Friday, March 11, 2011

 

Why your consultative sales approach isn't working

Prospects don't want to buy your product or service.   What they really want to buy are solutions to their problems.  They want to buy a desired outcome.  They want to buy something that takes away pain.

Your product might do that, but your prospect doesn't know it yet.  And launching directly into feature/benefit statements fails to put what you're selling into any relevant context for the buyer.

That's one reason why the consultative sales approach has worked so well in recent years.  The concept, in general, is to first better understand the circumstances, priorities and needs of the prospect before deciding if they're a candidate to buy. 

Many sellers who attempt a consultative sales approach still fail.  The reasons why generally come down to three things:

You're asking questions that require the prospect to educate you on basic stuff.  Many sales professionals begin their consultative sales approach with basic, fact-finding questions. Tell me about your organization.  What is your role.  What are your objectives.  These are certainly important questions to have answers to, but it's not the prospect's job to answer them.  Your prospect is busy, doesn't yet know why you're calling and what you're trying to sell, and isn't interested in taking time to educate you. 

Alternatively, if you do your homework and understand answers to some of these basic questions beforehand, you can begin the conversation by asking questions the prospect may not have thought about or answered for themselves before.  And, with that, they're at least interested and engaged enough to hear more.

You ask a good first question, then immediately start selling.  Sellers are anxious to start selling.  Even with a thought-out consultative approach, it's easy to ask the first question and immediately come back with an answer that includes your sales pitch.  Unless your consultative approach truly only pivots on one question, keep working through the discussion.  Probe for more needs, more context, so that (simultaneously) you have the information you need to determine if there's a fit, and the buyer is sufficiently intrigued by the line of questioning that they naturally want to hear how you think you can solve the problem.

In other words, be patient.  Follow the process.  A qualified prospect, with the right set of consultative questions, will stay engaged because you're asking smart questions, relevant to their focus, and they already want to learn more.

Your questions don't make the prospect think or learn something new.  Many buyers fail to buy because a need hasn't been established.  They may have a problem but they can't see it.  They can't envision how that problem will manifest itself in the future.  Your consultative sales approach needs to be built to help the prospect discover answers to these questions.  It doesn't have to immediately answer the question, but should at least get the prospect thinking that they do, in fact, have a potential problem they need to explore further.

The fact that you're asking questions, relevant questions, they don't have the answer to is itself valuable to the prospect.  They'll wonder what other questions you have they should have answers to, and they'll also immediately start believing that 1) you probably know what you're talking about, and 2) you might have some of the answers or solutions they all of a sudden need.

At its core, consultative selling is about asking questions first.  But the right questions and the right sequencing is key.


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