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The Gist:

  • Truly consultative salespeople shouldn’t let their conversations descend into transactional behaviors, exchanging their role as a consultant for that of a cashier.
  • Being customer-centric means prioritizing your clients outcomes, choosing to be other-oriented by advising them on what they need to buy.
  • If you want create value, or differentiate yourself from your competition, you must do so within the sales conversation. There is no reason to believe your compliance wins deals.

Disobedient salespeople—or at least non-compliant ones—don’t get enough credit. In a room with one salesperson and one prospective client, only one person has the experience and the responsibility to recommend the right set of conversations and commitments. It doesn’t matter much how old the client is, what job title or role they have, or even how they would prefer to buy. The fact that someone buys other products rarely means that they know how to buy what you sell. Because you client does not have sales experience, they are likely ignorant of the many results-crushing mistakes that cause buyers like them to regret their decisions and fail to achieve their goals.

There is a difference between how buyers want to buy and how they need to buy, including the non-negotiable conversations that some buyers would prefer to avoid altogether. Millennials, for example, allegedly prefer to buy without needing to talk to a salesperson. If that’s true, it only means that they desperately need to talk to more salespeople! If you want to sell exactly the way your buyers want to buy, you might as well stick to RFPs—a value-destroying, commodity-creating, transactional process designed to reduce the value of your solution through service-level agreements that are in direct conflict with their too-small investment.

A disobedient salesperson stops falling blocks before they become a problem

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Professional, consultative B2B salespeople can do better. They should never enable bad, wrong-headed, and thoroughly transactional behaviors simply to comply with a buyer’s requests. Doing so implies that the sales professional is an interchangeable cashier, incapable of using their business acumen and expertise to create real, compelling, differentiated value for the client. It also assumes the client knows what the hell they are doing.

The folks that sell this poppycock are fashion peddlers. Years ago, they insisted that the internet would all but exterminate salespeople by 2020. Today, they swear that your prospective clients spend most of their days researching you on the internet, never actually reaching out until they’re precisely seventy-four percent of the way through their “process.”

In the name of being customer-centric, some salespeople are all too willing to prostrate themselves in front of the client, hoping to gain a boon in exchange for their compliance and obedience. Of course, being genuinely customer-centric means helping your clients pursue a series of conversations that provide them with the information and commitments they need, so they can make the best decision for their company and their future results—even when they would rather not have those conversations. In fact, the more they would prefer to avoid a conversation, the more likely that is exactly the conversation they need.

What makes you customer-centric is the other-orientation that prioritizes your prospective clients’ outcomes. You need to believe that you should not sell a buyer what they want to buy, but rather what they need to buy. You need to believe that you have to tell your buyer what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. And, naturally, if you care at all for the prospective client, you will help them buy the way they need to buy, not the way they want to buy—unless you are lucky enough to stumble upon a prospect who is committed to a consultative process.

This dunghill of bad advice is the reason salespeople email out proposals and pricing without walking their prospective clients through the choices—and why they end up having to chase those clients across time and space. It’s also why some salespeople believe they need to be servile, hoping their contacts like them enough to give them their business.

There are many insights available as a group of salespeople in a room inspect for insights

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There as many insights available to a salesperson about how to buy as there are about why or what to buy. But there should be no argument that the goal is to help your clients work through the sales conversation, create value for them, help them answer questions that they didn’t even know to ask, and teach them about the context they’re missing for their decisions. If only compliance were necessary, there would be no need to create value in the sales conversation.

Indeed, all you really have is the sales conversation. If you want to create value or differentiate yourself, creating a preference to work with and buy from you, you must do so within the confines of the sales conversation. There is no reason to believe that compliance will win you deals, particularly when it prevents you and your client from having the necessary conversations and making the important commitments they need to generate better results.

So don’t worry about the small amount of conflict that comes from advising your clients on their process, especially when you can prevent them from making mistakes that might harm their decision and their outcomes. Sell the process. Sell the sales conversation. And sell the commitments your client needs to make. If it is your job to serve your client, then you must do what is necessary, not what you believe is easy.

Do Good Work

  • How can you prevent yourself from becoming transactional with your clients?
  • Make a list of things your buyer needs to hear, helping them buy the way they need to buy.
  • What are you going to do in order to stop being compliant and start being more consultative in the sales conversation?
Sales 2021
Post by Anthony Iannarino on March 9, 2021

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an author of four books on the modern sales approach, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. Anthony posts here daily.
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