Moving into Consultative Sales

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.

"Consultative selling is about the issues that your customers and prospects have," says Kendra Lee, a consultant, trainer and author specializing in the art of consultative selling. "Sometimes you may not even make a recommendation that you'll ever generate any revenue off of. But your contacts are coming to you because they just want to talk. You are treated like a trusted adviser."

Lee says when training companies on consultative sales she used to tell them to expect a longer sales cycle. But she doesn't anymore.

"It actually doesn't take longer because what happens is they want to work with you," says Lee. "They want to work with you because they feel like you are on their side."

Lee says solution providers looking to start implementing a more consultative approach to sales can start by talking to clients about how they are surviving in the current economy.

"There's a company that desperately needs our services, but they have no money," says Lee, talking about her own consulting business. "Their line of credit was just cut in half. So I asked how they were handling it. It had nothing to do with helping to sell. I know if I help him now something will happen. It's the old saying, what goes around comes around. That's consultative selling."

Lee helped Heartland Technology Solutions design a consultative sales training program for its sales organization in 2008.

"I wanted our team to move towards a consultative approach," Larry Hedin, vice president of sales and marketing at Heartland Technology Solutions, told attendees during a presentation at Ingram Micro's VTN event in April. "People were selling and numbers were coming in, but I wondered, How quickly would that change? Our training positioned us well to face the economic downturn that was ahead of us."

That's also been the experience of Five Nines and Bock, who has noticed a change in conversations with customers.

"CFOs are definitely more involved in conversations lately than they have been before," Bock says. "In small and medium businesses the same people [are] making decisions but they are being more careful about how they spend their money."

A few of Five Nines' customers have gone out of business. And existing customers are spending about 90 percent of what they've spent in the past. But Five Nines' business is still on track to grow 33 percent year over year.

"The way we've positioned Five Nines has put us in a better position on how to serve our customers," says Bock. "We help them keep things aligned with their business objectives."

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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