Do customers and prospects see your salespeople as proactive problem-solvers? Do they believe your reps possess relevant product knowledge? Do they think of your reps as having high levels of integrity?
These qualities are at the heart of the consultative selling philosophy, which aims to position salespeople more as consultants and trusted advisors than churn-and-burn opportunists. If customers’ perceptions of your sales force don’t align with these characteristics, then they’ll be less likely to call on your reps for help when it’s time to work out complex business puzzles. And that’s not a great indication of a strong relationship.
Here are four coaching tips to help your reps develop and fine-tune their consultative selling habits.
1. Carefully consider when to go for the close.
Just as you don’t want to deal with a prospect’s arrogant or pushy attitude, he or she doesn’t want to deal with your agenda. When a customer feels the salesperson spends more time trying to close the sale than determining product applications or defining specific customer needs, then he or she stops listening.
Consultative salespeople take time to get to know the customer’s business situation, needs, cash problems, decision-making process, and competitive situation. Encourage your reps to ask open-ended questions about the company and the customer’s situation no matter the stated purpose of the call versus going for the close at all costs.
2. Use feedback to build the customer relationship.
If a customer is unhappy with your product or service, you have to find out about it. To start this process, develop a good relationship with your customer. Remember, reps and customers are peers looking to solve problems.
A salesperson who works with customers by conducting surveys and developing new applications for the product, for example, is building a future for the account. When the customer does have specific problems with the product, he or she will be more likely to share that information with a partner than a sales adversary.
3. Be quiet and let the customer talk.
Sometimes customers and prospects need to talk for 10 minutes or more to get to their real issues of concern. Let them talk, and get comfortable just listening. Be prepared to wait out some unfocused rambling and even silence. Above all, hear what the customer is really saying, and be prepared to act immediately on what you hear. If you hear closing signals, go for a trial close. If, on the other hand, you hear that the customer has misgivings, address those right away by asking more probing questions and reassuring the customer that you are there to serve his or her needs.
4. Use positive words during customer conversations.
Good sales calls should sound like good conversations. Use such positive words as discover, easy, new, no risk, productive, and help when you talk with customers. For example, you might say, “Tell me about your situation so I can see if there’s something I can help you with.” Partnership is also a positive word that would probably make the customer feel that the salesperson is looking out for his or her welfare.
Sales managers today have a tough challenge in building sales teams that distinguish themselves based on service as opposed to price or product differentiation. The next time a customer or prospect asks, “What makes you different from the competition?” let your team’s consultative selling habits speak for themselves.