Sales Management | Sales Techniques

Authentic Consultative Selling – Beware The Selling Virus

consultative selling virus

Authentic And The Rest

There are two types of sales people  – authentic & the rest.  If you’re part of the rest you could be incubating an obstructive selling virus!  The virus makes it harder to close, increases objections, adds long periods to the sales cycle, puts focus on price and makes the process of differentiating products and services much harder.

A Virus Spawned During The Shopping Paradox

The selling virus is not new but it has become more apparent with the subtle changes in our approach to buying things, which I call the shopping paradox.  On one hand consumers and professional buyers are more accepting of the plethora of creative, sometimes bizarre and often brash attempts to extract cash from their wallets.  Yet they have evolved more delicate authenticity senses.  These senses quietly demand more from the “shopping experience”.   Any inkling of “not quite right” for the buyer can stall or block a sale.  The buyers “not quite right whisperings” have less to do with the product or service than they do with the selling approach.  These niggling buyer worries are stimulated and inflamed by a suite of unhelpful seller behaviours which I call the selling virus.  It’s a virus which directly impinges on the buyer’s evolved authenticity senses.  In simplest terms, some sellers may be responsible for a viral assault on the buyer’s sense of  “heart”.

What Exactly Is the Selling Virus?

The selling virus is essentially an “authenticity disconnect” and it is caused by the content of the selling conversation and the style of the sales person.  I call it a virus because it is understated, easy for sales people to catch, it incubates and replicates quickly and it cuts into the selling experience like a scythe, punching well above its size. Fortunately the causes of the viral symptoms are usually observable and predictable.  For example, do the sellers words match with their non-verbal cues, what is the conversational nuance really saying, does the seller know how to see the “heart” of the buyer and appropriately reciprocate by showing his or her “heart”, does the buyer feel  his or her needs are uncovered and central to the experience? These are not romance themes, they are human themes.  Such intangibles can be confusing for some sales people and even derided by those who sell for a job rather than vocation.  Also it’s not everyone’s cup of tea to venture into the land of esoteric human experience. However as products are copied, substituted and discounted and as markets are commoditised, the only hope for most businesses is to become better at one to one selling and more skilled at understanding the interpersonal processes which drive it!  No matter how much technology we bolt on to a business solution, selling it will always be a deeply human experience and the soft skills warriors will emerge as the selling champions.  These soft skills athletes, those with the self knowledge, courage and the skills to demonstrate authenticity and those who know how to create an environment in which it is safe for the buyer to also be authentic, will  become more valuable and more sought after by selling organisations.  Those who do not learn these skills will carry around, sometimes unknowingly, a counterproductive selling virus which will strike at the heart of the buyer’s authenticity senses and continue to frustrate the selling experience.

Why Has The Selling Virus Appeared

One of our deepest desires as humans is to be authentic, but we live in a world which is awash with pantomime, clichés and pressure to conform; and popular media has considerably skewed our reality.  Moreover our desire to fit in to this skewed reality can cause us to compromise our values, or tolerate behaviour and circumstance which we don’t really feel comfortable about.  For a lot of intelligent people, compromise and conform, can seem like the only options as social media turns shared language and experience into shallow representations of the real thing.  Shift this into the workplace or the sales encounter, perhaps on the back of an incongruent or inauthentic marketing campaign, and it’s not surprising that both buyers and sellers can drift across a spectrum of behaviour and language which is at best polite and too often not particularly meaningfully.  While both parties escape the encounter unscathed, for the sales professional anything which is simply tolerated becomes poison to a brilliant outcome.  Such encounters either increase the time it takes to make the sale or increase the failure rate and certainly lead to more objections along the way.

What Does A Virus Free Sales Encounter Feel Like?

In any business the human side of a successful sale can be measured by something as simple as gratitude.  It’s not surprising that the experience of gratitude is formalised in some countries with the payment of a gratuity.  Simply put, in a successful sale buyers feel grateful.  They are grateful they have found what they were looking for.  They are grateful they now have a good solution to the problem they were trying to deal with.  They are grateful they have met a helpful and knowledgeable sales person.  Meanwhile the sales person feels that he or she has justified his or her wages and added a meaningful profit to the company ledger and is gratefully and maybe even inspired by the customer encounter.  Neither party feels overly compromised and both would happily do business again.  We call this a genuine encounter or a real win win.  So it should come as no surprise when I suggest that the moments that matter in an optimal one to one selling experience have their roots in authenticity and could probably be measured using a gratitude scale.   Put another way, no matter how complex the product or service, or how big or involved the problem or need, and no matter how large the price tag, the sales experience fundamentally needs to be an extension of what it really means to be human.  As sellers, when we drift away from this, we allow the selling virus to emerge and we start setting off authenticity alarms for the buyer; our success rate drops and our workload increases.  Buyers walk away from such encounters unsettled and shift from a value mindset to a commodity mindset.

It’s A Critical Consideration For Complex Sales

It probably doesn’t matter if you are selling loaves of bread or cinema tickets, but authentic selling skills become very important for any business where the sales process requires multiple sales encounters.  In some industries it can take months or years before the sale happens and involve literally dozens of face, phone and email encounters.  Sales encounters are one of the most expensive and resource draining phenomena in businesses and too often accepted as par for the course.  To add insult to injury there is no second prize if you don’t get the sale even if you have climbed the buyer’s mountain.  Moreover, in an attempt to cut costs businesses will eliminate  Friday drinks and drop the fruit baskets before they turn to the savings and revenue which can come from more effective (and more authentic) selling.

Inoculating The Selling Process

So how can an ambitious sales professional become better at his or her craft, increase authenticity and avoid wrongly triggering the authenticity senses of the buyer?  Does it involve extensive reflection, meditation and long periods of solitude? Fortunately not.  It doesn’t require a sales person to change his or her basic personality but it does involve a desire to understand what he or she is motivated by and some tools to better understand the customer and uncover important customer needs.  Again, contrary to popular belief, good selling is a much more passive process than most of us experience when we are being sold to.  Great sales people are great facilitators and natural coaches, well ahead of being great orators and convincers.  They know how to listen for the unspoken, and if it’s likely to serve the sale, they know how to get the buyer to fully articulate it.  Skilled sellers make the selling encounter profoundly about the buyer rather than about the seller. Of course there is also a framework to excellent selling; a model which uncovers the deepest relevant needs of the buyer and which appropriately ties the needs of the buyer to the product or service offering.  In all, the goal is to cause the buyer to perceive maximum value and have reason to be spontaneously grateful for having known and worked with the seller.




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