The Art of Consultative Selling

How can you enhance your sales team’s performance and guarantee ongoing success?

The digitisation of sales is increasing the pressure on salespeople to succeed. More informed buyers, along with economic and political uncertainty and disruptive technologies, have all contributed to falling revenues for the average salesperson.

Forrester estimate that 1 million sales roles will be lost due to automation by 2020. So, does this mean the dawn of the digital revolution will signal the death of the sales profession?

In truth, the digital revolution is good news for sales. But this unprecedented change does mean value creation is now critical to success. Sellers who have mastered client-centric skills – the art of consultative selling – will find themselves in more demand than ever.

True best-in-class sales performance comes from a synthesis of skills and behaviours. Sellers who use both can build valued client relationships and execute buyer-focused sales, increasing their win-rate in the process.

Educated buyers

The internet has enabled buyers to be more educated than ever before. A commonly cited statistic is that 57 per cent of the buying journey is completed before sales are even engaged.

What makes a truly great and successful salesperson is a combination of both the relationship and process at play in their approach. How sellers approach the sales process and science of selling (applying their competencies, skills and experience to execute key activities and verified customer outcomes) is greatly influenced by their capability to build the art of selling (their characteristics, behaviours, integrity and, most importantly, their intent).

The customer’s experience of a salesperson driven by personal gain will be extremely different to their experience of a salesperson driven by fostering mutual gain. The professional focused on mutual gain will reach a better long-term outcome for both by fostering a position of trust.

Creating a growth environment

A sales professional’s core values, intent and fundamental personal drivers are factors in their approach – but company culture, how sellers are rewarded and recognised and the organisation’s leadership style also greatly influence the behaviour of the sales team.

Sales leaders and managers can even have a negative effect on the sales organisation. Driving salespeople to succeed using results-based rewards can lead to a short-term, deal-led view, diminishing the potential returns that could be gained from a more customer-centric approach.

The old adage – what gets rewarded gets done – can lead to short-term success while creating long-term problems. Success follows when companies encourage salespeople to:

  • Build trust
  • Apply both the art of relationship-building and the science of selling
  • Execute a flawless buyer-focused sales process
  • Find mutually beneficial solutions that drive specific business metrics and clearly documented outcomes

Connecting with the customer

Despite our increasing reliance on the digital world, people still buy using emotion over logic. Even though buyers are savvy, pressured, risk adverse and more demanding, they still want guidance from a trusted advisor. They want expertise to help analyse information and options in order to make the best decisions.

In fact, the unprecedented volume of information buyers now have access to only makes them crave more support in sorting through what matters, and finding value among all the options.

Buyers feel connected to sales professionals who have an understanding about their needs and are able to collaborate with them to find the best solution.

A seller’s teaching and commercial insights can help the buying team:

  • Build the case for change
  • Consider options they may not have thought about
  • Address all the individual stakeholders’ needs in the decision-making committee
  • Broker a partnership

This isn’t possible without a thorough understanding of the client organisation, who the key stakeholders are and their value levers, and what the organisation wants to achieve. Customers don’t want to be bombarded with a load of fresh data and information and be left to work out its relevance by themselves.

When sales professionals demonstrate commerciality and combine it with a genuine desire to help, customers engage and start to see the seller as a trusted business partner. Trust and value continue to be the main reason why buyers buy.

Bringing art to life

Nearly all sellers believe they are customer-focused, but in reality few are. To be successful, sales professionals must connect with their clients on a meaningful human and business level. This means blending the art and science of selling to establish credibility first, and then earn the right to ask questions which will give you the most helpful information about the buyer’s situation.

A greater focus on customer-verified outcomes will also help the seller and sales leader maintain a clean sales pipeline. These outcomes can support more effective sales forecasting, as levels of engagement can be better validated.

When you consider the average sales quota reduction over the past 5 years, and the increased pressure on the sale organisation to drive more value and further differentiate in the process, the case for change is clear.

The good news is that we all can improve the level of our client relationships and the way we execute an effective sales opportunity pursuit in the process. A starting point is for organisations, and sales leaders, to recognise whether they are measuring and trying to motivate their sales professionals to create short-term results at the expense of encouraging a more holistic approach.

Differentiating your salesforce in an increasingly digitised market is essential. If you would like to know more about how this can be done, please contact us.