4 Reasons Why Salespeople Suck at Consultative Selling.

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Sep 26, 2017 @ 10:09 AM

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Yesterday, a sales manager I was coaching asked me to explain the difference between a great question and a tough question.  I gave him the one-minute version but this article has the expanded version of that answer.

I'll use my world as an example and ask you to translate accordingly.  

In my world, while I might occassionally be on a first call with a Senior Sales Leader, I am most frequently speaking with the CEO.  With CEO's, the most common issue they articulate is, "I'm not sure we have the right sales leader."

We have 3 levels of questions and it's important to understand that you must be patient enough to ask them in the proper sequence, and not one right after another.  The proper sequence is:

  • Good Question
  • Tough Question
  • Great Question

There should probably be a few questions and answers between your good question and your tough question and there should be a few more questions and answers between your tough question and your great question.  If you don't get as far as asking and getting the answer to your great question, I can promise you this:

  • You didn't get to the compelling reason they would buy
  • You didn't get to the compelling reason they would buy from you
  • You didn't differentiate yourself from the competition
  • You didn't get your prospect emotional
  • You won't be able to quantify and/or monetize the impact of the problem
  • You may not get the business

So let's start at the beginning, where we heard, "I'm not sure we have the right sales leader."

A good question could be, "Why are you concerned?"  A good question not only allows you to ask for more information, but it must also be relevant to the discussion at hand.

Several questions later, after hearing the CEO's concerns and getting much needed clarification, a tough question might be, "With all of these concerns, and him not responding to your challenges to step it up and make the requested changes, why is he still here?"  A tough question is usually one where, as with this example, you challenge your prospect. You could also push back against what was said in an effort to change outdated thinking or an incorrect assumption.

Several minutes later, after additional conversation, questions and clarification, the CEO says, "He's my son-in-law - that's why he's still here."  Now it's time for a great question.  A great question might sound something like, "So, even if you found the perfect replacement, the challenge for you is how do you replace your son-in-law as the sales leader without ruining the relationship you have with your daughter?" You'll know it's a great question because your prospect will say, "Great question."

The 3 levels of questions, the sequence and your ability to go wider and deeper are examples of the consultative approach to selling.  The consultative selling competency is by far, the one where most salespeople are the weakest.  Objective Management Group's (OMG) latest statistics, from the evaluations and assessments of around 1.6 million salespeople, show the following:

Only 35% of all salespeople have Consultative Seller as a strength.

cons-graph.png

The top 10% have an average score of only 66

The bottom 10% have an average score of just 36

The average score for all salespeople is just 50.  The average salesperson has only 50% of the necessary attributes of the Consultative Seller competency which means that they suck at the consultative approach.

 There are four reasons why salespeople are so inherently bad at this:

  1. They need to be liked so they won't ask a question if they think the prospect will get upset with them for asking.
  2. Good questioning requires good listening skills and the only thing most salespeople are good at listening to is the sound of their own voice.
  3. Most salespeople have never been trained or coached to sell consultatively.
  4. Most salespeople are best at presenting and just can't wait long enough for the opportunity to present.

Here is another good article on consultative selling

Here is one more good article on consultative selling.

If you still have an appetite for more reading on the subject, here is another good one.

Image Copyright iStock Photos

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, asking questions, accurate sales assessment, active listening

Dissecting the #1 Sales Best Practice

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, Aug 26, 2016 @ 09:08 AM

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One company is attempting to create a compilation of best sales practices by sending out a weekly survey to sales leaders and asking them to choose from multiple choice questions what they most often do and teach.  The topic changes each week.  This is silly because (1) it just isn't that simple, (2) it's different for each selling role, each vertical, the decision makers they call on, their price points, the length of their sales cycle, and their respective competition, just to name a few.  In addition, when you ask multiple choice questions like this, the answers will be so varied that there won't be even a few, never mind a single best practice.  Here is an example of what they asked this week:

