Occasionally, someone asks me about transactional selling strategies. Most of the time, they are suggesting that I have not ever practiced transactional selling. So, before we begin our conversation about transactional sales, let me establish my bona fides.
When I was thirteen, I delivered The Columbus Dispatch. The more papers you delivered, the more money you made. I walked the three apartment complexes and knocked on every door that didn't take the paper. The process was completely transactional, as all I did was asked if they wanted the Sunday newspaper. I delivered hundreds of newspapers every Sunday.
Later, when I was seventeen, I worked at a small boutique clothing store, I would ask the women that shopped there to purchase accessories when they were checking out. Because I asked, I had the highest sales.
A few years ago, I went to a college football game with a friend. He had a bunch of tickets, and he asked me if I could sell them. Standing in front of the stadium, I held up the tickets and yelled, "tickets." I sold all the tickets at double the price printed on the tickets.
What Is Transactional Selling
A transactional sale is one where the buyer has enough information to make a decision without having to have a lot of conversations with a salesperson, as there isn't a great downside for making a poor choice. There are exceptions to this definition, as some companies buy large quantities of something that is strategic, but because they buy it frequently enough that little conversation is necessary outside of the number of items and pricing.
Transactional selling is different than consultative selling, where the salesperson has to have a lot of conversations to help the client make the best decision for their company and the results they need. Many B2B salespeople who sell using a consultative strategy believe that transactional is easier, even though it is sometimes more difficult, especially where the sales organization is competing against a large number of competitors who sell the same product or service. In transactional selling, price is often a larger factor in the client's decision.
B2B Sales and the Value of Transactional Selling
There are all kinds of B2B sales organizations that sell using a transactional approach. A company that sells some consumable product or equipment does well by calling their clients to ask them to buy more of what they sell, knowing that their customers are going to need it in the future. There are other sales organizations that use a consultative approach to acquiring the customer, pivoting to a transactional selling model after the client signs a contract.
To increase their sales volume, B2B sales organizations with products and services that can be sold using a transactional strategy do well to make calls to their clients, make them an offer, and ask for an order. The directness of this approach can make it difficult for consultative salespeople who believe they need to create enough value to make the ask.
When Transactional Selling Goes Wrong
There is a reason to understand the difference between a transactional approach and a consultative approach in a B2B sale. Because the transactional approach is one where there is little need to educate the buyer and help them avoid risks that might harm their results, this approach doesn't work well when the client needs a different sales conversation, one that educates them on the decision they are considering.
A buyer or decision-maker needs to make a decision they are rarely required to make, especially one that is strategic enough that getting it wrong would harm their results. A transactional selling strategy is one that is certain to cause the salesperson to lose the opportunity. This is often true even when what the salesperson is selling would work perfectly for their prospective client.
When Buyers Demand a Transactional Approach
Sometimes a company will pursue a buying process that requires the sales organization to use a transactional approach when a consultative approach would serve them better. You will recognize this poor decision if you work in an industry where you can create massive value for your clients in the sales conversation.
A Request for Proposal is designed to force the sales organization to pretend that what they sell is a commodity. Every participant is asked to complete a questionnaire, even though there is a trend toward asking the sales organization to agree to several prompts. One would be right to believe that it is more difficult to be consultative on paper, but when the RFP is a list of checkboxes, you can be certain the buyer wants you to believe you are a commodity.
Many buyers that send these RFPs believe that taking the lowest price means they are doing right by their company, even though most would do better to spend time with more salespeople and deciding who they want to work with and what company is the best fit for a long-term relationship, something that requires time and conversations.
Both Approaches Work
It's important for sales leaders to recognize which approach is better for their clients or customers. One of the mistakes sales organizations sometimes make is not transacting when that is what their client needs. The value of transactional selling is, in part, about making it easy for your customers to buy from you. When you believe the client needs a consultative approach, you can lose deals.
The opposite is also true. When your client needs a consultative conversation, you are certain to lose by not providing the conversation your client needs.