Creating a Consultative Selling Team

By Lain Ehmann

If you’re squeaking along with less-than-stellar margins, or continuously being forced into competitive bidding situations that take away your sales team’s ability to sell strategically, you’ve probably realized that something’s got to change. More and more managers in similar situations are turning to the concept of consultative selling as a way out of the commoditization trap.

But while the idea of becoming a valued partner rather than just a vendor to your clients is an attractive one, you might be wondering how your sales organization can adapt to a new way of doing business. Can you teach old dogs new tricks? Yes, says Mack Hanan, the man who literally wrote the book on consultative selling. Hanan, author of Consultative Selling: The Hanan Formula for High-Margin Sales at High Levels, 7th Edition (AMACOM, 2004), says “I created consultative selling with the idea it could be taught, learned and managed with an existing sales force.” Here are Hanan’s tips for transforming your team.

  • Look for symptoms that indicate change is needed. Dwindling margins, lack of contacts at the upper levels of client organizations, teams that make their volume quotas but not their profit goals and higher sales costs are all symptoms that show you’re being forced into the vendor role. To escape, sales managers need to start looking at consultative selling, says Hanan. “It’s the only way to regain margins on commoditized products without changing the product,” he explains.
  • Listen to the field. Because your salespeople are closer to customers, they may notice problems long before you do. When you hear the same complaints over and over again, pay attention – and get ready to do something about it.
  • Introduce yourself to the philosophies. Before you can effect change in your team, you must be fully versed in the ways you’re expecting team members to alter their practices. Read books, take training courses and review available tools to help move your team into their new role as strategic consultant to your customers.
  • Be open to changing the way you operate. Sometimes the hardest behaviors to change are your own, not your team’s, says Hanan. “The demand is coming from the people in the field,” he says. “Managers take a little longer to come to the realization that they need to change.”
  • Take ownership of change. Your whole sales organization must shift in favor of supporting the new processes and behaviors. Be prepared to lead the charge to alter commission plans, territory staffing, equipment and any other element that needs to align itself with your new way of doing business. “If you don’t have the manager leading the process, it’s never going to be institutionalized,” warns Hanan.

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