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The Basics of UK sales training

consultative selling, 'needs-creation' selling, and 'SPIN Selling- sales training (uk)

Consultative selling involves deeper questioning of the prospect, about organizational and operational issues that can extend beyond the product itself. This leads to greater understanding of the prospect's needs and the questioning process itself also results in a greater trust, rapport, and empathy between sales-person and buyer.

The process has been practiced instinctively in good sales people and organizations for many years, particularly since the 1970's, especially for concept selling or service solutions selling, as buyers began to learn as much about the sales process and techniques as the sales people themselves. In the 1970's and 1980's various proprietor frameworks and models were established, and many of these remain in use today. The 'needs-creation' selling approach is example of consultative selling. It's more involving (of the client) than the essentially one-way prescriptive Seven Steps method, but it is still largely centered on what the supplier wants, rather than helping the buyer.

In 'needs-creation' selling, the sales-person seeks to identify and then 'enlarge' a particular need, problem, challenge or issue that a potential customer faces. The consultative aspect exists hopefully in the sales-person's ability, experience and expertise, to 'consult' with the buyer in developing a solution, which of course entails the supplier organisations provision of product and/or service.

The process is rather like the process employed by professional consultants in all sorts of 'professional' and 'technical' disciplines (for example, engineering, health and safety, law, finance, IT, etc):

1. Research the prospective customer organisations to confirm suitable prospect profile (subject to the supplier's prospect qualification criteria), and competitor threats, opportunities, contract review dates, past dealings, etc.

2. Establish rapport and seller's professional credentials with the client (typically by referencing case-histories and case-studies for successful solutions provided in similar markets and applications that are similar to those of the prospective client).

3 Ask 'strategic' open questions to identify, explore and develop areas of potential problems, difficulties, aims, challenges and unresolved issues within the prospect organisations Normally identify and agree on a single primary issue (which represents both a major concern for the buyer, and a relevant area of product and/or service opportunity for the seller.) This could be a 'distress' or emergency pressure, priority, or threat, for example an issue which the prospect is involved in 'fire-fighting' to resolve currently, such as legislative compliance; or a strategic development opportunity for market or business development, to which significant potential profit, cost-savings and/or competitive advantage are attached.

4. Interpret, clarify, extend and quantify in financial and strategic terms the knock-on effects of the primary area of opportunity or threat. That is to say, what are all the negative effects and costs of failing to resolve the threat or pressure?, or what are all the positive effects and revenues/profits that will be derived from achieving the identified strategic opportunity? The sales person is effectively doing three things here:

a) Increasing the size and cost/value of the issue heightens the issue's priority and importance, and thus increases the buyer's feeling that action must be taken - it gets the issue higher up the buyer's agenda and closer to the front of his/her project schedule.

b) Increasing the size and complexity of the issue increases the need and opportunity for consultative advice - the buyer increases his/her perception that outside expertise (from the seller) is required.

b) Increasing the costs or values associated with the issue naturally increases the buyer's tolerance and expectations for the cost of the supplier's proposed product/service solution - the higher the cost or value of the challenge, then the higher the cost of the solution.

5. Sell the principle of the seller's solution (necessarily in outline for large prospects - small, simple situations often require specific solutions proposals at this stage), matching the benefits of the solution to the various aspects of the prospect need or strategic opportunity. For larger prospects it is commonly necessary to agree to proceed with a survey or assessment prior to producing a fully detailed proposal. A large complex proposal would typically need to be presented by the sales-person, or a team from the seller's organisations, to a board or decision-making team within the prospect organisations

The final point referring to a buying organisations' decision-making team provides a clue as to the weaknesses of these traditional supplier-orientated selling methods. Decision-making within organisations, particularly large ones, is a highly complex process. Often the organisations, and certainly the buyer, does not understand it, let alone be able or willing to explain it to a salesman.

Buyers rarely explain everything to a sales-person during a consultative meeting, however good the sales-person is. This is not a criticism of buyers - simply an acknowledgement of the extremely complex nature of organisational decision-making. As such, consultative selling and 'needs-creation' selling, howsoever packaged, don't always provide a reliable selling framework for the modern age.

Buyers and customer organisations often need more help, especially in the early stages of the sales process.

They need help with their own processes of evaluation and assessment, decision-making, communications, and implementation, which traditional 'consultative selling' alone is unable to address in a true and meaningful sense. For this reason, if a salesperson seek to become a truly expert and effective sales person modern selling and business, I would urge a salesperson to look beyond the traditional methodologies, to the modern philosophy and concepts contained in collaborative and facilitative selling.


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