The consultative sales process
Did you know that the training industry has a lot in common with the advertising business? No? How so? Well, both want to reach an audience, convey a message and ultimately, change behaviour.
In last month’s blog we looked at the top 10 simple but effective marketing techniques being used by high-performing training providers. So this month I thought it made sense to look at the next step in the process – Sales.
Successful advertisers appreciate that most people don’t want what they have to offer. We all respond to traditional “push” advertising by skipping through TV commercials, unsubscribing from emails or recycling leaflets without even reading them.
All industries must accept the fact that most people don’t want what we have to offer. So, how do those clever advertisers get our attention - and more importantly, get us to turn on our tablet and buy their product online - before the ad has even finished. The answer, they identify a need.
Ask yourself, what are you really selling? Are you really selling a half-day in-house training course or an eighteen-month off-site high-level management qualification? Or are you selling compliance, confidence, competitiveness, growth, opportunities, performance, results, solutions and success? These satisfy a need for your target market and translate into tangible business benefits.
So, we’ve established that you and the training you offer need to solve a problem, scratch an itch, satisfy a need, deliver clear business benefits – in short, become an extension to their organisation – this is known as consultative selling.
In consultative selling, the sale is not an end in itself. The consultative sales process is focused on what the customer needs and wants, and the potential value they see during their interactions with you. It’s not remotely about your product, your business, your numbers – and it’s definitely not about you.
Typically, there are six principles to the consultative sales process:
So let’s take a look at them, one at a time.
Before you can sell your training and services you needs to reassure the prospect (the lead) of your integrity, reliability and understanding. Consider the issues at all levels of the client’s organisation, including strategic, departmental and individual needs.
Put yourself in the shoes of your clients’ sales and marketing director who is seeking to understand their own customers’ needs and wants. These might include compliance, new legislation, the Government agenda and new opportunities.
If you have training management software with integrated CRM then you will have gathered tons of data on your leads, like company size, pages visited on your website, previous interactions/ enquiries, email preferences and social media behaviours. This will tell you what problems and questions they have topmost in their minds.
When you speak with the lead, be sure to ask open-ended questions. As that you have all this detailed information on them as a result of your research and CRM, it’s tempting to assume you know everything there is to know about them. The point is to allow the lead to volunteer the information as part of the trust and rapport you are building.
The goal of asking questions is to slowly discover what the lead’s training, commercial and business goals are, the plan they might have to reach those goals, the challenges that are in the way of executing this plan and the timeline that’s in place.
Also, try and get an idea of budget and the level of authority of the person you’re talking to. Are they an influencer, a decision-maker or the person who controls the budget?
Always be listening. It’s the skill that sets a great sales person apart from just a sales person. Be “present” and listen actively, ready to respond and ensure both parties clearly understand the situation and the lead’s requirements.
Document everything that the lead tells you, using keywords and bullet point that you can write-up later and enter into the CRM element of your training management software. But do not stare continuously at your notepad and write down everything they say word for word.
All of the information you obtain will help you shape your training offering to the market, your marketing campaigns and customer communications and ultimately to qualify and/or close the lead.
As you are actively listening and responding, you should be looking for opportunities to inform. However, this is not about spouting how great your training courses are, it’s about helping the lead to overcome their challenges by presenting various solutions and positioning yourself as a trusted adviser. This may or may not involve using your service, but your focus should always be to help the lead, no matter what.
You must be careful not to give away too much knowledge at this stage, balancing the knowledge you give, with the questions you ask and the answers you get back.
You’re going to have to qualify the lead at some point. A qualified lead has goals, might or might not have a plan but definitely has challenges to overcome, a defined timeline and a budget.
An unqualified lead is just as good as a qualified lead during the consultative sales process. Unqualified leads give you a chance to help, so be friendly, listen, inform and then move on. Remember, unqualified leads should be included in your future marketing campaigns.
If structured effectively, email campaigns sent from your training management software can tap into the pains, needs and wants of these leads, educating them and positioning yourself as a valued source of information and potential solution. You can then nurture and progress the lead through the sales funnel to the point where they engage with you.
Qualified leads, of course, also give you the chance to help, be friendly - and most importantly, sell. Make sure you dedicate the majority of your time to qualified leads already in your sales pipeline. Don’t try to close unqualified leads until they have been qualified; it will just hurt them and you in the long run.
By focusing on “high-value activities” - the business intelligence, CRM and reporting functionalities in your training management software will help you identify these – you will run an efficient and effective sales and marketing operation.
With the right approach you have a good chance of closing your qualified leads - as they have budget and the authority to purchase.
If pushback does occur during the closing process, or at any point, return to the lead’s original drivers for training. What will the consequences or missed benefits be if they do not to buy training from you.
The closing sequence should feel natural to you both. If you have understood their needs and positioned yourself as a trusted advisor and potential solution, you should both arrive at the same conclusion together.
If you focus on closing only those leads that are the right fit for your business, and you have a good product and deliver excellent customer journey, then retention rates on your key accounts should also be quite high. Again, training management software can be used effectively here to provide smooth online booking, automated course communications, future course recommendations and to gather and analyse post-course feedback for continuous improvement.
Now it’s your turn…
Use these six principles and adapt them for your organisation, creating your own consultative sales methodology. Sales people perform at their highest output when there is a clear and considered process they can understand, follow and repeat. When they know they have a process that will help them close business, they will perform at their best and with confidence.
Follow this process and your new leads and existing clients and will never feel like they are being “sold to”, rather, seeing you as a natural extension to their business and long-term partner.
About the author
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