Many years ago, while driving out of town to meet a potential new client, I put in a CD that had been given to me by a colleague a few weeks prior. It turned out to be an audiobook on consultative sales.
By the time I arrived at my meeting I had already been convinced enough of the methodology to put it into practice. (It was a pretty long drive :) ) At the end of that meeting, the client, smiling from ear to ear, expressed how happy he was to finally feel that he had been understood and I walked away with largest contract I had ever signed and the opportunity (read: budget) to do some really great work. In this post I’ll share some of the main concepts that helped me in that first meeting and which still inform our approach to sales today.
1. Clients and salespeople (consultants) want the same thing
We want the client to succeed! The way we do that best is with a solution that exactly meets their needs. This is nothing other than the Golden Rule. This is what some call being “customer centric” but this does not mean, as we will see later, that “the client is always right.”
2. Solutions have no value of their own
Solutions derive value from the problems they solve (problems that are often costing your clients pain) or the opportunities they create (cue honest discussion about beliefs here). So…
3. Move off the solution
Anytime we hear our prospect or client say “We need a….” we should move to examining and understanding (all) the issues first. For example, our clients don’t want websites, they want specific business results. Likewise your clients don’t likely want patio stones and grass. They’re after some sort of result. Your job is to figure out what that is because not all clients are the same. And you may or may not be able to satisfy them completely.
Here are some things you do want to talk about:
Opportunity – Understand the issues and the value of the solution(s)
Resources – Time, money, people. Is there enough to solve the issue(s)?
Decision maker – Make sure you talk to the person making the decision(s)
Exact solution – Make sure you’re capable of satisfying the customer’s need(s)
Results/ROI – Determine how you will measure the success of ay solution
5. No guessing!
One of things we do when we’re scared, incompetent, tired, lazy…(you get the picture) is guess. You know what’s been said about guys who assume right? So don’t guess! Check off the following, in no particular order:
Issues – Get out all the issues (pain or gain?). Prioritize these issues.
Evidence – How do you know this is an issue? Where’s the evidence?
Impact – Who or what will be affected by the solution?
Context – How does this fit within your client’s mission, vision, goals? Who or what else would be affected by a solution?
Constraints – What has stopped your client from addressing or resolving these issues up till now?
Listen for information that you can measure. “Measurables” can be translated into the language of dollars which is how you will begin to establish a meaningful budget.
In your conversations, watch out for definition of terms. Often terms are used inappropriately and carry wildly different cost expectations. Better to slow down and make sure you and your client each mean the same thing, which leads to…
6. Slow down for yellow lights!
Have the courage to ask the question you hear rising in your mind. If you are unclear on something, slow down and seek clarity. If the client is being inconsistent in his thinking, slow down and resolve any inconsistencies.
7. Ask hard questions in a soft way
Here’s a quote from the book:
“Human beings make predictable errors in logic and reasoning. Despite the opinion of some consultants, clients are human beings. Therefore clients, despite their opinions of themselves, make errors in logic and reasoning. We can train ourselves to recognize faulty logic. We can train ourselves to expose weakness in reasoning in a way that does not aggravate and alienate the client.”
Try this language out when challenging your client’s thinking: “I’m confused…” “We may have a problem…” “Help me understand something…”
8. Proposals don’t sell. People do
I have always had a strong aversion to RFPs, RFQs etc. And you should too.
I know I’ll get some heated feedback over this point but please understand that we’re talking here about a more complicated, consultative sale of a custom solution(s). Wouldn’t you rather talk to someone and try to understand them before spending hours and hours of hard work preparing a proposal?
At the end of the day, when it comes to proposals, clients will most often simply flip to the end and look at the price. Which leads me to one final principle on sales…
9. Price is never the issue
If we’ve done our job, examined issues, mined for evidence and impact, slowed down for yellow lights, asked hard questions in a soft way, been honest about our ability to deliver a solution that exactly meets the clients needs for a price that is less than the problem costs or less than the opportunity can afford and the client complains about the price… guess what? It’s not the price! Time to go back and check the details of your conversation or time to move on. If you simply have a difficult person in front of you, you get to choose whether or not you’ll continue to play.
As the title of the book I’ve been outlining suggests – Let’s get real or let’s not play!
Let’s Get Real! Or Let’s Not Play: Transforming the Buyer/Seller Relationship by Mahan Khalsa and Randy Illig