By Harrell Kerkhoff,
Maintenance Sales News Magazine Editor
Times change, and so do the habits of buyers. It’s therefore imperative that sellers change as well, finding ways to move from a selling process that focuses on transactional purchases to a more consultative approach.
That was the message presented by James Peduto, managing partner of Knowledgeworx, during an industry conference. His presentation was titled, “Meet The Modern Buyer — They Need A Modern Seller.”
The selling skills that worked in the past no longer guarantee success in today’s sales environment, according to Peduto. Many modern buyers look for a unique customer experience, collaboration and insight. They require salespeople to be truly invested in their goals, and to make recommendations that will help them become successful.
Rather than simply “selling products,” Peduto argues that today’s sellers need to become a buyer’s trusted advisor, creating win-win situations.
“The results I have to share about today’s selling process are practical, backed by hard data,” he said.
Many salespeople feel that selling in general is harder today, compared to 5 or 10 years ago, Peduto added. That is due, in part, to changing customer values. It’s therefore important as ever to listen to the voice of the customer.
Peduto quoted Theodore Levitt, author of Marketing Myopia, who said, “An industry begins with the customer and his or her needs, not with a patent, a raw material or a selling skill.”
According to Peduto, today’s customers are influenced by several key factors that were not present a short time ago. One such factor is known as, “The Amazon Effect.”
“When talking about ‘The Amazon Effect,’ I don’t mean you are going to lose business tomorrow to Amazon. What is meant by ‘The Amazon Effect,’ is the prevalence of information, the availability of the internet, the ability to conduct instant searches and to find anything with a couple clicks of the mouse,” Peduto said. “Fundamentally, (The Amazon Effect) changes the role of the salesperson in several ways.”
He added that modern buyers are bringing their B2C (business-to-consumer) shopping experience into the B2B (business to business) community.
“The people you sell to are just like you. They buy stuff online. Think about how you approach a purchasing decision today, compared to 10 years ago. When you go to buy something now, you often go online, do a little research, see what is available after a couple of clicks and make a purchase. Before you go to a meeting with someone new, you may ‘Google’ that person to see who they are and what they are about,” Peduto said. “The point is, the experiences many people now have in their personal lives, both for convenience sake and access to information, carries over to their day-to-day purchasing decisions at work, and how they approach the sale. That impacts you, as the seller.”
What that also means is, the modern buyer no longer places such great value on traditional sales activities. That includes product demonstrations, literature, specifications, training, pricing information and troubleshooting.
“The availability of such information online is now very prevalent,” Peduto said. “If a salesperson’s interaction with a customer becomes redundant to information now available from the internet, does that change the message the salesperson needs to deliver? Of course it does.
“A lot of information that used to come exclusively from salespeople is now available online. That has lessened one big aspect of a salesperson’s past role.”
To further make his point, Peduto showed a video highlighting the Part Finder app, which helps people source all types of parts themselves, a role that many salespeople have performed in the past.
“The point is, a lot of the mundane things that salespeople have spent time doing in the past is transitioning,” Peduto said. “In some respects, that ought to be liberating to those in sales who have spent hours in the past searching for a specific product.”
Another video he presented showed the advancements being made with artificial intelligence (AI). That includes the interaction now possible over the telephone between a computerized “voice” and a live person.
“Think about what that type of real-life technology could mean as it pertains to the future role of salespeople,” he said. “While looking at the consumerization of business, and the impact that the internet and companies like Amazon have on sales today, also think about these numbers:
■ 12 — “That is the number of searches an average B2B researcher does before engaging with a seller. That means the customer is coming to the seller with some preexisting knowledge, whether it’s right or wrong is another matter;
■ 57 percent — “A little over one half of the buying decision has been completed before the customer engages with sales;
■ 70 percent — “We are now part of a community-based world, as 70 percent of all purchasing decisions involve more than one party — at least two decision makers — which means sales are more complex; and,
■ 30 percent — “That is the most important number, which is the percentage of B2B buyers who said they were willing to pay more for a superior customer experience.
“Think about your personal world. How many occasions today are there that you receive a really great customer experience. A lot or a little? The answer is usually, ‘a little.’ In many cases, you would be willing to pay a premium to have somebody find the right answer, to point you in the right direction and/or to truly help you with a product or problem,” Peduto said. “It’s also important to recognize, if the value a salesperson feels he/she is providing is basically the same value that can be found on the internet, then it’s really not value at all.
“Therefore, the questions you want to continually ask yourself are: ‘What do I (as a salesperson) add to the mix? What am I providing presently that an AI robot, a really cool website and/or next day delivery can’t provide? The answer is ‘insight,’ and being consultative.”
He noted that 20 years ago, building a good, strong relationship with customers would have been enough for most salespeople to be successful. Today, that approach is often not enough. Why? Selling has become much harder.
“There is much more competition today. Competition now comes from everywhere, including global sources. Because of all that competition, there is more pressure placed on pricing, with buyers more concerned about receiving the lowest price, necessitating salespeople to sell based on value — which many are not good at doing.”
