Push Back (Don’t Shove)

Especially in a sales environment in which an average of 50% of salespeople at best are meeting goal, it can be really tempting to jump to a solution when a customer wants to buy.  But products are not the differentiator anymore.  Bigger, faster, better, and even cheaper isn’t enough to win.  Customers are self-educated, and what they need from you has changed.  The day of selling based on the “better mousetrap” is really gone.

So what do customers value?  How can you differentiate your offerings to win?  By switching gears from probing product needs to probing to your customer’s business challenge and focusing on how you can help them drive business results.  But it takes more.  YOU are the differentiator.  You must come to the table with industry, vertical, and customer knowledge, and be prepared to add value outside of your technical solution. 

It also takes the courage to PUSH BACK once you understand what and why the customer is thinking if you feel that direction is not in the customer’s best interest.   Customers no longer rely on you as a communicator of product knowledge.  But they do need you for advice to help them think through their challenges, bring them ideas, sort through their options, honestly evaluate the risk and rewards of moving forward, connect the dots, and solve business challenges.  Your role is to help your customers take advantage of opportunities and avoid making mistakes.

One salesperson won a deal because he did just that.  He didn’t take his customer’s request for sales coaching for 28 sales managers at face value.  His three competitors proposed customized solutions that met their customer’s criteria in varying degrees to the T.  They did everything right — except that they were following the customer down the wrong path.

The salesperson who won the business first probed the business challenge driving the need for coaching.  He learned that turnover among managers was 80%.  He probed the outcome and learned about pipeline problems.  He probed the factors that would be impacted and learned the sales team was remote.  Although the customer was dead set on delivering a coaching program within three weeks, the salesperson pushed back.  He empathized with the sales leader’s frustration and showed respect for the leader’s view.  He shared data on sales management performance and leveraged his experience and knowledge to recommend that the coaching training might not be the best place to begin.  He used a success story to drive the point home.  In the end, the customer purchased a sales manager assessment and selection tool which was followed by a sales coaching program supported with sales tools.    

Being consultative is more than asking questions.  Customers have lost their tolerance for a long list of questions.  But they value questions that help them think through issues and make better decisions.  Business challenge questions demonstrate to your customers that you know the field and care about what the customers are going through.  They broaden both your and your customers’ understanding.  They can be more persuasive than answers and certainly more valuable to customers than product-oriented questions.  They give you the context you need to provide the level of advice and insight that it takes today to win deals.  Of course, it is important to ask product-oriented questions but only after you understand your customers’ business challenges and understand the context. 

Take a hard look at the conversations you are having.  Are they product- or business-outcome centered?  Do you propose or advise?  Are you really consultative — data shows that a scant 6% of salespeople are consultative.

Consultative Selling skills are needed more today than ever.  But often, it is misunderstood.  It is listening and asking business questioning and bringing insights, ideas, and solutions to customers that create value.  Brace yourself if you haven’t been pushing back, but do so in a way that doesn’t require bracing on the customer’s part.