If you’re relying on your products and services to deliver value and set you apart from the competition, you’re nothing more than a walking, talking brochure.
The most successful salespeople, by contrast, make themselves an indispensable part of the value equation. That creates a competitive that competitors can’t match. Almost always, that indispensability depends on your ability to be a consultant to your buyer – to help them solve problems they can’t solve on their own.
Research has identified three must-have skills for consultative sellers:
1. Knowledge: Beyond products and services
Because customers today are under pressure to accomplish more objectives using fewer resources, they rely on salespeople to help them make effective decisions. Most customers don’t have time to educate you about their specific needs. They expect you to come prepared to discuss issues relevant to their organization.
This is one of the greatest challenges you face today. To add value for your customers, you need to know a significant amount about the customer’s business before you even walk in the door. In addition, buyers want you to bring fresh thinking to the table. Because you deal with many other buyers, they expect you to have all kinds of fresh insights about their business and industry.
2. Attitude: Beyond positive thinking
Skills can grow over time, but the right attitude has to be there from the beginning. The “right” attitude goes beyond positive thinking. For some customers, attitude is the most critical element in the sales process. According to customer surveys, here’s what characterizes the most effective sales consultants:
- They are sensitive and perceptive. They have a deep empathy with buyers and the ability to see the world through the eyes of others.
- They are more like colleagues than salespeople. They have the confidence to step out of the vendor role and approach buyers as equals.
- They are able to give up preconceived attitudes. Flexibility is their way of thinking.
- They are always enthusiastic. They think around the situation and know how to turn a problem into an opportunity.
- They have high integrity. They are ethical and professional. They do what they promise. And they put the buyer’s needs ahead of their desire to simply close another sale.
- They help customers achieve goals based on their own clear vision. In other words, they help the buyer see things from a new perspective.
3. Communication skills: Beyond persuasion
Communication skills are a must for every sales consultant. No matter how brilliant and knowledgeable a salesperson might be, the information brought to the customer must be clear and valuable. This is not simply the ability to use compelling words. Customers value salespeople who can ask effective questions, listen, demonstrate understanding and express themselves clearly.
The consultative mindset
All of these skills exist on a continuum. No matter how good we get at them, we can always do better.
What the consultative mindset really boils down to is big-picture thinking. If we simply focus on getting the sale, the sale will be all we get. If, on the other hand, we focus on the broader issue of solving the customer’s problems – even when that solution doesn’t result in a sale – the relationship deepens, and sales opportunities become abundant. When that happens, the salesperson is no longer a vendor – a replaceable commodity – but an indispensable part of the team, whose value is unique to him or her alone.
Adapted from “High Performance Sales Organizations: Achieving Competitive Advantage in the Global Marketplace,” by Kevin Corcoran and Laura Peterson. Published by Irwin Professional Publishing, Chicago.
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