Built to Last
These days, it’s easy to go for the quick sell without weighing the benefits of building lasting client relationships. This may bring short-term success, but if you’re looking for long-term business growth, you should consider supplementing your business model with a consultative selling approach. To help you get started, Print+Promo spoke to two experts: Rick Greene, MAS, western regional vice president of Sterling, Indiana-based HALO Branded Solutions, and Bruce Felber, corporate brand specialist for Holland, Ohio-based The Image Group.
For novice salespeople, in particular, consultative selling might be nothing more than a buzzword heard in passing or an entirely new concept altogether. So, before jumping in, it helps to understand what the process is about. “To me, consultative selling means going for outcome versus product or transactional selling,” said Felber. “It’s going for the big picture and getting into the minds of what the clients want.” Essentially, the desired outcome is a strong solutions-based approach to your client relationship.
Once you understand consultative selling, you might wonder “What’s in it for me?” Greene had the answer. “[By taking a consultative approach,] you set yourself far apart from the peddlers and trunk-slammers,” he said. “You create a relationship and a partnership that should last for many years, and you show clear value that should make price a bit less important—you are worth paying a bit more for.”
Felber agreed that, in terms of value, consultative selling is the way to go. “It’s a higher sale—it’s not a transactional sale,” he said. “Consultative selling is going in and trying to build a bundle project for something, and the results are better because you end up being important to your client.
“The downside of consultative selling is that it’s a longer sales cycle,” Felber continued. “So, a lot of people will avoid that and go for the kill. They’ll get a quick sale and get something out of it, but if the promotional product you show them is a quick fix and doesn’t work, you won’t be invited to talk about other projects. The benefits are outweighed by the longer sales cycle, but it elevates you to a higher level.”
A successful consultative selling approach hinges on your research, upfront. “Before going into the meeting, you should know as much about the company’s products and services as possible,” said Felber. “Whether it’s going [onto its] websites or digging into blogs or articles that have been written about [the company], try to find out more about [the company] so that it cuts down on asking a lot of those questions in the meeting. Most importantly, you need to know that you’re talking to the right people.”
In terms of specific data you should know about the company, Greene offered some examples. “Do your homework. Ask the receptionist you’ve befriended what [he or she] knows, try to find out what trade shows [the company attends] and how [it goes] to market,” he said. “Get [its] logo so you are ready to get virtual samples and a PowerPoint going. Find out what [its] pain points are, what worked in the past and what didn’t work.”
From there, start asking the prospect the right questions. “[Salespeople] should be [asking] probing questions that are going to determine what the client’s expectations are: trying to sell more products, trying to get more people to [its] channel, trying to make people aware of the brand, etc.,” said Felber. “So, you should be asking questions that really dig into more about what the company’s products and services are, and what your contact’s desires are.”
Greene also proposed using the face time to focus entirely on the client. “Once you’ve established yourself as a premiere promotional partner, stop talking about yourself,” he advised. “It isn’t about you, it’s about their pain points and how you can address and resolve that pain by presenting branded products that communicate their important message to their defined audience.”
As with most business transactions, the conversation ultimately turns to budget. This is no different with the consultative sale. Some may struggle with how to respectfully broach the subject, but you just have to ask. “This isn’t high school and you aren’t trying to get a prom date,” Greene said. “How can you ask about the budget? Like this: ‘What is your budget for this project?’ Be bold, be open, ask the questions that you need the answers to, and don’t worry about saying the wrong thing. This is business. You can help them and you can make them look fantastic and address their business challenges to set yourself up as an ongoing promotional partner. That’s the whole point.”
While the forthright approach will work, Felber acknowledged that many salespeople are reluctant to jump straight to the point. “The budget is usually the second question I ask,” he said. “[I ask:] ‘What is your investment and how many people do you need to reach with this message?’ The budget is something you have to ask, and most salespeople in this industry still struggle with this question.
“Usually, I throw out a higher number and then we gradually decrease until we hit the right number,” he continued. “It’s important to get to the decision-maker as soon as possible, so you’re not wasting your time with someone who has no handle on the budget.”
So, if you’re looking to delve into the world of consultative selling, just remember: “You are a surgeon, act like a pro, exude confidence and show them you heard them,” advised Greene. “They are in great hands, and together you will help them connect with their clients, their prospects [and] their employees, and deliver [their messages].”