According to Peduto, in order to provide true value to a customer today using the consultative sales approach, a salesperson must be capable of asking great questions and have challenging conversations — the type of dialogue the customer will often not receive from anybody else. That process helps the salesperson provide true differentiation.
For many salespeople, he added, the act of selling is often heavily focused on providing a product demonstration.
“The problem is, a demo is very transactional by nature. A lot of people who watch a demo say, ‘Oh, that is cool. That product would be nice to have,’ but that is all it is,” Peduto said. “All the salesperson has done is show the potential customer a product that is ‘nice to have.’ No sense of urgency was created.
“Simply providing a product demo can lead to a very difficult and challenging way to get results. You end up chasing those prospects ‘forever,’ because there is no urgency to make a decision or take any action. Initially, a more difficult way to sell is the consultative approach. That includes asking great questions, which is harder to do, but can lead to real results. It requires you to be the differentiator, the separator and the guide as it pertains to working with customers.”
WHAT MODERN BUYERS WANT FROM MODERN SELLERS
What specifically do today’s buyers say they want, or expect, from the modern seller? According to Peduto, they are very specific and clear. Unfortunately, their desires are also different from how most companies still go to market.
Outlined during Peduto’s presentation were results from a large focus group, which concentrated on what participants said sales winners do differently, compared to the field. The buyers’ responses, in order in importance, were:
1. (The seller) Educated me (the buyer) with new ideas or perspectives;
2. Collaborated with me;
3. Persuaded me we would achieve results;
4. Listened to me;
5. Understood my needs;
6. Helped me avoid potential pitfalls;
7. Crafted a compelling solution;
8. Depicted purchasing processes accurately;
9. Connected with me personally; and,
10. Overall value from the company was superior to other options.
“Look at that list and think in your own mind how your company stacks up as a seller. What those buyers said, in the focus group, is quite different from what a lot of us think is important,” Peduto said. “The first part of that list shows the salesperson providing real value, while No. 9 is how the seller personally connects with the buyer. Unfortunately, the latter is often what I think salespeople go after first.
“What the buyers are saying in that study is, ‘I need the seller to educate me with new ideas and perspectives about my business.’ It isn’t about the proper PH level of a floor stripper or the latest automated piece of equipment. Buyers want help with their broader business issues. That is what they need to be educated on.”
Peduto also addressed No. 2 on the list, “collaborated with me.”
“Collaboration means ‘together.’ Selling is not something you ‘do to somebody.’ Selling is something you ‘do with somebody.’ That is done by listening, and by asking great questions centered on a customer’s business,” he said. “Notice that the first five items on the list are very ‘customer-centric.’ They are all about business issues with the customer. They have nothing to do with you, as the seller, or your stuff. They have everything to do with your customer. That is important.
“The problem is, many sellers focus more on the bottom five items from the list. Those are directed at your product, crafted with a compelling solution connected to you personally. I’m not saying relationships are not important. You can’t sell without them, but you can no longer sell because of them. You have to show a business reason to conduct business with people.”
TRANSACTIONAL VERSUS CONSULTATIVE
The changing role of today’s salesperson often involves shifting away from “transactional” and becoming more “consultative.” But what does that look like?
“‘Transactional’ is what everybody grew up doing when it came to sales. It includes features, advantages and benefits, the sales force doing its own thing, the sales force having its own message, and self-managed sales forces,” Peduto said. “‘Consultative,’ on the other hand, focuses on providing a system-wide message from members of a specific sales force. The conversation salespeople need to have with customers today should be consultative-based, focused on business issues. It’s about being able to fundamentally change the metrics of the business.
“Are you, as the salesperson, using your expertise to show customers how to run their businesses in a better way? Or are you still trying to sell customers more stuff? If you are just selling them more stuff, you are going to see much more competition in the future, more so than you have ever imagined.”
According to Peduto, today’s consultative approach requires a more complex selling process to take place. It also requires working with clients in upper management positions, including those from the “c-suite” level.
“If you are talking to a current or potential customer and it’s all transactional-based, such as pricing, you are probably trying to sell to people who are too far down in that company’s hierarchy,” he said. “As a seller, you are going to get sent to the room that you sound like you belong. You are either going to visit the janitor or a member of the c-suite. It’s not hard to figure out who offers more opportunities for future business — it’s those executives in the c-suite.
“When selling consultatively, the last thing you want to be is tactical. If you are tactical, it’s going to be very hard to differentiate your value against office supply companies and the Amazons of the world. However, AI is a long way from being able to sell based on solving key business issues. That is the type of consultative insight you want to provide.”
In summary, when salespeople only talk about their companies, their products, their services and their prices, and then “close and propose,” that is transactional. On the other hand, if salespeople ask a lot of questions while also uncovering problems, issues, consequences and emotions, and then provide solutions, that is consultative.
“Transactional works best if you have the lowest price in your space and a full feature set. Of course, only one company can have the lowest price, and it rarely has the full feature set. It’s therefore important to take a consultative approach in order to differentiate,” Peduto said. “Again, selling consultatively is much more difficult than selling transactionally. But, if you want to shorten your sales cycle, significantly improve your closing rate, make sure the deal you just closed actually closes and retain customers, then it’s best to sell consultatively.”
