Selling Power Magazine Article

Consultative Selling Strategies
Geoffrey James
This PowerTraining module is based on an interview with Michael Bosworth and John Holland, the co-founders of CustomerCentric Systems and the co-authors of CustomerCentric Selling (McGraw-Hill, 2003). Bosworth has been a lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Holland has 20 years' experience in sales and sales management for technology companies. Their customers include Rockwell, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft. They can be reached at 858/350-5570, or visit their Website,

The basic concept of consultative selling is to view the selling process as helping a customer to solve a problem or achieve a goal through the use of the seller's offering. However, while most salespeople are familiar with the concept, they have no idea how to go about implementing it. This is because most salespeople have been trained to believe that the best way to sell a product is to educate the user on the product.

Such product-oriented selling is inefficient and ineffective. It inevitably leads salespeople to swamp customers with exhaustive menus of product features and detailed product demonstrations that have little or nothing to do with the problems and goals of the customer's organization. This alienates customers, especially managers and executives who have little interest in technical details.

As a result, salespeople trained in product-oriented selling often take the path of least resistance and focus their sales efforts on low-level technical employees who are willing to discuss products at the feature/function level. However, technical employees are usually not the final decision makers, which means (at worst) that the salesperson is wasting time or (at best) that the salesperson will be unprepared to describe the benefits of the product to the actual decision makers, even if the salesperson eventually obtains access to them.

Product-oriented selling can easily lapse into product evangelism, with the salesperson attempting to convince the customer of the superiority of the salesperson's product. This is ineffective. Pushing a product too hard drives a customer to raise an objection, because that's the only way the customer can reclaim the conversation. The basic error is spending too much time talking about the product and not enough time listening to the customer.

Unfortunately, many companies encourage product-oriented selling by providing internal sales training that's focused on product features. Ironically, product training is generally the responsibility of product managers who are familiar with the product but who have never had an actual conversation with a customer. Sales managers and sales teams must therefore take responsibility for translating product features into customer usage, so customers can understand the benefits of using the seller's product offering and the salespeople can act as consultants rather than just as ineffective product pushers.

There are three steps to accomplishing this.

Step 1: Rethink the Sales Process.
Moving beyond product-oriented selling and into consultative selling requires a change in your attitudes and beliefs about sales. There are four aspects to that change.

1. You must change what you're selling from a noun into a verb. Products are always nouns and solutions are always verbs. This is a subtle but powerful distinction that's best illustrated by example. If you are a salesperson who works for a firm that makes industrial glue, and you think that your job is to sell "glue" (a noun), you will tend to talk to the customer about product features, such as bonding ability, pressure requirements, adhesion characteristics and so forth. By contrast, if you think their job is to sell "gluing" (a verb), you will want to discover your customer's gluing needs and then show how your glue will fulfill that need.

2. You must begin thinking about selling as a process of helping the customer, rather than a process of making a sale. Unfortunately, most salespeople habitually think about selling in terms of convincing, persuading and overcoming - activities that assume the salesperson is in contention with the customer. Instead, you should redefine selling as the process of helping customers visualize how (if they had your product) they could solve their problems and achieve their goals.

3. You must consider a sales call successful when you disqualify a prospect because the buyer does not actually need your product. Most salespeople get so caught up in quotas that they try to foist unwanted products on customers, who naturally resent such behavior. Rather than adopting a dogged determination to make a sale, you should make it clear to customers that you're willing to leave if your product can't actually help them.

4. You must (continued on page 2)
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