Organisations across the globe spend large sums of money on consultative sales training however it often fails to tackle one of the biggest challenges in successfully making the transition from product pushing to consultative selling....
...salespeople are much MORE comfortable talking to customers about something they know more about than their customers i.e. their products and much LESS comfortable talking about something they know less about than their customers i.e. their customer's business. Add to that the salesperson's genuine passion for what they are selling and their ability to spot an opportunity, it is not surprising that despite best intentions and a few good opening exploratory questions, many salespeople often revert to the 'comfort zone' of talking about what they sell far too early in the sales process.
Yes of course, good questioning and listening technique is included in just about every sales training programme that exists however in order to develop the critical ability to be 'comfortable being uncomfortable', the lure of the comfort zone needs to be appropriately repelled.
So what is required for this to happen?
I believe 3 components are critical:
Research - When I say research, this is not simply checking out the customers website for any nuggets on strategies and objectives. Not that this isn’t useful however proper research requires delving into that customer's industry and market trends and challenges more deeply. It requires digging into potential issues facing that particular function or department. If about to visit a senior marketing executive for example, what is typically top of mind for marketing execs at this point in time? Who else can you speak to in order to find out more? Why not speak to your own marketing execs for potential insight?
Developing the mindset of being genuinely CURIOUS - In essence, this requires a salesperson to take off their 'salesperson' hat and put on the hat of an 'investigative reporter'. By taking this position and mentally releasing the pressure to sell (the actual 'selling' will come later in the selling process) they will demonstrate a real and sincere interest and desire to understand the person in front of them, their business and their challenges and aims. Not only will this reveal a lot of hugely valuable information, they will also build a bond of trust that is rare between salesperson and customer.
Practice, Practice, Practice - Questioning is not just ONE of the skills required by good salespeople it is THE key skill that separates the best from the rest. It is therefore critical that any skills development programmes 'drills' the art of good questioning. Multiple practice opportunities in multiple and varying contexts need to be provided in order to raise confidence levels to the point that tips the balance from staying safe and comfortable to being prepared to go out and apply something new.