Becoming consultative sellers

So you want your sales people to be more consultative? You recognise that to increase sales, your sales people need to build strategic relationships at senior levels. But they just don’t seem to be able to do it. And despite investing in training and/or coaching in consultative selling skills they still don’t seem to be able to change the way that they sell.

So why is it that sales people seem to find consultative selling so difficult? Perhaps it’s nothing to do with their level of skill or knowledge. Perhaps they know what they should do but there are other things getting in the way. After all, knowledge and skills are only two of the factors that impact on performance. The others – environmental blocks and motivation – cannot be addressed by training alone. And may I suggest that a fundamental block to sales people being consultative has nothing to do with their level of skill or knowledge and a hell of a lot to do with how they are motivated by their external environment, i.e. manager. Which comes down to the way they are measured.

The long-ball game

Here’s a fact. Consultative selling is a long-ball game. Start talking to a customer now and you might see a sale in a year, if you’re lucky. Add into that the complexity of navigating and winning over a complex decision-making unit with competing interests and priorities. But does the sales manager want to know how the salesperson is using consultative selling skills to slowly build value in the customer’s business on their Monday morning phone call? Of course they don’t.

All the sales manager wants to know is how close is the salesperson to achieving their number that month. And that’s all the sales person is really interested in as well. Because the sales manager is being kicked from upstairs by their boss, who in turn is being kicked by the Board who are running the business by numbers. Perhaps they want new investment so need the numbers to look really good. Or the current shareholders/investors are kicking off again about the numbers just not being good enough.

Getting the right measures in place

Forgive me for sounding cynical but I see/hear this happening all the time. And what I see in the salesperson is panic every month about hitting their target. Some people would argue that this is a good thing, because the target drives the salesperson to sell. But it also creates a short-term myopia and deafness that fundamentally gets in the way of the salesperson being able to sell consultatively.

So before you go dashing off to invest in sales training or coaching stop and look at how you are measuring and rewarding your people. What behaviour and results do you actually want to see on a month by month basis? If building effective customer relationships across a complex DMU is important, then measure that. And if you want your sales people to be coming up with creative ways of working with customers and delivering insights that challenge/reframe customer thinking, then measure that too. As for the numbers, well they will come if you measure the right things first. And if you want help with measuring outcomes try downloading our free Commitmeter/Outcomes Matrix tool from the Resources page on this website.