Select the action with which you have the most direct experience or expertise.
(My comment - The question is poorly designed and then the choices that follow include about 10 more than is ideal to arrive at best practices.)
  • Proactively ask customers about the “decision criteria” 
  • Directly ask customers about their buying criteria 
  • Develop a set of questions salespeople can use to uncover customer decision process and time line
  • Conduct after sales reviews with customers to determine the real value
  • Develop a set of questions to ask customers at each step in the sales process
  • Develop account plans 
  • Ensure that your sales process is adaptable 
  • Identify and prioritize your high growth and high potential accounts
  • Gather feedback from customers on a regular basis
  • Train sales representatives in active listening and empathy
  • Ensure salespeople are always asking customers questions about what they want and why 
  • Ensure sales and marketing teams are fully aligned on value proposition / messaging
  • Annual review of accounts 
  • Align compensation with the behavior you want 
  • Develop a list of potential objections at each stage in the sales process and a playbook of specific responses to them

So what should the best practice be relative to context of the question and responses provided?

1. You must have the correct opening questions,
2. You must know what to listen for,
3. When you hear it, you must be able to ask a countless number of follow up questions,
4. You must be able to repeat steps 2 and 3 until you have uncovered their compelling reason to buy,
5. You must know the consequences for them if they don't move forward with a solution
6. There must be emotion associated with the consequences
7. You must quantify or monetize the consequences.
8. You must be able to leverage this information through the remainder of the sales process.

This sounds a lot easier than it actually is!  This is the consultative approach to selling (follow that link and also follow the links to the two additional articles for more on the consultative approach) and it takes months for salespeople to master.  The question is, do you want them to continue selling the way they sell? That leads to inconsistent and even decreasing sales each year and within two years they may become obsolete.  Or do you want them to be challenged to learn the proper way to sell?  That leads to more predictable results, increasing revenue and a valued, or trusted adviser status with customers and clients.  As always, the choice is yours. 

Three times each year, we offer a comprehensive, live, interactive, 12-week online training program that brings Baseline Selling alive. This training teaches salespeople to utilize the 8 steps I outlined above.  If you are interested for yourself or any of your salespeople, please respond to me directly.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, asking questions, sales best practices, active listening

Driving, Asking Questions, Inside Sales, and Sales Process with a Twist

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Sep 08, 2015 @ 06:09 AM

Here's a quote from an article I wrote that appears now on the SellingPower Blog.  It's an analogy to help you understand why asking questions is so difficult for most salespeople.

"You’ve been driving a car since you were a teenager, but your cars have always had an automatic transmission and you’ve always driven on standard roads. Now we will ask you to drive a much larger car, drive it at faster speeds, on an obstacle course, with people in your way. Oh, and one more thing – for the first time, you’ll be driving a six-speed manual transmission. You might be afraid to take your foot off the clutch and put the car into first gear because, if you’re not careful, you might kill those people standing in front of your car!

"That’s how salespeople sometimes feel when they need to be liked and are expected to ask their prospects some really difficult questions. Salespeople think someone will be killed – and they worry that it might be them!"

Read more of the SellingPower article here.

And this is a quote from an article I wrote that appears on the Membrain Sales blog.

"We would have recommended 6 of their 7 top performers and only 1 of their 9 bottom performers. We would have been correct on 14 out of 16, or 88% which comes within a few percentage points of our usual predictive accuracy of 92%.  This is scientific sales selection. It's a necessary part of an overall scientific approach to sales and the sales force."

Read more of the Membrain article here.

This is a quote from an article on how to increase your sales by 20% by getting your sales process right, published right here on my Blog while most people were finishing up their summer vacation.

"There is a huge misunderstanding when it comes to sales process.  It's a lot like electrical work.  Everyone needs it, but they think that because they know how to change a light bulb they don't need to call an electrician.  Getting your sales process right is a lot more like needing electricity in the middle of a stone wall with no nearby source to tap into.  For you?  Impossible. For an electrician?  It's all in a day's work."

