If you are in sales . . . or hiring for sales positions. . . you’re probably glad the predominant sales style has evolved. It’s increasingly rare to experience the aggressive, pushy, high-pressure style stereo typically associated with insurance and auto sales.
These industries, as well as others, have had to change their approach to connect with today’s sophisticated customers. Customers are more educated via the internet and personal relationships and more wary of glib patter and uncomfortable closing techniques.
As buyers become savvier in their purchasing decisions, the 21st century salesperson must meet them where they are with a consultative style, also referred to as solution-based selling.
Consultative selling is, as the name suggests, about consulting with the customer to see if the company offers a product or service solution to the problem and following through accordingly.
The role of the salesperson has been compared to a physician. The medical doctor asks questions to clarify the problem and assess possible solutions before recommending a specific treatment.
How the steps are defined varies, but much of the sales cycle is aimed at information collection. Research clarifies the characteristics of target consumers and how appropriate leads come into the sales process.
Then the salesperson collects more information to assess what the customer desires. Open-ended questions create a dialogue that provides teaching opportunities to build consumer confidence in the sales process and the product itself, leading to a sale if appropriate.
It is also important to qualify leads—if the customer is not in a position to buy, does not have the financial resources or corporate authority, or is not in tune with the product, the salesperson does not continue to push for a sale that will only antagonize the customer. The qualification process starts early in the game during lead generation, followed by initial appointment setting and further discussions.
Finally there is the close. It should ensue naturally from the preceding steps. The customer has been well served with a purchase that meets his needs and wants, and the strong possibility of an ongoing relationship that assures ongoing service to the customer and holds the door open for future sales.
In assessing applicants for such sales positions, start with these three steps:
What do you see as the greatest challenge in this job?
Describe a sale that you lost and what you learned from that loss?
What criticisms might your last employer make of your sales performance?
Tell us about a customer with a special need. How did you determine what he needed? How did you meet that need?
What is the most frustrating factor in your current sales position?
How have your sales compared with your coworkers’ sales? To what do you attribute your success/failure?
Today’s consultative selling style is more professional and far more palatable than the aggressive sales style of old. Following these steps will ensure hiring practices evolve to keep pace with improvements in selling.