April 22, 2012

In examining the various styles of salesmanship, it can be seen that there has been a major shift over the past few decades from the used car salesman or slick stockbroker approach, which can be expressed as “hook ‘em, get the money…and run,” to a more consultative style.  This style relies less on overwhelming the prospect with the pitch and more on becoming an expert advisor to the prospect that builds trust in order to win the business.  This new approach pays off in many ways, not limited to glowing recommendations and reduced marketing expense as clients are not “churned and burned,” but instead come back for more.

In order to reap the benefits of this approach, a formal consultative sales process should be adopted.  Some of the hallmarks of salespeople using this style include:

Prospect-focused, rather than product-focused

Instead of glorifying the features of the product or service first and foremost, the consultative approach seeks to find out all about the person being sold to in order to properly frame the benefits of the offering.  In order to do this effectively, due diligence should be performed on the decision-maker by researching her and the company she works for beforehand.  This will allow for smooth rapport-building and begin to create an environment of trust between the prospect and salesperson.

Listening more than speaking

Salespeople using a consultative sales process are known for being terrific listeners.  Questions are used to guide the prospect into revealing their buttons and get the small “yeses” needed to culminate in the closing of the sale, or to determine that she is not qualified at this time and put her into a CRM or tickle file for regular contact until the sale can be made.  A lot of time will be saved by simply listening to the prospect instead of hitting the wrong points with a rote sales patter or, even worse, attempting to sell to someone completely unsuited or unqualified for the product or service being sold.  Only by listening can these things be firmly determined.

Focusing on the prospects and letting them speak also allows the salesperson to match their tone of voice, speaking style, and even mimic values revealed to better establish a sense of affinity and trust, as people tend to like those who are similar to them.

Relationship-based, rather than transaction-based

To act as a trusted advisor means that the relationship with the customer does not end when the product or service order has been completely fulfilled.  A salesperson using a consultative sales process seeks to build a relationship with his customer that will last for years and might even extend to the next generation in the customer’s family, as is common with financial advisors and local real estate professionals.

Contrast this with the wheeler-dealer type, who seeks to get the largest possible payday and move on.  This short-term view might result in large paychecks in the beginning due to charisma or sales pressure, but is not sufficient to build a long career in sales due to the negative word of mouth and lack of referral business this sales approach engenders.

Note: Selling as a trusted advisor does not involve a lackadaisical approach where the prospect makes all of the decisions.  It is an extremely focused and directed activity, with the prospect guided along in each step until the sale is culminated through smoothly dovetailed actions.

Sales organizations would do well to codify their sales processes with their sales teams using checklists, role-playing and other tools so each member understands how to handle every lead using the consultative sales process.