Prospects don’t care about your sales process. Maybe you shouldn’t either

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One of my friends thinks ‘Sales’ is about talking. Another friend I follow on Twitter thinks it is about ‘convincing’ the customer. I wince every time I hear someone characterize an engaging, fluent, fast talking, bloke as ‘sales material’.

Sales, as you might agree(especially if you are in sales yourself), is really not any of that.

Definitely not.

Unless you sell snake oil or some hair cream that promises magical appearance of hair overnight on sprawling bald patches on the head (but of course, you’d have flown out of town overnight before they find out that wasn’t going to happen).

Glib talk, ‘convincing’, pushiness…none of that is really sales. Not if you are selling technology solutions. Not if you are in consultative selling. These require a different skill altogether.

But then, is there really something like Consultative Selling at all?

I would argue that there is no such thing. If you really look at the big picture, there ought to be no active selling in consultative selling. If you look back at all the times you have really been successful in closing a deal, you’d realize that more often than not, you have thought less about closing the deal and more about helping your prospect buy. You will realize that each of those times, you really weren’t wearing the old sales hat.

What is likely to have made you successful each time was that you helped those prospects decide what was right for them. You put aside your hard-sell compulsions and your quarterly target pressures and the lure of sales incentives and truly enabled the prospect along his journey of his buying process. Of course, you also got them to see how your product or service was a right fit, but essentially all you did was only align their need with what you had to offer.

You did not force-fit your product or service to their need.

A good sales guy wouldn’t hesitate, when he has all the required facts, to tell the customer that his product or service doesn’t quite meet the need of the customer – he may even advise the customer not to buy his product or service.

And yet, how come the good sales guy seems to think of his sales process as being a series of milestones along his engagement with Mr.Prospect? Geofferry James makes a great point of this in a recent article “The Real Truth About Sales Process” where he says

Sales process is not about how you sell but how the customer buys.

That really is spot on.

The customer really doesn’t care about your sales process at all. Or your targets and all the reasons that motivate you to engage with them.

Sales is really about enabling the customer to buy. A good sales guy puts his effort in making sure the customer is able to address their need, he puts his effort behind establishing credibility as a decision enabler – not around a sale achieved at the end of a rigid sales process. A process, which really is very internal to you and your sales team.

If your sales process is too rigid to align to the customers buying process, you have a big problem. As Geoffery says,

…here’s the real truth about sales process: it must be adaptive rather than manipulative.

Make that crucial distinction and your sales process will help, rather than hinder, your sales efforts.

Well said.

It is a private motivation only another sales guy would know, but when it comes to consultative selling, the real joy is not as much in closing a deal as much as seeing the customer look back and feel good about his buying decision. And be thankful that he trusted you.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Jaisundar: I enjoyed reading your blog, and particularly like your writing style. Thanks for calling out ‘consultative selling.’–a term that people sling around, but rarely, if ever, define.

    There’s pollyanna in your assessment of sales achievers, however: “You put aside your hard-sell compulsions and your quarterly target pressures and the lure of sales incentives and truly enabled the prospect along his journey of his buying process.” . . . And where, exactly, does this happen?

    There’s much written about how important it is for salespeople to preserve objectivity, to strive to always do what is right for the customer, even if it means deferring revenue. Unfortunately, salespeople live every day with extraordinary goal dissonance. “You must be your customer’s trusted advisor. Now, go make your number!” It’s hard to completely put “hard-sell compulsions” on the back burner when you have a quota to make and a job to keep.

    The idealism you describe can be more consistently achieved, but it requires a different compensation model and sales culture.

  2. A recent workshop I was doing with a sales team at one of my customers started with the sales process but moved on quickly into identifying the decision making process at their customers. This meant who are their customers, what they need or may need and so on.

    Being sensitive to what the customer really needs and maneuvering the sale surely forms a significant part of the selling exercise. Though some times you may have to exhibit ‘worldly salesmanship’ to get things concluded. Don’t worry as the buyer knows when you are assisting him to buy and when you are selling. Have a happy customer and a happy you hitting that number.

  3. Hi Andrew – thank you for your comment and the generous compliment.

    I see your point about goal dissonance – it is indeed a very real problem. But it is okay for end goals to be different, but the real reason the dissonance is exacerbated is when, say, the right solution/product/service for the customer is actually A, but you are selling B.

    If you are Selling A, then you just have to help the customer decide that A is the right decision – and since you have unshakable belief that this is indeed the right decision for the customer, consultative selling becomes easy. Okay easier at least. If on the other hand, you happen to be selling B, then it becomes difficult, because you are putting your agenda above the customers and the entire sales effort becomes a game of manipulation.

    That brings me to an aspect of the sales cycle which I feel is extremely crucial and ties in very closely to success in Consultative Selling – prospect qualification (and by that I mean being able to say ‘yes, without a doubt’ when you ask “does this prospect really need my product/service?” ). This is really the pivot around which the credibility of the selling firm hinges on and any firm that prides itself in consultative selling has to be itself convinced that their product/service is exactly what the customer needs.

    This is where suddenly it becomes a sort of a philosophical debate – but in the end it is always how you balance between what is right for your firm and what is right for the customer.

  4. Thanks Patrick.

    I liked this comment, particularly where you say that the buyer is smart enough to know when you are selling and when you are assisting him to buy. This is really a great point – and I think given this, it becomes so much more important that you don’t get on a manipulative mode. The customer can see through that!!

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