Targeting sales increase with larger accounts involve consultative sales.
Michael welcomed his latest guest to his open house. A local celebrity band was playing and two food trucks were parked in the yard. His guests were eager to get back to work after their August vacations. To Michael, events like these is part of his consultative sales, spiced with a bit of entertainment.
Adding value to customers, beyond what they can search for themselves, is the way to sell effectively now more than ever.
Michael’s open house was an opportunity to communicate his company’s latest best practice findings in sourcing and production optimization. Michael uses pro-active consultative sales to enrich what his customers search for. Consultative sales have long been the sales methodology behind large, complex infrastructure and system sales but is gaining popularity also in other industries.
Gone are the times when the salesman handed out brochures, convincing customers to purchase his off the shelf products. In consultative sales, value is added by sharing insights, best practice and consultative advice before closing a deal.
Those that master multiple, parallel consultative sales processes are the best performing sales professionals. Systemizing and defining the sales process are key to run multiple parallel processes.
Many of the most successful online services practice consultative sales with webinars, articles and customer visits discussing client challenges. With information at peoples’ fingertips via online searches, sales need to be consultative to build trust. And trust is core to gain sales increase.
What are consultative sales?
In its simplest form, consultative sales are a pre-sale dialog with prospective buyers, advising them on their solution. The consultative sales process includes a diagnosis, a dialog and potentially some testing or prototyping before making the actual sale.
“We have just the thing you need”, may eventually not actually be what a customer need. “Let’s find out what might be the best solution for you.” Notice the difference?
Consultative sales are not necessarily about customer-specific solutions. They are about the advisory process leading to a sale. Targeting sales increase with enterprise customers will definitely have to include a fair amount of consultative sales.
Read more: How to grow sales with early adopters.
Read more: How to growth tech companies beyond early customers.
Online sales meetings has raised the bar in consultative sales
The way we interact with other people is changing. Covid-19 motivated online video meetings are forcing us to be more disciplined and intentional with our meetings. That’s a good thing. We can no longer swing by to say hi, or have a regular, but less valuable sales meetings as we used to.
Aiming for sales increase means you have to be diligent in consultative selling,
Transactional-oriented sales professionals will have to change. Fast. Over time, transactional sales are going to be automated with modern online sales funnel technologies and machine learning. The same goes for sweeping relationship sales.
In the short term, Covid-19 makes people practice searching for information online and perform highly efficient online meetings.
The non-prepared, non-intentional sales meeting does not work online. The non-intentional physical meeting will be disapproved going forward. Buyers will expect salesmen to be more consultative, better prepared and to add more value beyond product features than before.
Now that traveling has been banned for a while, we have learned to prepare to be efficient at video meetings. But this means expectations are rising amongst potential customers for physical meetings as well.
Most business to business sales are going to transform into consultative problem solving much faster than anticipated.
Pros and cons with consultative sales to increase your sales
Consultative sales require a greater effort than transactional sales. On the other hand, the closing ratio is often higher and the chance for customer success is often improved, compared to traditional sales.
A long-lasting customer relationship with recurring revenue and up sale potential are other noticeable benefits of consultative sales.
Stopping by to have a coffee will not make much difference. Prospective customers are more knowledgeable than ever before, request more value and expect more effective meetings. What this means? Consultative selling skills based on research and preparation will become more important from now on.
Rather than talking to potential customers about their set of problems, you may want to prepare and analyze the sector or the client-specific circumstances.
You may want to explore different best practice solutions and try to understand the customers’ next steps already before your conversation. Be more proactive and create a platform you can use to discuss how you can help customers.
Being actionable with account planning will also gain importance. Most people hate account planning, but it does work.
The main differences with systematic sales processes versus traditional sales are:
- Clear sales offerings.
- Event or time-driven milestones ensuring that all relationships are being gradually built.
- Value added content deliverables, gradually building trust and engagement.
- Well prepared intentional meetings ticking off pre-defined pre-sell milestone targets.
