Obviously, it is better to have the customer think of you as a business expert than to think you’re a money-grubbing salesperson, so this approach makes sense. And when it was introduced decades ago, it was unique. Unfortunately, most of your competitors are employing this approach today. Worse, most salespeople confuse the consultative approach with an actual sales strategy, which it isn’t. It is only a communication tactic to establish your credibility and deliver your information in a nonthreatening way.
We have been trained throughout our careers to think of customers as rational, logical decision makers. Our companies tell us to qualify the customer’s business requirements, such as budget and time frame to buy, and find out the product features and functions that the customer needs. They arm us with facts and specifications so that we can launch informational assaults on customers in order to get them to buy. Since most companies understand only this type of direct approach, they train salespeople on the recitation of features, functions, and specifications. They don’t offer training on the essence of the sales strategy--how to win hearts and minds of customers.
I once interviewed members of a customer team who said the main reason they made a million-dollar purchase was that the salesperson was “contagious.” That’s a very interesting term, so I asked them to define it. They told me that they had looked at a half-dozen different solutions, and all of the salespeople they met with were equally professional and courteous. They even commented that each played the role of salesperson very well. The salespeople displayed interest in understanding the customer’s needs and requirements, were able to explain how their product would meet those requirements, and were responsive during the selection process. While some products were slightly better than others, all were relatively the same from a feature and price standpoint.
Some salespeople were better liked than others, but no one really stood out except Bob. He was different. He wasn’t just representing his company; the team members felt that he was the company. In essence, they felt that he honestly believed in what he was doing and saying. When I asked them if he had the best product, was charismatic or good-looking, or had some other unique advantage, the answer they gave was surprising. They said he was a nondescript fellow and his product ranked low on the list of capabilities.
Instead, the reason why Bob won was that he was completely comfortable with himself. In essence, he was transparent. The customers really knew who he was. For them, making a million-dollar purchase was a nerve-racking experience. Bob’s genuine enthusiasm, appreciation of people, and love of his company became a magnet. While the customers had laid out a laundry list of specifications each vendor’s product had to meet, the emotional reasons for the decision far outweighed the logical reasons in the end. Ultimately, they were looking for peace of mind during the selection process. Equally important, they wanted someone around they believed in. Finally, here’s the moral of this story: the most persuasive salesperson is completely sold on his company, product, and most importantly, him or herself.