In a past column, I mentioned a need to “raise the level of dialogue to consultative selling….” In email responses, a number of readers asked what was really meant by the term, “consultative selling.” We’ve all heard it; in fact it’s a phrase that’s thrown around a lot. But do we fully understand what it means to be a consultant in a selling role?
Be Solutions Oriented
First and foremost, it means being solutions-oriented. Rather than pitching a prospect on your product, offer solutions to the problem an individual client is dealing with. Of course you are selling a product, and you’ll suggest solutions that incorporate that offering.
But the experience is very different when you are approaching your sales process from the perspective of a solutions-provider… coming up with ideas to work your value story into a big idea that will solve a client problem.
Be Client Centric
It also means client-centric selling. The focus is on the prospect’s marketing objectives and business goals; on fitting your offering into the needs of the buyer’s organization. This requires investing the time and effort to understand the challenges your prospect is charged with meeting, then taking the extra time to figure out ways to utilize your product in filling those needs. It’s not about getting someone to buy what you’ve got.’ It’s about tailoring your offering to make it fill each customer or prospect’s needs.
Finally, consultative selling requires a relationship of trust and understanding, one that builds over time and over successively more complex and sophisticated solutions. Few clients will entrust any new vendor with the secrets of their business strategy or open up about their greatest business concerns.
Over time, as the consultant proves to be trustworthy and demonstrates the ability to truly act in the client’s best interest, to put client needs first, and to deliver creative solutions that solve specific problems – a relationship grows. One that is built on respect and mutual gain. When the selling relationship is so close that it’s difficult to see where the client interest stops and the vendor role starts… that’s consultative selling at its best.
And how does it manifest?
- In advertising buys that are longer term, more targeted, and more specialized.
- In sponsorship arrangements that take better advantage of the unique attributes of your site, while meeting the very specific marketing goals of your clients.
- In satisfied customers who renew again and again, because the programs you provide so perfectly match their advertising objectives.
Set Realistic Goals
Sounds nice, but is that a realistic goal?
It’s not realistic to expect or aim for that sort of synergy in every client relationship, or even most of them. But your best customers deserve that level of service. Moreover, good clients that get that sort of custom support will be bigger and better clients than they would be in a more ordinary client/vendor model.
The territory management challenge lies in figuring out which 10 to 20 percent of your clients and prospects merit this level of effort, and then structuring your workflow to allow that investment of time. More on time and territory management next week.
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