Let me start with a question: Have you ever received a phone call from a sales person who stutters around, doesn’t really know who you are, what your company does and starts rambling about some product/service offering that is not at all relevant to your needs?
I’m sure you have, and that can certainly be annoying! That sales person didn’t do her/his “homework”!
In a consultative sales environment, doing your research and getting prepared for a call is as essential as actually picking up the phone and dialing. The first step in a consultative sales approach is the “Pre-Call”, in other words, doing your “homework”. Well planned and executed preparation will help you once the person you are calling on picks up the phone.
Being informed means adding value to a conversation. Whether it’s your first conversation with a prospect, or a follow-up call with a long-time client. It also puts you, the sales person, in a position where you don’t sound like you’re dialing for dollars.
Whether you’re calling on a new prospect or trying to expand your business with existing clients, research and preparation are key.
At the core of successful consultative selling is developing a customer-centric sales process and being diligent. Not pushy, not aggressive, but consistent and strategic. You will need to identify exactly what you are selling and what value it brings to your prospects.
Successful consultative sales professionals take time to understand what truly differentiates their service from their competitors’ similar products or services. They do their research. They also make sure they know their own strengths and opportunities for improvement and growth.
Once you have established what you are selling, and how the features and benefits can be of value, then you can begin to do your research to find out who your “ideal prospects” are.
“Don’t try to boil the ocean! Be targeted in your approach and choose your prospects accordingly!”
While it is important to own your story, to understand the product/service that you offer and being able to communicate the value, it is also just as important to make sure that your offering fits with your prospect’s objectives. And that you will need to find out. When it comes to prospecting, we usually have to come from a place of assumption because we normally don’t really know the inner workings of a prospect’s organization. In today’s business environment, it’s a lot easier to prepare than it used to be. In the past we had to rely on hearsay or recommendations. Today, we can research companies and people using all the tools available in the on-line world.
This makes it easier for us to prepare but we also want to be careful so as not to assume too much. What might appear to be true could turn out to have changed because on-line data is not always up to date. It still gives us a general reference and guidelines to work off, a starting point for conversation and exploration, and asking questions.
The more research we do before picking up the phone, or writing an e-mail, the easier it will be to start a dialogue. Why? Because people want to feel special, no matter what their title or position is.
In a consultative sales environment, we don’t need to reach out to every single company in the universe. Usually, our universe is a lot smaller than we think once we start researching our ideal prospects.
How can we identify whether a prospect is suitable or not?
Do Your Research, Research, Research, and Some More Research
- Make sure you know and fully understand what your offering entails, and in what ways it might be beneficial to your prospective clients.
- Identify why your service or product is unique, or superior.
- Research and locate companies that would potentially benefit from your offering and where you see a possible fit.
For example, if you own a small law firm in Pennsylvania specializing in contract and trademark law, and you are not licensed outside of the state, it will be easier to determine who your prospects could be.
If, however, you are a service provider and your offering could be sold without geographic limitations, you will need to find other qualifiers to sharpen your efforts. Here are some qualifiers that can be used:
- Geography (you may not want your sales people flying all over the country)
- # of employees
- Public vs. Private sector
- Website presence (websites are the store fronts of any organization and a lot can be learned from the way a company presents itself on-line)
One common mistake in sales is to play the numbers game. Many sales people think (encouraged by their leaders) that more sales calls equals more revenue. It really doesn’t. The more focused you are as a sales person, the more you will find out about your prospects and the higher the likelihood is that you will have meaningful conversations to get you closer to your goal. And your goal is always either closing a sale or, if it’s not a fit, leaving a good impression.
Get Ready to Pick Up the Phone
Once you identified 15-20 companies (as a starting point) that could be a good fit for your product/service offering based on your research, it’s time to prepare what you’re going to say and even more importantly, what questions you’re going to ask. What kind of questions do you ask? Use open-ended questions to give the person you are speaking with the opportunity to explain their situation, their potential needs in their own words. Practice what you could say, how your prospects might react. Prepare a “Prospect Analysis Form” or open a CRM file so you can enter all the information you will be receiving. Then it’s time to pick up the phone. Be personal and engaging in your conversations with the presumed decision makers and they will provide you with insights on whether your initial assumption was correct. As a result you could find out that the marketing team is not the department that will buy your service, but perhaps a newly developed consumer insights team. If you are knowledgeable, courteous and respectful, people will guide and help you to find the correct path. It will also help you collect valuable market research and sharpen your message going forward.
Get in Another Person’s Shoes
In the end, make sure you visualize that you have a person on the other end of the line. Someone possibly a lot like you. You’ll do yourself a great service and be able to offer something of value by putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Here’s where the Consultative Sales model begins: PRE-CALL, where you set your objectives, do your “intelligence” work, and develop your repertoire of questions for your prospects..