It’s a real jungle out there for those who want to sell anything. How do you sell successfully in an unpredictable world where the marketplace is crowded with eager competitors emerging from all over the place? And that’s not even half the problem. How for instance does one cope with an increasing number of prospects desperate to cut down costs increasingly reaching out to dirt-cheap alternatives imported mostly from the China?
Actually a lot has changed in the world since folks first started talking about consultative selling in the 1970s. Basically the marketplace has become a lot more crowded with so much more “noise.” The result is that the consumers being targeted are continuously muting out the sound of anybody trying to sell anything to them.
You may have experienced this growing phenomenon from the prospect who only half listens to your presentation or the consumer who mutes the sound on their TV when their favorite show is interrupted by a commercial break.
Advertisers now have plenty of horror stories to tell. For instance TV advertisements are nowhere nearly as effective as they used to be. Neither are newspaper ads or any other medium delivering the desired results. The immediate consequence is that sales targets are increasingly difficult to meet.
The writing should be on the wall by now and any organization that still insists on confronting prospects with the same old message of how great their product is will fail and fail more spectacularly going forward. Hardly surprising when people are so sick of hearing how great this new or re-branded product is and why they need to buy it right away.
The secret is to focus on the prospects’ problems
In this kind of environment consultative selling is no longer an option but the only available knight in shining armor capable of saving the day.
The only way to attract the interest of any would-be buyer is to focus on their problems and the more pressing those problems are the more interest you will be able to generate.
In consultative selling the focus shifts from you and your great products to the customer and their immediate needs and concerns. What problems are they facing? What obstacles are standing on their paths blocking them from achieving their objectives?
The questions asked need to be detailed and probing so that as much as possible is understood about the problems the client is facing.
Only then can you turn back to what you have in your briefcase and ask if any of your products or services can realistically solve their problem.
You must understand the problems enough to paint a picture
Superficial efforts of just asking a few questions won’t cut it. To succeed in selling using consultative selling you will need to understand your prospects’ problems thoroughly. You will need to step into their shoes and know them so well that you are capable of painting a very clear and poignant picture complete with projections of what is likely to happen if the problem persists for any length of time.
Only then will you be able to start “the real fire” or escalate “the pain” they feel. There is really no other way you will ultimately be able to motivate buyers to fix the source of their pain. And convincingly offer to rid them of that “pain” or put out “the fire” with the help of your products.
Your product must be customized
It seems that the era of mass selling and one-size-fits-all is well and truly over. This is precisely what conventional the-benefits-of-my-product-selling thrived on. And that is one of the reasons why it is proving to be increasingly ineffective; many say it is dead already.
Offering a solution to your clients with a generic product is unlikely to solve the complex problems they are facing in today’s world. In fact the big danger here is that you may only be opening the door for a competitor with a more relevant feature to the problem to come in and finish off the job thus benefiting from all the time consuming groundwork you have put in.
It is therefore extremely imperative that you ensure that the solution you offer in your product is carefully customized so that it is a complete solution.
The role of the new salesperson is actually to provide a complete solution and nothing less.
It takes up too much time, will it really work?
In the good old days selling was a simple numbers game. With a booming economy (and plenty of predictability when things weren't so good) that thrived on lots of impulse buying all one needed to do was see enough prospects and the numbers would work themselves out and deliver the required sales and results. Little wonder that as the concept of consultative selling arrived in the upbeat 1980s many in the corporate world saw it as extremely time consuming and a big hindrance to the rate at which sales could be closed.
Today the numbers no longer come in for those rushing around to get in front of as many prospects as they can. Even the best efforts to better qualify prospects have failed to deliver the desired results. The reasons why are not too difficult to figure out. People are increasingly busy with much shorter attention spans that are even shorter when the person on the other side of the table is talking about everything else but their immediate concerns.
Consultative selling delivers hot prospects
One of the magical things about consultative selling is that it not only qualifies prospects but goes further to create hot prospects for products and services. The result is that the longer time spent asking questions and gathering information is more than made up for by more sales being closed at the end of the day. In fact the customer does not even feel that they are being pressurized or closed. Instead they tend to experience a sense of relief in being able to find a solution to their problem.
Clearly the most powerful tool any salesperson has at their disposal today has changed from whatever it was before into an effective questionnaire or the right probing questions. All carefully designed to learn as much as one can about the problems facing your prospects and the kind of options they may have of dealing with them. Lots of dialogue, listening and consultative selling is really the only way to go.