Read more of the article on sales process here.

This is a quote from another article on how to increase your sales by adding a twist to your sales approach.

"Regular readers know that I often champion the cause for a consultative approach to help differentiate and sell value in modern times.  But like I said at the outset, everything old is new again and this sales hack brings some presentation skills back to the early stage of the sales process."

Read more of the article on how to use this "everything old is new again" twist here.

This week's Top Sales Magazine features an article that I wrote 8 years ago!  It explains what integrated sales force development is and this morning, when I saw it in the magazine and reread it I felt that it was ahead of its time in 2007 and extremely applicable in 2015.  You can read that article here.

Finally, I'll be speaking on coaching salespeople at Inside Sales-Boston this Thursday, September 10.  If you're already planning to attend I'll see you there.  Otherwise, if you're in the Boston area, change your plans and catch the terrific lineup of speakers!

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales process, sales force development, asking questions, inside sales, sales increase, selling power magazine, top sales magazine

How the Right Questions Can Make up for Lack of Sales Experience

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Aug 11, 2015 @ 07:08 AM

Last week, for the second year in a row, our son played in a 12U baseball tournament in Cooperstown, NY. Last year, he played with boys a year older than him and the tournament inspired this very popular article on the Top 5 Mistakes Salespeople Make. This year's tournament was special, it was exciting to be there, and a privilege for him to be on such a talented team. However, nothing could ever top last year, the baseball equivalent of showing up at Disney World for the very first time. This year, we knew what to expect.

On the trip back home, I didn't need to play racing legend Mario Andretti to get us where we needed to be on time. I kept it to the speed limit, enjoyed the scenery and for the first time, experienced stress-free driving. Not only that, I wasn't tired like I usually am during and after driving 4 hours.

What does this have to do with selling? A lot. Magic, racing and expectations are major factors in sales. We will discuss the role of each and how salespeople can be more consistent when they better understand those 3 factors and learn to manage them.

Magical - Sometimes, salespeople start an opportunity with all of the wonder and amazement of a first-time Disney visit. This can happen when the company is huge, the opportunity has more zeros than ever before, or the salesperson has an audience with a high-ranking, well-known executive. Unfortunately, wonder, amazement and intimidation are like the young child watching the Main Street Disney parade. They lead to an excited, emotional salesperson who will probably be unable to see the forest through the trees.

Racing Car  - Frequently, salespeople can't wait to reach a sales milestone they are comfortable with. That's usually a presentation, demo, proposal or quote. Consider that as well as prospects who declare that they have only 20 minutes. Either scenario causes salespeople to rush through their calls while they fail to ask meaningful questions, don't carefully listen to responses, and skip the follow-up questions. They are so focused on getting to the end that they don't relax and take in the scenery. They fail to uncover the compelling reasons for their prospects to do business with them.

Know What to Expect - There are some occasions when salespeople don't rely on their experience and instincts. Instead they fail to recognize that they have been in this situation, faced these challenges, or met with these kinds of people before. They need to realize that their prior experience has fully prepared them for this moment. When they know what to expect, the call will likely go according to their expectations.

Have you or your salespeople ever walked into a sales call to find people in the meeting that were not expected? Salespeople should always know, in advance, who will be in the meeting and what their role is. If unexpected people attend the meeting they should ask:

  • What is their role in the company?
  • What is their role in this meeting?
  • What is their role in selecting a partner (vendor, source, solution, company or product)?
  • What do they know about me?
  • What do they know about us?
  • What do they know about what we have already discussed?

Is there anyone who will attend the meeting or who is in the meeting that shouldn't? Is there anyone else that should? Are they in agreement with what has been discussed so far?  

Is there a potential partner that they favor? Why? 

What would you have to do in order for them to consider you?

