How to Recession-Proof Sales with Consultative Selling

By Jessica Davis  |  Print this article Print

The pressure may be on to sell, sell, sell during the current economic downturn. But sales representatives who take an alternative approach may end up the winners in the end. Solution providers that focus on consultative selling haven't felt the same kind of pain during the recession.

In the dog days of the recession the pressure may be on sales representatives to push harder, close those deals and make the budget—and that includes sales representatives at solution providers. But anyone who has pushed and failed knows that hard-sell tactics can backfire.

Is there another answer to resurrecting sales opportunities during the economic downturn? Solution providers who rely on a less product-sales-intensive strategy called consultative sales say they haven't felt the pain of the downturn as much as their counterparts. Rather, they say, they've built relationships that are paying off both now and in the long term.

"This economy hurts people who sell stuff," says Nick Bock, CEO and co-founder of Five Nines Technology Group, a managed services provider with offices in Lincoln and Omaha, Neb. "We never walk into customers saying we think you should buy a bunch of these things. When we walk in we want to know what they want to accomplish as a business and an IT organization."

To see eight ways to get started with consultative sales, click here.

And that approach together with an overall philosophy of providing superior customer service has paid off for Bock's company, which now has about 200 customers and has grown from $450,000 in revenues in 2006 to $3 million in 2008 and is on track to grow to $4 million in 2009.

It's all about the relationship, says Bock. "The way we sell to customers is differentiating."

He recounts the story of one potential customer that had operated a peer-to-peer network and was looking for a new IT company, interviewing four different organizations. This potential customer's people said what they really wanted was a server.

"When we sat down with them we said, 'You guys have talked a lot about this server,'" says Bock. "'Do you know what you need that server for?'" Bock says the customer's representatives said no, but everyone had told them they needed one.

"So instead we said, 'Let's talk about what you really want to accomplish,'" Bock says. "No one had taken the time to talk to them about what they wanted or needed or if they even understood the technology that everybody said they needed."

By building that kind of team approach between the solution provider company and the customer business leaders, Bock's company and other solution providers create a long-term partnership with benefits beyond today's sale. 

Jessica Davis covers the channel for eWeek and Channel Insider. Her technology journalism career began well before anyone heard of the World Wide Web and has included stints at Infoworld, Electronic News/EDN, and the Philadelphia Business Journal. Her work has also appeared on CNN and Forbes.com. She has covered hardware, software and networking, as well as the business side of technology. She has won several journalism awards, including a national ASBPE award for best staff-written column, and was named Marketing Computers hardest working tech journalist on their inaugural list of top tech journalists. Jessica can be reached at jessica.davis@ziffdavisenterprise.com

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