CAN YOUR SALES FORCE SELL TO MODERN BUYERS?
Once the differences between “transactional” and “consultative” are clearly defined, the next question to be raised is, “How do you align consultative selling skills with the modern buyer?”
“There is the right way and there is the easy way, and never the twain shall meet,” Peduto said.
While looking for what the modern buyer is seeking, the main questions to ask as a sales organization are:
■ What is the skill set of our top producers?
“I don’t mean anecdotally, I mean with hard numbers and facts,” Peduto said.
■ Who has the skills to sell to a sophisticated buyer?
■ Who is capable of opening new accounts?
“That is in contrast to those people within a sales force who have basically moved into an account management role,” he said.
■ Which salespeople have ineffective behaviors that get in the way of their success?
■ Does our sales manager(s) also sell or only manage?
“One of the biggest predictors aside from talent in terms of sales success, is the true capability of a company’s sales management,” he said. “Unfortunately, good sales management is not the forte of most companies. That is true not only in our industry, but across all industries.”
■ Do members of our sales team have consultative selling skills to help the modern buyer?
According to 1.8 million evaluations, Peduto said 83 percent of the general sales population is either “weak”or “serviceable” when it comes to the skills need to sell to the modern buyer, while 11 percent were rated as “strong” and 6 percent “elite.”
“The odds are, your sales force looks a lot like that breakdown,” Peduto said. “How many truly special salespeople do you have? On average, about one out of five salespeople are either ‘strong’ or ‘elite,’ when it comes to selling to the modern buyer.”
Peduto also highlighted the difference in sales competency between the top 5 percent of consultative sellers and the bottom 50 percent. On average, the difference was a whopping 544 percent in effectiveness.
“If a company is going to make the shift from transactional to consultative, it needs to do that in a data-driven way, so the gaps can be recognized,” he said. “Talent matters. More importantly, coaching talented people matters. Giving those people the right tools to be able to successfully move from (transactional to consultative) is a big deal.
“If you are going to sell consultatively, you need to have skill sets in place that are better than your competitors. You also need to be able to measure and identify each person’s current skills.”
Peduto shared specific dimensions that are part of being a consultative seller, explaining that just like there are dimensions in place for selling value and building relationships, there are also measurable dimensions for selling consultatively. They are:
■ Able to listen/ask with ease;
■ Uncover issues;
■ Asks enough questions;
■ Asks great questions;
■ Able to ask tough questions;
■ Takes nothing for granted;
■ Understands how prospects will buy;
■ Develops strong relationships, and;
■ Presenting at appropriate times.
Teaching and coaching certainly can help those salespeople who are struggling in specific areas, Peduto explained.
“When those weaknesses change for the better, skill sets change, and when skill sets change, a person’s ability to connect with people in the c-suite grows,” he said. “Most salespeople will have certain challenges when it comes to consultatively selling, but the great news is good behaviors can be learned.”
BUILDING A WORLD CLASS SALES ORGANIZATION
There are four main steps that can be taken for those organizations wanting to build a sales team that succeeds in consultative selling. Those steps are: benchmarking, training, providing consultative tools and checkpointing.
The first step is to involve the company’s salespeople, systems and processes in a benchmarking procedure during the start of a consultative selling program.
“The point of benchmarking is to figure out the skills of everyone. Who can sell value? Who can sell consultatively? Who can hunt? Who qualifies properly? What does each person’s closing skill look like?” Peduto said. “I suggest that companies perform a deep analysis to figure out the skills of their sales teams. Once that is determined, they can identify gaps and provide necessary data-driven training. Measurable gains within a sales team should follow.”
The third step is providing consultative tools to those salespeople who are the most capable of succeeding in a consultative environment.
“Don’t build consultative tools first, and then give them to untalented people. Instead, it’s best to train talent, and then give them the right tools to succeed,” Peduto said. “The final step is to come back, after you have gone through the described processes with a sales team, and measure again. Determine whether or not you have closed all the gaps, and moved your people closer to where they need to be when it comes to consultative sales. Is there anything that still needs to be fixed?”
Peduto also discussed the best way to hire future consultative sellers. He recommended a company use sales-specific tools to properly assess candidates, as opposed to providing a personality test.
“A sales-specific test will measure sales-specific attributes. That type of test is a good screening mechanism,” he said. “A personality test, however, can take a trait like ‘motivation’ and substitute that for the ability to sell. I know a lot of people who are motivated, but it isn’t to sell.”
After using a sales-specific assessment to screen candidates, the next step is identifying the strengths and weaknesses of possible new hires.
“If it shows, for example, that a sales candidate is uncomfortable talking to customers about money, which is a very common weakness, that is really going to get in their way in terms of consultative selling,” Peduto said. “If you sell consultatively, you have to dive deeply into a customer’s metrics and business. Any weakness needs to be identified and addressed.”
Peduto also recommended conducting the interview process like it’s an audition.
“When you interview, treat the candidate like a customer would treat him/her,” he said. “Treat that person like it’s the real world, and see how he/she reacts.”
Visit www.knowledgeworx.com for more information.