A sale, is a sale, is a sale – or is it? The B2B selling landscape is transforming and nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in the rise in popularity of consultative selling.
Modern buyers are a lot more sophisticated and informed than they used to be. They will head online to research their problems and find possible solutions, long before ever contacting any potential suppliers. They no longer need to rely on sales teams for their information and will read up on all they can, while also seeking recommendations from trusted peers. Price is often just one factor at play in any purchasing decisions, along with service, reputation, customer experience and the product itself.
In reaction to this shift in behavior, sales and marketing teams have needed to adapt to how they work and the tactics, strategies and methods they use. Sales reps aren’t there to educate anymore, they are there to help and support buyers through the decision-making process.
Offering high-quality content – and lots of it – is now a crucial component of the sales process. That content needs to be ‘found’ by buyers at just the right time and, to offer exactly the information they are looking for if a company is to be top of mind when solutions are being purchased.
So, what’s the difference between transactional and consultative selling? And what more could you be doing to fully optimize the way you’re selling?
This type of selling centers on:
Transactional selling is about attracting people to the transaction, then ensuring it is a seamless process that includes ways to keep them coming back. The key focus is heavily weighted on price and availability.
Sales teams will need to know about the product, while marketing will need to give out clear messages about what is available, at what price and within what timeframe.
These types of sales usually happen quickly. The goods are exchanged and that’s job done. Within a business, a warehouse manager, purchasing manager or office assistant may all be involved in transactional sales.
In contrast, consultative selling centers on:
- the ‘value’ being offered to each customer
- how a product can help customers achieve their business goals
- decision-makers higher up the chain of command
The greater the benefit that a product offers, the higher the price tag is likely to be. That means you are more likely to need to speak to multiple, key decision-makers who are much higher up the food chain.
With consultative selling it is all about the value you can create. Sales teams need to be comfortable talking to key people about the goals and aspirations of their company. They need to understand the value of the product or service they are offering, in relation to those goals, and to be able to explain it clearly to a potential customer.
Marketing needs to build trust
Any sales approach that is taken will only ever be secondary to building trust, which is ultimately the key to success when you work within a B2B organization.
Buyers need to trust that you will deliver what you promise. Then, when you go on to provide an amazing service, they will see the genuine value and benefits of working with you.
Marketing is built around informing prospects and making them feel at ease with you as a company, as well as your business offering. And that’s why consultative selling can work so well in the face of today’s modern buyers.
It is a very customer-centric approach that focuses on engaging with a potential customer to understanding the problem they are trying to solve, then helping them to find the right solution. A sales rep will step into the role of a consultant rather than going all out to sell, sell, sell – hence the name ‘consultative’.
Many reps have found great success taking this approach – from closing bigger deals to achieving higher volumes, better retention levels and improved customer satisfaction and loyalty. All of which leads to a more efficient way of working.
For more advice on getting started with consultative selling and why you should, check out: Why consultative selling is essential in a digital world
Cutting costs is another option to increase the benefit you’re offering
Productivity and profitability
Salespeople need to understand how to extract these elements from a business. Value isn’t a living breathing thing you can reach out and touch. It will be perceived in a customer’s mind and nowhere else. It’s not something that’s in the product. What you need are salespeople with at least some level of business acumen, who will be able to quickly grasp what the real benefits are going to be for an individual client.
Eliminating discussions about price
If the value you are offering is clearly communicated, then the cost of that value will be factored into the decision making.
For example, if you decide to take a trip to a spa resort. When you think of the relaxation value you will gain from the break, you will make a decision on whether to go or not, based on the price attached to it. If you perceive the value and benefit you’ll gain as being greater than the cost, then you’ll go for it. And it’s the same for most purchasing decisions.
If you’re faced with a buyer who thinks ‘this costs too much’ then what you are actually saying is ‘I don’t see the value, this will provide, as justifying the cost’.
In response to this, you have two options – you can either cut the price or increase the perceived value.
Cutting the price is always a bad idea and should only ever be considered as a last resort (if at all). Electric car maker Tesla famously never reduces its price for anybody. If you ask CEO Elon Musk whether his best friends get a good deal, you’ll find they still have to pay in full like anyone else.
So, how then can you increase perceived value?
Again, there are two ways you can go with this. Firstly, you need to check whether you have communicated the value clearly enough to begin with. If you have, then it may be that your value proposition is unrealistic and needs rethinking.
In the first instance, you need to dig a bit deeper, to make sure prospects fully understand what’s in it for them. If you are able to relate the benefits to their actual business goals, then the value in their mind will increase.
If it still isn’t working out, then you can always consider other ways to add value, such as including free training sessions or offering different levels of support or additional services.
Consultative selling is far more difficult than transactional selling. If you want to change your sales force into a consultative selling machine, then you must invest heavily in the right training. Being able to hold a conversation around benefits and value isn’t that easy but it can be mastered with practice and guidance.
If your salespeople constantly come back saying they’re faced with objections around the price that’s usually a good indication that it’s time to invest in some upskilling. For more ideas, see: How to train your sales team to sell successfully to modern B2B buyers
You can and should use content marketing, no matter whether you follow a transactional sales model, or plan to take a more consultative approach.
If you provide some sort of commodity that is simply bought in, such as office supplies, then focus your efforts on making that transition as hassle-free as possible. That includes offering a pristine UX with your e-commerce solution and perhaps new forms of subscription models.
The focus of your content should be to help bring people to your website and then let your website do the transactions for you.
In consultative selling, content will play a huge role because it can take care of all the informational and educational needs that there may be. Your salespeople shouldn’t need to spend their time reeling off all the cool features of a product when that can be explained through content. They should instead be focusing on what the future may look like for a prospect if they use your service.
For any kind of consulting firm, some of the most important pieces of content they need to provide are case studies and a “What it’s like to work with us” piece.
Think about your content as being sales aides that will keep your prospects informed and educated while letting your salespeople focus on the part only people can do – extracting and explaining the value for the person they are talking to.
“I just want to know what it costs” – sound familiar?
Sometimes, you get those buyers who will try to corner you in a price discussion. Many one-man-bands and freelancers can end up falling into this trap.
Take website design for example. “I want a website, how much will it cost” will be a very familiar question in a transactional sales conversation. In reality, however, building a website is not an easy thing to achieve. There will be a lot of back and forth to make it happen.
Taking a consultative selling approach from the outset is the most effective way to achieve happiness on both sides.
Have we got you hungry for more?
The key to success is recognizing the way buyers now operate and responding to it by using approaches and tactics that will press their buttons. Look at the sales process and find ways to improve it – and never be afraid to try new things. Review what you’re doing and see what works for you.
Ultimately, if you increase your efficiency you’ll increase your output and increase your sales and/or profit margin. Happy days.
For more ideas on improving efficiency and effectiveness, try:
- Top 15 hacks for modern sales execs
- How to run a successful sales conversation
- Guide: How to sell if you’re not a salesperson
- The best sales tips for consultants and service providers
- B2B: The 3 most valuable tactics to help you upsell or cross-sell
- The art of cold calling
- How to win a modern sales conversation