, smoke, exercise), your worries and stress factors – and so on. There’s a standard questioning model that helps them get the complete picture. The medical people tell me that ‘understanding the patient completely’ enables the doctor to offer the best diagnosis – and subsequently (and it is ‘subsequently’), the best ‘solution’ to the problem. Doctors, like sales people, have to learn to resist the urge to produce a solution before they have the complete picture and the priorities agreed by the ‘patient’. If you think about it, not to do so could be fatal! A sales person selling an inappropriate solution is a bad situation, but a doctor ‘selling’ the wrong medication would be catastrophic.

    I have done simulated patient exercises with Doctors purely on getting a good ‘history’ and making a ‘differential diagnosis’ (diagnosis alternatives). Good consultative selling is similar. The complete diagnosis (with priorities) is made before any mention of a solution and without prejudging what the solution should be.

    My mission right now is to convert my thousands of man years of selling and teaching experience (I thought I would mention that before Steve did!) into ebooks and kindle books. Have a look at http://www.kindlebooksplus.co.uk

  2. William this comment is brilliant and is really appreciated. We use the same analogy and I love it!

    The consultation also works well if the consultant has read notes on you and asks you (the patient) to share/confirm the following:

    • The external lifestyle pressures and preferences that are important to the patient (this establishes rapport and context).
    • The negative implications that the symptoms are having on the patient’s lifestyle preferences (this brings out the costs that the symptoms are having upon the patient’s lifestyle).
    • The positive implications upon lifestyle and quality of life that would result from the symptoms being alleviated (this is the desires or the needs of the patient, and underlines the value and return on investment to be had from a cure).

    The above steps should be replayed back to reach an agreement to work together and to reach a solution that will achieve the confirmed needs (a trial close).

    These steps represent the first stage (what we call the left-hand side) of the consultation process. They get the patient to buy into the recommendations which are about to come (and which need commitments from both sides). The recommendations should then be used for the second stage (or what we call the right-hand side) of the consultation. They are:

    • A strategy of value-added measures for satisfying the aforementioned needs.
    • The stages of the cure (i.e. the solution), which may include tablets (i.e. the product) but may also include a “change programme” that the patient must buy into. This represents a joint commitment to the solution.

    Consultative selling works in exactly the same way. We call the process of selling from the client’s (or patient’s) world “Selling from the Left®” and we call the process of product (or FAB) selling “Selling from the Right”.

    Too many doctors pay mere lip service to the left side of the equation, jumping to the right too quickly during the consultation. This makes the patient feel coerced and undervalued. Sales people do the same and prospects (especially senior ones with big budgets and big egos) hate it! “Selling from the Right” is what gets selling a bad name. Our sales training courses teach sales people to “Sell from the Left®”. This transforms the outcomes and results in a sales road map of high-margin wins.

    Many thanks for the comment William.

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