Take a quick look at your sales organization and count the number who are consistently selling consultatively. If it's less than 100%, then count the salespeople who at least know what the term means. Of that group, who could tell you with clarity and passion, how it differs from other forms of selling? For bonus points, who could tell you why consultative selling is a more desirable approach in 2013? If your company didn’t score high on this test, it might be time to question why some of your sales people consistently miss your targets.
Most believe they're selling the best possible way. “I’m asking lots of questions,” they might say, adding “I have the solution to their problem, have great relationships and they trust me.” All that sounds right until you consider that almost any seasoned salesperson can say all of that.
What makes one salesperson so much more effective than another? It’s not about asking questions; it’s about asking the right questions. It’s about drilling down to uncover issues which weren’t on the table beforehand. It’s not about having a solution to their problem; it’s about defining the problem in a new way which plays to your strengths. It’s not about having great relationships; it’s about standing apart from the competition so much so that you command your customer’s attention. This is what Dave Kurlan calls “Speed On the Bases” or SOB Quality. You want to be like the great base-stealer who forces the pitcher to pay more attention to you than the batter. If consultative selling is the lock, then SOB Quality is its key.
There was a movie not long ago which demonstrated SOB Quality (among many other sales lessons) called The King’s Speech. In it, Lionel Logue, a commoner from Australia, was the service provider. The prince, the future King George VI, known as Bertie to his family, was the potential client. The prince had a speech impediment which others hadn’t been able to correct. Logue came recommended, but couldn’t prove that he could solve his problem anymore than the knighted doctors who'd previously tried. Here’s an excerpt from their first encounter, before any agreement is made to contract his services:
Logue: “Please call me Lionel.”
Bertie: “I prefer Doctor.”
Logue: “I prefer Lionel. What’ll I call you?”
Bertie: “Your Royal Highness. Then Sir after that.”
Logue: “A bit formal for here. What about your name?”
Bertie: “Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George”
Logue: “How about Bertie?”
Bertie: “Only my family uses that.”
Logue: “Perfect. In here, it’s better if we’re equals.”
Bertie: “If we were equal, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be home with my wife and no one would give a damn.” Bertie lights a cigarette.
Logue: “Don’t do that.”
Bertie: With astonished look, “I’m sorry?”
Logue: “Sucking smoke into your lungs will kill you.”
Bertie: “My physicians say it relaxes the throat.”
Logue: “They’re idiots.”
Bertie: “They’ve all been knighted.”
Logue: “Makes it official then. My ‘castle,’ my rules. What was your earliest memory?”
Bertie: “What on earth do you mean.” Now visibly irritated.
Logue: “First recollection.”
Bertie: “I’m not here to discuss personal matters.”
Logue: “Why are you here, then?”
What Lionel Logue goes on to uncover is that the Prince’s stammering problem, regardless of its original cause, might have been compounded by personal issues such as the unkind treatment he had received by members of his family. Logue’s probing inquiry eventually uncovers that his self-image is more important than the stammering. In fact, the breakthrough comes when Logue sits in the king’s cathedral throne before the coronation, angering and challenging the king, until he finally yells at Logue, “I have a voice!” Logue calmly replies, “Yes, you do.” and gets up out of his throne. The King never questions his credentials again. Logue has become a trusted advisor.
That’s how a commoner with no credentials, title, formal training nor guarantee of success took the business away from his high-powered competitors who possessed the inside track. That’s SOB Quality and it’s at the heart of consultative selling.
Do your salespeople push back and uncover the underlying problems? Do they challenge the decision-maker and ask questions which could cause discomfort or even irritation? Do they look past the original inquiry, listen intently and ask follow-up questions until something interesting emerges? Are they always looking to disqualify (“Why are you here, then?”) and letting the prospect sell themselves? If the answer to any of these questions is ‘No’, could they be trained? What would a sales force evaluation reveal about your company's potential for change and opportunity for massive growth? Do you have the right people to help you realize your organization's full potential as you envision it?
January is a terrific time to reflect on questions like these. Rather than wondering whether you can hit your 2013 goals, perhaps you should be looking further and asking which sales force changes you must make in order to achieve sustained, double-digit, year-over-year growth.