Reaching this point means embracing these seven principles of consultative selling.
The 7 Guiding Principles of Consultative Selling
1. Exude Conviction, Confidence & Curiosity
Developing skills and behaviors that demonstrate your commitment to the relationship and attentiveness to the details coming from the customer. Bring a strong point of view balanced with a genuine interest in them and what they are trying to achieve.
Effectively demonstrating these behaviors will go a long way to build trust with customers. They will also help you to better explore and understand your customer’s true needs which will improve your ability to position your solution in a differentiated manner.
2. Connect to the Emotional Side of Buying
In one word, sellers must empathize. Doing so means not simply acknowledging the customer’s challenges but seeking to feel what they feel and understand what they think.
Friend/Foe Bias is a cognitive bias that tells us we are naturally wired to assess each other’s intentions and to quickly decide if someone is a friend or foe (threat). Seller behaviors must not be manipulative or appear self-serving to avoid triggering a threat response and eroding trust.
Utilizing open-ended questions is one of the best ways to convey genuine interest in your customer’s thoughts and feelings. Open-ended questions build momentum in the sales conversation and provide a space for you and your customers to uncover previously unidentified needs or challenges that the final solution should address.
3. Foster Openness
You cannot move the sale forward without both sides contributing to the conversation. Some buyers are reluctant to offer information which is why effective sellers first give so they can eventually get. Customers will resist opening up if they: are bored, feel interrogated, are asked uneducated questions, or find you to be self-serving or pushy.
Preparation is key to engaging customers in a meaningful dialogue. Performing intensive pre-meeting research on your customer, their industry, competitor, and differentiators will help you craft insights and questions that demonstrate your value. You should enter every conversation with a clear agenda and goals for the call. Your customers will appreciate the fact that that time they are taking out of their schedule to meet with you has a purpose and is intended to move their decision-making process forward.
4. Illuminate Customer Thinking
Remember that insightful questions are just as effective at getting a customer to think differently as sharing ideas or insights. Knowing when to give and take requires high skill execution and a laser focus on the customer response throughout.
Asking your customer questions that challenge their current thinking or bring a new idea to light is a high-stakes sales conversation. You have to know when and how to ask a challenging question or share an insight that is counter to your customer’s thinking. If you ask the wrong question at the wrong time your customers may feel threatened and you can come off as pushy. However, when you effectively ask these questions, the risk is worth the reward. Insights or challenging questions are a proven way to help customers clarify and align their thinking, they can also serve as a point of differentiation and build momentum towards the close of the deal.
5. Give Space for Customer Thoughtfulness
Let the customer develop their thoughts. The dialogue should be as productive to them as it is to you. Rather than craft your next sentence, take the opportunity to understand the meaning behind their words.
While this tip may sound intuitive, listening skills are some of the hardest skills to master. It is natural for you to want to fill gaps in the conversation with more words or drive home a point with immediate follow up. However, you can’t truly hear your customers if you are worried about what you’re going to say next. Confidently make statements or ask questions and allow your customers to respond. Additionally, don’t be afraid to follow up on their response with more questions to ensure clarity.
6. Connect the Critical Dots
Build persuasiveness by meaningfully connecting the solution to the client’s needs. Avoid “data deluge” by limiting your positioning statements to a concise list of only the most relevant points in order of priority.
Most humans have a limit to the amount of information they can absorb at one time so there is limited value to oversharing. Too much information will muddy the waters and potentially confuse the customer. Your customers will be more impressed by your ability to distill what matters to them and explain the meaningful benefit than they will be by your ability to recall minute details that are unimportant to them.
7. Maintain Seller & Buyer Alignment
Keep the customer in the game. If skepticism or obscurity is left unrecognized, it will grow unchecked until finally killing the sale. This alignment is driven by a conscious and constant commitment to transparency, curiosity, and communication.
Technology, competition and multiple stakeholders have all changed the buyer’s behavior. The sellers pushing the sale across the line are those who recognize these changes and adapt accordingly. These agile sellers are playing the game at a higher level. However, sellers can only expect to benefit from gains once they see changes in their behavior. Doing so means revisiting what it means to be customer-focused. Striving for authenticity, leading with a plan, engendering buyer participation, creating momentum and driving insights with questions are all part of the plan.
At Richardson, we’ve seen how effective these practices are when implemented correctly. More importantly, the sales organizations we coach have seen the effectiveness of a consultative approach in winning the sale.