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Why A Consultative Sales Approach is Still Relevant in 2022

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A Consultative Approach to Selling Keeps Pace With Today's Rate of Change

The duration of business and economic cycles appears to be decreasing. Data from the Economic Cycle Research Institute shows that since the turn of the century, economic growth cycles have shrunk considerably. Similarly, a Deutsche Bank study concluded that business cycles will be shorter in the years ahead. These findings have new relevance today because the global pandemic has shown just how much of a cycle can unfold in one year.

The up and down of a cycle demands agility. As these tops and bottoms move closer together, like a compressed wavelength, businesses are paying more attention to their ability to be flexible. One of the many lessons business leaders have taken from COVID-19 is that survival means adaptability. Effective sales professionals are aligning their approach to this idea by making agility part of their approach to selling.

Developing agility means following a consultative approach. The reason: a consultative approach, by design, seeks the most up-to-date reading of the customer’s needs. As these needs change more frequently, the sales professional is equipped with a framework that enables them to track a moving target.

Here, we look at three key components of this framework and why they address the new reality facing buyers today. We also examine the how behind these three parts so sales professionals can begin to commit to a repeatable methodology that advances the sale with any customer in any industry.

1. Changing Customer Hierarchies Are Leading to a New Buying Process

The sweeping effects of the global pandemic have impacted nearly all areas of the customer’s business. In this setting, decisions about how to adapt have been made with more people at the table because the path through the pandemic requires cooperation from everyone in the business. Researchers at the Harvard Business School and McKinsey have described this as a process of “delayering and empowering the organization.” Their analysis of 25 companies also revealed that almost all of the “agile business units responded better than their non-agile units to the shocks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.” Achieving this agility often means flattening the organizational structure.

This change, however, surfaces a new challenge for the sales professional because while a flat organization facilitates communication, it also creates a moving consensus. The sales professional must track this movement. Doing so requires a consultative approach in which the sales professional explores not only the customer’s needs but also the decision-making process. This approach is part of a broader strategy in which the sales professional becomes the coach of the buying process. Adopting this role means committing to three key practices:

Map the Purchase Process

Mapping the path forward means articulating the individual steps to adopting the solution. Some of these steps include helping the customer gain resource commitment within their organization, clarifying needs, and building stakeholder consensus.

Discuss Expectations Transparently

Sales professionals must remember that outcomes must be discussed within the context of the customer’s capabilities. Simply put, the sales professional needs to know what they can do for the customer and what they cannot.

Address Challenges Early

If an honest dialogue is a real threat to the sale, then the sale was likely never a possibility in the first place. Discussing challenges early is part of the coaching process because positioning a solution requires understanding the customer’s pain points.

Learn more about the modern customer buying journey by downloading the brief, Enabling Sales Teams Through the New Buyer's Journey

2. Uncertainty Presents Greater Influence on the Logic And Emotion of Buying

Uncertainty weighs heavily on purchasing decisions because it influences both the logic and emotion of buying. When conditions are uncertain, it is difficult for executives to use historical data for decision-making because even the recent past was such a different setting. At the same time, the knowledge that what lies ahead represents such a vast array of outcomes takes an emotional toll as decision-makers must gird themselves for volatility.

A consultative approach addresses this setting because the sales professional comes prepared with the ability to address the customer’s sense of risk. This skill is important because the customer faces reputational risk and financial risk. In the urge to win
the sale, it is tempting to assure the customer that all risks have been identified and eliminated. In truth, risk can never be fully removed. Every decision carries risk. Even the choice to preserve the status quo presents a risk. What’s important is that the risks are calculated, right-sized, and outweighed by beneficial outcomes. Achieving this end means normalizing discussions of risk. Sales professionals can do so in three ways:

Articulate the Solution’s Adaptability

Stakeholders are more aware than ever that adaptability is critical for success. Therefore, they need to know that the solution will be able to address dynamic challenges. Articulating adaptability means showing how the solution can be scaled and applied across an organization.

Make Implementation a Focal Point

Buying represents more than a purchase — it represents a partnership. The complexity of many solutions means that the people behind them are as important as the product or service. Stakeholders need to see that support will continue long after they buy.

Demonstrate the Ability to Marshal Resources within the Selling Organization

Delivering adaptability and implementation support is not a one-person job. Therefore, stakeholders need to be confident in the sales professional’s ability to leverage the resources of the selling organization by citing the specific people and tools they can deploy.

3. Differentiated Value is Becoming More Elusive

Efficiencies offered by fast-emerging technologies mean that traditional competitive barriers are falling. As a result, new entrants are entering spaces once occupied by long-standing incumbents. In this setting, more solutions share identical features. Finding and articulating meaningful differentiation is more difficult than ever.

The solution to this problem does not necessarily require a redesign of the product or service. Instead, it requires an understanding of the customer’s nuanced circumstances so that the sales professional can more precisely articulate the value of the solution. When the sales professional has this information, they can isolate those components of the solution that will resonate most with the customer. This approach not only differentiates the solution, but it also differentiates the buying experience because the customer follows a process in which they gain clarity on their needs and discover new characteristics of their challenges. This dynamic is value co-creation because the customer and sales professional are working together to collaborate on how the solution will be implemented. These conversations help the customer envision a setting in which the solution is in effect and delivering value. Uncovering the differentiated characteristics of the solution means doing three things:

Account for the Needs of All Stakeholders

The definition of differentiation will vary among stakeholders. Sales professionals need to demonstrate the unique value of the solution in a way that connects with each member of the buying team. It is important to remember that the primary customer contact is just one of many involved in the purchase.

Commit to Better Listening

Good listening is not passive. It requires the listener to encourage the speaker to offer more details. The listener must also engage in mirroring by occasionally repeating what they have heard. Finally, the listener must confirm the key points the customer makes.

Understand the Customer’s Digital Journey

Sales professionals can get a head start on understanding what the customer considers important by reviewing the content they have accessed and the order in which they have accessed it. Doing so is the best way to map the buyer’s thought process.

The consultative approach to selling is built for the increasing pace at which customer needs are changing. The experience of the last 12 months has reminded stakeholders how important agility is to survival. The sales professional who can match their approach to the dominant characteristic of business today will not only be more effective, but they will also demonstrate to the stakeholders that they understand the state of business today.

About the Consultative Selling Training Program

Richardson Sales Performance’s Consultative Selling training program focuses on the critical structure of a sales conversation. It provides a powerful roadmap for a successful, buyer-focused dialogue. To learn more about the program click here to download an informational brochure or contact us to discuss how we can work together to customize this solution for your team.

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