There is a perception that anyone in a sales position is pushy, conniving or just deceitful. In some cases these perceptions are warranted. Like any field, there are bad apples. But there are also many honest, hard working and ethical sales people.
Selling newspapers is where I started. Then it was Famous Amos cookies, office furniture and hobby supplies plus more. From mentors, coworkers and industry training events I learned many of the closing techniques I have shared recently. This week I thought it might be a nice change of pace to highlight my preferred closing technique: The Consultative Close.
During my first couple years in a sales roles, I rarely felt comfortable. Most of my co-workers saw sales as a game with closings, sales or profits the method for keeping score. Avoiding manipulative practices to sell customers stuff they didn’t need or want, I would often simply take orders. In the world of sales however you won’t make much and may not last long if you only take orders. Eventually I found myself working with a mentor that shared this phrase: “You can skin a sheep once, or you can shear it for life.” The message he was sharing is that shady sales techniques may sell your product today but that customer may not come back. Orienting the sales process to the needs of the customer, treating them fairly, and selling for a reasonable profit is more likely to generate repeat buyers. This was a sales process built on transparency and honesty. Leo preached the concept of consultative selling.
This approach follows a set of steps that is focused on meeting the needs of the customer. This approach is similar to a conventional sales process with the notable addition of a needs assessment.
People begin the process of searching for a new product or service by gathering information. We learn the difference between high and low quality vendors, research the crash worthiness of cars or review past issues of consumer reports for dependable dryers. We tap the knowledge of friends and seek the recommendations of strangers. The bigger the purchase decision, the more detailed the research.
Ultimately you meet a sales person. From that point forward the success and comfort of your purchase experience is in their hands, not yours.
With luck this person would be trained to use a consultative approach. It would all begin with a proper greeting; pleasant welcomes to the store, with a name provided and of course those pearly whites showing through a broad smile.
The sales person would then engage the clients in small talk. This provides a few moments for everyone to relax and begin the process of building rapport. The actual sales process would begin with the needs assessment. The sales person should ask a number of open-ended questions, eliciting a clear understanding of the consumer’s needs. When faced with multiple requirements, the primary needs are specifically identified with the remaining requirements prioritized. The final understanding of the customer’s need is confirmed by rephrasing the customer’s requests. Once needs and desires are clearly defined, the products features or services benefits are demonstrated to the customer.
Using an open approach such as this provides a number of benefits. Foremost among the benefits is enhanced credibility. Utilizing the needs assessment up front allows all parties to clearly see requirements and desires of the customer. Transparency builds trust. Transparency puts both the sales person and the customer on a level playing field.
Ideally the needs assessment identifies potential issues or objections that are addressed by the presentation. Remaining objections or questions are resolved before the salesperson attempts to close the sale. Closing the sale is led with a “trial” close or “soft” close. This might include questions such as:
Do you feel this product would meet your needs?
Can you see yourself using this service?
Negative responses indicate a hidden objection that must be identified and addressed before moving forward. With a positive response to the soft close the order is then finalized.
Fighting back – or not?
If you’ve read my other posts on closing techniques, you know I try to give ideas on how to spot or take advantage of various sales approaches. In a true consultative sales process the consumer remains in control. Before you decide to buy, you might want to take a breather. Really consider if your purchase is necessary or simply a desire. If there is any doubt, walk away. Take 30 days to see if you can live without the purchase. If you can, you know not to purchase.
Use the consultative close to your advantage.
A consultative sales person can be your best friend, working as your advocate and striving to meet your needs. Seek out sales people that use a consultative approach. Utilize their desire to support you and leverage their product knowledge to find your best option.
Readers: It is easy for us to recall negative consumer experiences, how about the good ones? Can you share a few lines about a good experience you had with a sales person?
photo by iMorpheus
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