Most salespeople never even think to ask these questions. Others gloss over them. But these questions are more important than a conversation about your capabilities.

If you ask the right questions, you'll know what to expect even when you haven't been there before!

Knowing what to expect and uncovering compelling reasons to buy are both crucial components of sales coaching. SellingPower posted this video of me talking about the essence of sales coaching. Want more? This is the last call for my top-rated, two-day event on How to Get the Most Out of Your Sales Force. The highlight of the two days is the best darn training you will ever attend on the right way to coach salespeople. If you want to attend, use SLI-DK-UTSF for a great discount.

Finally, the latest issue of Top Sales Magazine was published today and it features a lead article written by me.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, asking questions, Baseball, shorten the sales process

Selling is Like Rocket Science Until You Do These 2 Things Well

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Mar 31, 2011 @ 08:03 AM

sofaWe were in the designer furniture store where everything is made to order, takes 8-12 weeks and the price of a chair starts at $2,500 US.  I was reading my Kindle when a woman walked in and began admiring one particular sofa.

A salesperson walked up to her and you'll never guess what he asked...  Believe it or not he asked, "Can I help you?"  I cringe whenver I hear that question but that's an article for another day. 

Of course the only possible answer she could respond with was, "Just looking."

Crucial point #1 - he could have approached her and introduced himself, learned her first name and asked why she came in today?  He could have asked what she liked about the sofa she was admiring.  He could have asked if she was hoping to find a sofa.  What he did ask could just as well have been,  "Ignore me because I'm a mindless robot who doesn't respect you or care enough about you or your potential business to make it seem like you are important."

Next, he said, "We just got some outdoor furniture in over here!"  Huh?  Outdoor furniture?  She's falling in love with a sofa and he's pulling her away to look at outdoor furniture?

She ignored him.

He's not stupid.  No, he's a moron and tried again.  "We have some really good deals on the outdoor furniture...."

She ignored a second time.  Good for her!

He walked away.  He was done!  Rejected.  He gave up.  Wasn't that easy?

Then her husband walked in and asked, "Did you find anything?"

She said, "I love this sofa but I can't find anyone to sell it to me..."

Selling isn't rocket science but it seems like rocket science until you learn to do two things really well:

  1. Listen.
  2. Ask questions that will get specific desired responses.

The furniture salesperson (yikes!) got the responses that his questions should have elicited.  Too bad.  The sofas started at $6,500!

Topics: Dave Kurlan, retail sales, asking questions, sales 101, listening skills

Top 5 Interesting Sales Tips

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Dec 13, 2010 @ 08:12 AM

My mother-in-law of nearly 20 years has strong opinions.  Whenever she is shown something, told about something, or experiences something, one of her possible reactions is, "That's interesting."

When your salespeople explain your technology, methods, positioning, value added, warranty, or product differentiation to their prospects, and the prospects respond with "Interesting!"...what do your salespeople do?

Depending on the context of the conversation, weather, personality and the frame of reference of their prospect, here are the top five things that "Interesting" could mean:

  1. This is the greatest thing since sliced bread!
  2. This is so much better than what I've seen elsewhere.
  3. This is interesting - I'd like to learn more to better understand it.
  4. These guys might be on to something.
  5. I hate this but I don't want to hurt their feelings.

It took me about 5 years before I understood my mother-in-law and her use of "Interesting."  Turns out she only used it when she was thinking #5!  But she isn't necessarily representative of anyone else.  There is truly no way of knowing which of the 5 things they mean when they say, "Interesting" and I''ll bet that I hear "Interesting" at least once per day from someone....

I'll share what I do when I hear that...

I ask, "Can you help me out?  You just said this concept was "Interesting".  I'm not exactly sure what you mean.  I know that when my mother-in-law says "interesting" she means she hates it...what do you mean?"

If you want to make sure that your salespeople don't fall victim to happy ears, make sure that they clarify the use of words that can have multiple meanings, words that are vague and can be easily interpreted the wrong way. 

