Organisation : Becoming a Sales Consultant
Sales force unite! It’s time to put to rest all the ugly sales stereotypes we have heard for years. Labels like “con artist,” “pushy,” and “one-sided” simply don’t hold true for the majority of individuals whose common traits are quite redeeming. Assertive, creating and caring are much more fitting descriptions of salespeople.
The stereotypical hard seller is becoming a thing of the past. It’s time we thought of ourselves as consultants, advisors who prosper and derive personal satisfaction as well as financial success by meeting the needs of our clients. In the words of a very successful colleague, “The hard sell turns me off, to say nothing of how my clients feel. I think people are smart enough to know what they need and want.”
A sales consultant answers the question, “How can I apply my strengths to satisfy customers’ needs?” In the words of Debra Turner, a top marketing executive for DHL Courier Co., a sales consultant “asks questions, they listen, they see, understand, and move their products, services and ideas into place to meet the goals of their clients.” Ultimately, discovering ways to serve people becomes the main concern. If the job is done right, you don’t have to “sell.”
Consulting leads you to assess and resolve the problems of your clients. Therefore, you must know your market. A sales consultant capitalizes on every opportunity to learn the product, market trends, clients’ industries and other pertinent information. Education in the form of trade magazines and seminars is a continuous investment.
According to Tim Hardy, account manager for XL Datacomp,
Consider your education a dual-purpose venture. You must study to be competitive but also to become passionate about your field of endeavor. Passion comes from knowing something so well that it becomes yours. Without passion, you can’t be consultative. In her book Selling on the Fast Track, Kathy Arronson, executive director of Sales Athlete,
“The ability to solve problems creatively comes first from preparing yourself thoroughly by gathering all the information available to help you reach your goal, then by sorting or editing that information and using it to develop a fresh idea that best fits the needs of your clients' prospects. If you do this, you’ll find that the fun of work is solving problems.
At Joan Pastor and Associates, we feel that the consultative orientation sheds positive light on the seller throughout the entire selling process. Buyers don’t want to be intimidated or pressured into spending money on something they don’t need. They want to be listened to and advised on how to come out ahead. The best way to show you care is to listen—a consultant never forgets this.
In the final analysis, a sales consultant meets with success for being the kind of seller who knows his or her business passionately, knows the virtue of his or her product, knows his or her customer and, most importantly, knows how to put all these together so that everybody wins!
Here is a five-part plan that I use to sell my services as a trainer. This is a step-by-step program. One step follows directly after the one before it.
In all selling, rapport building is the essential first step. Trust is established here. And trust is the very reason that people will buy from you. Rapport is a very specific dynamic. It all comes down to one thing, caring. You want to prove that you’re not just another Tom, Dick or Harry just out for the commission. Your job is pretty shallow if you don’t care about your customers.
In rapport building, it’s important to find common ground between you and your customer. Ask questions that help you to understand who the client is, slowly building towards the sales approach. Ask questions that genuinely interest you like, “How did you get into the kind of work that you’re doing?” and “What do you like most about your work?” Then listen. The ability to establish rapport and build trust with new prospects is crucial to your success.
The most important, as well as the most time-consuming part of a “consultation” is a period of information gathering. During this phase, you will collect the data necessary to make a diagnosis. The questions that need to be answered by the end of this phase are: Can I help this person? Do my services have a purpose in this client’s life or work? Will this person be the beneficiary of what I do?
The consultant comes from a place of truly wanting to help and, as a result, the client feels at ease. It is evident from your actions that you care about the outcome of your client’s decisions. For example: after careful analysis, if you don’t offer the services a client is seeking, act out of integrity. Pass it on—refer the business to someone you feel good recommending.
For those of us who don’t have the opportunity to pass business on to a fellow corporate employee, it’s a good idea to form alliances with those working in contiguous fields. Make sure that those who you refer are worthy of referrals. And then, as that predictable cliché goes, “what comes around goes around.” You can be assured that if you are good, referrals will come back to you.
If you are able to assess that you can do the necessary job, and the client wants to work with you, then proceed to demonstrate your wares.
“What’s in it for me?” is the prospect’s unspoken question that you will seek to answer in the demonstration phase. Here, you will need to demonstrate to the client that he or she will be getting a return on their investment in you. A portfolio and testimonial letters from satisfied past clients are appropriate. In the demonstration phase, state explicitly how your service will help.
4. Win/Win Negotiation
Arbitration is centered on how business will be done. A lot of questioning from the client is a sign of definite interest. Let them ask away. When you have done your job right, you will move smoothly from your demonstration to negotiation, unless of course your potential client has not seen value in what you offer.
There are three ingredients that must be present in order for there to be an interested buyer: money, a deadline, and sufficient information. If the prospect needs something by a specific time line, has the financial means to buy, and has been given enough information to satisfy his or her questions and concerns about buying from you, then the negotiation will move to the close.
Unlike traditional selling where all the work is in the close, in consultative selling, the close is just a matter of course. The buyer’s needs have been established, the seller’s role as the satisfier of needs has been expressed, and the relationship has gone from one of rapport and trust to partnership. The consultative approach does not remove you from the responsibility of asking for business; however, it makes asking easier.
If you have followed steps 1 through 4, the close becomes a mere incidence to what preceded it. You generally don’t have to use a hard sell to close.
Consider yourself a puzzle piece whose destiny is finding the fitting components. Your shape is determined by what you do. As a sales consultant, you will attract compatible puzzle pieces. Those who will be able to benefit from what you do will fit. Consultative selling is a continuous process. Through communication and problem resolving, a mutually beneficial relationship transpires between you and your client.
You will find more meaning in your sales job than before you began thinking of yourself as a consultant because you will be providing a quality service. You will make a positive difference in others’ lives and, as a result, your practice will reap genuine rewards.
Joan Pastor has worked with both private and public organizations as a consultant, conference speaker and trainer. Her in-depth knowledge reflects over nineteen years of experience in implementation of quality improvement programs, building high performing teams, developing the "customer" orientation within and outside the organization, change management and conflict resolution skills. Joan's web site is at http://www.jpa-international.com/.