Using Consultative Sales Techniques to Win Business Faster

The shift of focus from product selling to solution selling has brought huge benefits and huge challenges to selling organisations over the past 10 years. The benefits include higher-value sales, higher customer satisfaction, and longer-term supplier-customer relationships. However, the challenges this shift has brought include:

Greater skills are required for selling and higher wage bills for those higher skills
Longer sales cycles and poorer closure rates, i.e. deals slip, get cancelled or are lost despite being part of the sales forecast
The last point is the greatest reason why sales managers and sales directors resist the shift. Yet we have developed clear evidence that the sales-cycle in solution sales do not actually have to be longer. A great consultative sales methodology can really make the selling of high-value solutions a rapid process and it will transform the effectiveness of any company’s solution sales force in terms of closing deals on time.

Analysis of Causes of Failure to Close a High Margin Sale: In the hundreds of case studies we have reviewed, the reasons why sales individuals and sales teams fail to close on time (in relation to expectations of forecasts) come from right across the range of the sales opportunity qualification matrix, including:

No external pressure / event is driving the client to make a change (i.e. no compelling event)
The internal pain-points and cost implications don’t hurt enough to make ‘change’ a real priority
The perceived benefits are not great enough (i.e. Return on Investment) and not differentiated from those of the competition
The solution doesn’t actually satisfy the need (subset of the above)
The risk of the solution is too high for the prospect (e.g. no relevant case studies, insufficient trust, high impact of failure, etc)
The buyer’s contact doesn’t have the authority to sign (i.e. the sales person is spending time with the wrong contact)
The customer never intended to buy from the selling organisation (i.e. the selling organisation is being used as a benchmark to leverage a better deal with a stronger competitor)
The decision makers were too busy to sign the deal
In our research, the least common cause we came across was that the prospect organisation didn’t have the budget to sign the contract. Given the current economic climate this is a particularly surprising observation.

Further Analysis: In observed sales calls and role-play simulations (using real case examples), we also found that sales professionals typically:
i) Failed to take the lead in a sales meeting because they failed to start the meeting at a business level with a clear objective to obtain a formal commitment (to a contract or a project that involved a contract being signed within an agreed timescale).
ii) Were poor at funnelling from ‘open’, or ‘semi-open’, (i.e. leading) questions down to closed questions at every phase of the consultative sales meeting
iii) Didn’t use a compelling event, the cost of “doing nothing” and the value of the solution as a pressure to close.
iv) Went for the big solution sale in the medium-to-long term but MISSED the opportunity for immediate wins.
v) Couldn’t bridge the gap between the client’s needs and the selling organisation’s products or services via a ‘value-added’ solution, i.e. they leapt to a product sale too early and killed the higher value opportunity (and often killed the client’s interest!)

Using a Consultative Selling Approach

On the other hand, our research demonstrates that skilled consultative sales people were able to overcome the aforementioned limitations and were therefore able to proactively sell their solutions effectively and efficiently AND were able to close their deals in line with their forecasts. We found that a professional consultative selling approach worked in any industry and worked just as well in the business-to-business world AND for companies selling to high-value personal clients in almost any scenario. Hundreds of buyers have told us that they hate ‘Feature, Advantage, Benefit’ (FAB) selling. It’s what gets a sales person a bad name. Effective selling in today’s world (of far more discerning buyers) has to start with the shaping of the client’s needs and has to drive the need and the urgency by using: i) The external pressure on the client to change ii) The pain and cost implication of ‘doing nothing’ iii) The client’s (often unconscious) desire for a better world

Conclusion: It is a myth that consultative selling is a sales technique that is only appropriate for the longer term or complex-solution selling environment. Wherever a company aims to sell a bundled solution (or set of services), consultative selling works – regardless of an individual’s experience or the industry they are selling to.

Recommended Solution: Sales people and companies need an efficient and effective methodology for consultative selling that enables them to:
i) PLAN and EXECUTE the sales introduction and the sales meeting in a way that creates a high-priority need and a compelling urgency to set up the close.
ii) Articulate HOW the VALUE PROPOSITION (the value-added solution that the company is offering in terms of compelling business benefits and differentiating advantages) aligns directly to the client’s NEEDS so that the client is compelled to commit to moving forward. This will ensure that a desire for a close is created in the client’s mind.
iii) LEVERAGE the urgency, the need and the desire to drive the close of the sale in terms of a sales roadmap (from immediate win to medium and long term higher value solutions).
iv) EFFICIENTLY repeat the process for any client on a ‘sell-to’ and ‘sell-through’ basis. This structured approach to selling will help you and your company avoid the common causes of failure which sales professionals regularly experience when attempting to close solution sales and will enhance the bottom-line sales performance.