On another subject, The Ceremony for this Thursday's (December 16, 2010) Top Sales Awards will take place from Noon ET - 3 PM ET.  if you would like to attend this online event, you can register here.  Awards will be presented for:

  • Top Sales Article
  • Top Sales Star
  • Top Sales Book
  • Top Sales Blog (My Blog is in 2nd place in the popular vote which is worth 9 pts. The judges in this category will award up to 10 points for their choices and a winner will be determined on Thursday)
  • Top Sales Resource
  • Top CRM Solution
  • Top Sales Tool
  • Top Sales 2.0 Solution
  • Top Social Media Site
  • Top Sales Personality
  • Hall of Fame

You will also here from a number of top sales experts around the world as we share our opinions on dozens of important topics that face companies in the coming months and years.

Topics: sales management, Sales Coaching, asking questions, salespeople, sales development

Can Your Salespeople Sell More Effectively by Asking More Questions?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, Oct 22, 2010 @ 10:10 AM

QuestionsBy now most executives understand the role and importance of questions in the sales process.

More questions?  Okay.

Better questions?  Sure.

Tougher questions?  Makes sense.

Questions that result in the kind of conversations that none of your competitors are having with your prospects?  Sounds great.

But can your salespeople do this?  Yes, they can ask more questions but, without considerable training and coaching, over a period of months, those questions won't be better or tougher and won't result in those incredible conversations that your competitors aren't having with your prospects.

Selling by asking questions is hard.  A list of questions isn't the answer.  Left to their own devices, your salespeople won't be able to create the kind of questions that are needed.  You might not be able to either.

As an example, I asked a group of salespeople to create a list of 12 questions that would uncover compelling reasons - tougher questions than they usually ask.  As usual, I received questions to the ones they have always asked - commodity driven, lame, no different from their competitors.

Here is an example of one question and how it should be asked instead:

EXAMPLE: What kind of initiatives are you currently considering?

This is a good example of what salespeople from most industries do - they troll for opportunities which, when identified, are littered with competitors!  Commercial Realtors and Insurance Agents are great examples of salespeople who consistently do this wrong, shot gunning for lease and policy expirations as the events that would allow them to book appointments - along with every one of their competitors!  Those "opportunities" are ripe for price concessions and become bidding contests!  Unless your salespeople are REALLY effective at asking tough questions to move to an earlier stage of the sales process and differentiate your company, you'll find yourself presenting, proposing, chasing and giving away margin - if you win. 

Instead, you want your salespeople identifying problems that don't yet have initiatives, expiration dates or time lines attached to them.  The problems, when exposed, diagnosed, explored, expanded and quantified, create urgency to solve those problems and your salespeople are now in an enviable position, as trusted advisers, to solve them.  So what should your salespeople ask instead of the "what kind of initiatives" question?

How about, "in the area of _____(what you solve, not what you sell)_________, what is your single biggest frustration?"

Regardless of what you've been told, this is the foundation of Consultative Selling.  An analysis of a random group of 2,000 salespeople from dozens of various industries, assessed by Objective Management Group this week, shows the following:

The average percentage of the Attributes present in the Consultative Skill Set (Consultative Selling) is only 33%.  In one company, the top scoring salesperson had only 52% of the attributes.

So what can you make of all this?  Asking questions is the most important of all the sales SKILLS and this skill is the most difficult of all to understand, learn, internalize, apply and master.  Don't fool yourself into thinking that understanding and learning translate into application and mastery.  Only practice, use, coaching and accountability will cause that to happen!

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, Sales Coaching, asking questions, sales evaluation, SPIN, sales assessments

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About Dave

Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader.  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog has earned a medal for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog award for six consecutive years.  Dave's Blog earned a Bronze Medal in 2016 and this article earned a Bronze Medal for Top Sales Blog post in 2016. Read more about Dave.

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