The Power Behind
By Marsha Wells and Jack R. Snader
Why do some people excel in selling products or services while others,
who work just as hard, fall short of meeting sales goals?
One principal talent distinguishes elite profit makers from the rest: top
sellers skillfully diagnose and solve problems better and quicker than
Because of the critical importance of sales in any business, a cornucopia
of resources to help salespeople improve selling skills has proliferated.
But regardless of the sophistication of those resources, many of the vast
array of workshops, manuals, "how-to-sell" books, and interactive
videos, CD Roms, and Internet learning tools available miss the point because
they don't address basic problem-solving.
The problem-solver's approach to selling is different from the rest. A problem solver realizes that only part of the selling equation is understanding
the features, benefits, and technical aspects of the product line, and
reciting them in her sleep. She also has taken the time to be trained and stay up-to-date on the latest
offerings. But most importantly she recognizes that her clients' problems
and needs, not her own products, are her most pressing concern.
The problem-solving approach to selling, known as consultative selling,
is somewhat analogous to the work of a physician. Prescribing a cure without
first asking questions to diagnose the patient's problem makes for medical
malpractice. Similarly, offering products or services in sales to "cure"
business problems without first asking in-depth questions about the needs
and concerns of the company makes for poor selling. Like a good physician,
the problem-solving salesperson probes for information and conducts a thorough
exam about current problems before prescribing a remedy.
The larger the sale, the more this is true. If a doctor recommends heavy
medication or major surgery after only a brief interview, the patient would
feel apprehensive and probably seek another opinion. However, if the doctor
spends time gathering facts, learning how the patient feels, performs a
series of tests, and only then draws conclusions and makes a major recommendation,
the patient will feel more confident of it.
In the same way, the salesperson's thorough analysis makes a prospective
buyer more comfortable with the suggested products or services to solve
their larger business problems. Effective questioning that involves open-ended
probes to understand needs, feelings, and attitudes helps the consultative
salesperson develop a complete understanding of the buyer's situation and
builds client confidence in the salesperson's recommendations.
In many industries, similar products at similar prices are available from
many suppliers. Buyers are more likely to favor the salesperson who adds value to his products
by effectively shaping solutions to the buyer's needs, in effect, helping the buyer think through his problems to develop solutions
as a team. With a diagnostic, consultative approach to selling presented
in a non manipulative way, the result is a deeper understanding of the
customer's needs that wins the salesperson long-term relationships. Consultative
salespeople quickly build large networks of prospects and long lists of
Evolution of consultative selling
In the traditional, product-oriented sales approach, popular in the 40s,
50s, 60s and continued well into the 70s , the salesperson was a presenter
of information. The product was more important than the client. Let's apply
the concepts here to one industry. For example, a short-sighted real-estate
agent using this method focuses on what he is selling and tries to convince
a potential buyer to purchase one of his available properties, with little
regard for the buyer's original goals. He first pitches the biggest or
most expensive property available, then shows less costly properties if
he sees he is above the buyer's income level.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the concept of needs-benefit selling developed.
Salespeople worked to find client needs, then showed how their products
or services filled those needs. A real-estate agent using that method might
ask if, as a young couple, the prospective buyers plan to have children.
Receiving an affirmative answer, the agent may begin enthusiastically to
talk up the benefits of a home with more bedrooms, and to direct them toward
his largest homes.
By contrast, consultative selling, which evolved in the 1970s, is buyer-oriented.
The salesperson conducts a needs analysis, investing time to listen to
the potential buyer and asking questions to uncover financial ability to
buy as well as primary needs and wants, attitudes and concerns.
The salesperson then serves as a resource to his prospect, suggesting possible
solutions that have been adapted to buyer problems and goals. The enlightened
real-estate representative using this approach considers the prospect's
total needs and then evaluates how available properties may match them.
Only then does he use his prospect's and his own valuable time to visit
properties perceived as matching needs.
The difference between product-oriented selling and consultative selling
is the difference between sales and marketing. Traditionally, sales asks,
"What do I have to sell?" while marketing asks, "What does
the client want to buy?" Marketing, like consultative selling, focuses
on the market's needs, beginning with an understanding of client demographics,
realities, needs, and values.
But consultative selling takes marketing a step further, because very often
the product a prospect buys (and wants!) is not what he originally thought
he wanted. The time a consultative salesperson spends analyzing needs and preferences
by asking open, in-depth questions and carefully evaluating answers assists
the buyer in clarifying his own needs.
Research has determined that, although effective selling techniques may
vary slightly from one business to the next, there are many skills shared
by top salespeople. The most successful salespeople:
- are not "fast talkers" but rather good listeners
- never present products or services until they learn client objectives,
needs, and problems
- begin sales calls by engaging prospective customers in dialog
- present only those product features and benefits relevant to client problems
or concerns, and dismiss features or benefits irrelevant to the client
- close not only after it's clear that their product or service meets the
client's needs, but also after the customer has said they have no more
issues to discuss relative to the purchase
- treat client resistance as a series of concerns, questions, or misunderstandings
to be clarified and answered, not as objections to overcome
- consider every completed sale as the beginning of a long-term relationship,
not as an ending, even when subsequent purchases are not imminent
- strive to develop beyond being a sales agent, becoming instead a sustaining
resource to the client, thus gaining referrals and building a reputation
in the community
The above list describes the behaviors and techniques of the consultative
salesperson, the problem-solver. Problem-solving capability translates into repeat business, new business,
and additional markets.
So how does this apply to your industry? Systema has developed a resource
bank of materials to apply the consultative selling approach to a wide
variety of industries, from the two-minute sales meeting with a physician
to sell pharmaceuticals to the seven-year closing process in selling municipal
power plants to city government. Contact us for more information on how
you or your sales organization can sell more by talking less.
Want to learn more?
For more information on on how to assess management, sales management,
and selling skills within your sales organization. E-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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