- Early pre-sell value adds, like best practice offerings, prototypes or reference visits.
A systematic sales process is a necessity, as consultative sales take a lot more effort and time than transactional sales or simple relationship sales meetings. Correctly performed, it will make sales highly efficient.
Read about: Sales traction is important for value creation
How to do consultative sales in practice
The image of the successful, extrovert salesperson eager to travel for client meetings is changing.
To start; the amount of time spent on travel eats into the number of possible parallel sales processes, including their preparation. Extrovert sales individuals tend to emphasize the social part of the sales meetings, whereas structured consultative problem solving is already in higher demand.
Maybe it’s the time for introverts now? For those that understand that people still want to go to meetings face to face but don’t mind spending time researching and preparing ahead of meetings. Those that are more observing and consultative than social seeking by nature.
So, how can you practice consultative sales to gain desired sales increase? Here is an example how a 12-month sales process may look like:
- Research your clients and their industry.
- Start the relationship journey with relevant insights or a hypothesis.
- Deliver relevant content to your prospects, regularly.
- Initiate the dialog to understand specific challenges and timing.
- Deliver advice, best practice examples and deepen your dialog.
- Start suggestion a solution tailored for the case of discussion.
- Deliver small, free incremental advice and solutions.
- Carve out your offering and start a closing process based on #1-7.
Covid-19 online meetings have forced us back to some of the sales fundamentals we learned but often neglect.
One can partially organize research and preparation with younger sales analysts and researchers. It’s not yet that common amongst industrial sales professionals but more or less standard at investment banks with their expensive senior sales officers.
All these small, incremental changes will lead to the notion that we as sales professionals are less transaction-oriented, more of a helpful problem solver. That’s what clients want – more than ever.
Why online sales meetings will flourish for content delivery
Only a few months ago we were expected to be met in person. We will still travel but to a much lesser extent than before. Sales increase will come any way as customers also adopt to more frequent online meetings.
Many of the relationship and relevance building intermediary meetings work well as online meetings. In particular, the majority of content delivery meetings that are specific and less social.
Geographical barriers will be overcomed as well. Sales territories don’t have to be geographically constrained. From now on, with online meetings on the rise, it will likely be more acceptable to reach-out cross-border. Expect more sales increase if strategized and executed properly.
Another advantage of going online is of course time saved and the increased number of conversations you can have.
This create value also for you
Spending more time on research and preparation to deliver relevant insights and other content requires a lot more time than traditional non-consultative sales. But it’s worth it? Will you see sales increase or sales target challenges?
The value you get is massive:
- Improved sales closing ratio compared with the more loosely held social meeting sales.
- Deeper customer relationships.
- Improved customer success ratio with improved retention and up sale potentials.
- Reduced customer churn.
- Time saved enabling you to run more parallel sales processes.
Turning a salesperson into an advisor is not going to work for everyone. Practice is needed and some of the extrovert individuals may have to be replaced with introvert professionals.
In summary – this is how you get started:
- Design a structured, milestone-based sales process so that your team can operate many parallel long-term sales processes. View the sales processes as relationship journeys. It’s key to gain sales increase beyond your early adopters.
- Use templates and checklists on how to research your customers and their industries and how to present findings and insights to build efficient sales processes.
- Organize a junior team of sales support researchers to offload some of the preparations.
- Use time-efficient online video meetings for customer content deliveries. Build several small sound-proof video conference rooms.
”You can no longer go into a sales meeting with a printed presentation. You bring an iPad, you listen, take notes and problem solve together with your prospects.”
There are proven methods to all of the above.
Supply chains automation and production optimization have been on the spot for work methodology for years.
Sales, however, often lag behind in developing sales increase methodologies. Customers are becoming increasingly knowledgeable and pro online video meetings. Those, the bar is raised in regards to meeting preparation, structure and deliverables.
Perhaps this is the opportunity to differentiate in sales and customer interactions?
Show the customer that you have a deeper understanding of their specific circumstances and situation – and close more deals in return.