You might have found sales success using a positioning statement about your company and your offerings. You may have found success by overcoming a corporate decision-maker’s objection. Even so, following the well-worn path of the traditional sales approach and its linear B2B sales process was designed ages ago for a different business environment. That time has long passed.
The new environment is one of accelerating, constant, disruptive change, and it creates uncertainty. Corporate decision makers find it more difficult to make decisions that will improve their results. Because your potential customers are uncertain about how to approach a decision, sales reps practicing consultative selling use the sales conversation to create the certainty buyers need to change and improve their outcomes. Without certitude, your prospective clients will stick with the status quo and their pain points will continue to create problems.
The consultative selling approach provides decision-makers and their stakeholders with the education, counsel, advice, and recommendations that can create greater confidence.
Understanding the Role of Certainty in B2B Sales
Imagine that you are a decision maker charged to improve some important result. Your leadership team has made you the CEO of the process, and they expect you to make the changes that will successfully deliver the results the company needs. A poor decision on what to buy and who to partner with on this critical initiative will bring negative consequences, personal and professional.
Your first risk is that you sign a contract, and the company you choose fails to deliver the results you need. Instead, your supplier made things worse. Everyone is aware of your mistake and what it costs the company.
The second risk is that getting this initiative wrong will cause you to lose status inside your company, including losing senior leadership’s confidence. Until now, they have been supportive of you, but a bad decision can change that. The politics of business can be as harsh and competitive as real politics.
We talk a lot about empathy in business and sales, but unless you can put yourself in your client's shoes, you may not recognize why B2B buyers are uncertain and why a sales pitch doesn't move them to act.
A consultative selling process will improve the relationship between the buyer and seller by addressing uncertainty. Part of this happens by addressing the obstacles that stand in the way of absolute certainty. When we talk about the sales experience, some part of that enables these conversations.
The Principles of Consultative Selling
Because you have greater knowledge and experience, your clients benefit by acquiring what they need to understand the root causes of their current challenges and how best to change. You benefit from this conversation by acquiring the information you need to help the client improve their results.
Much of the back and forth of your sales conversation occurs as the client asks questions to learn what they need to know to be certain. In the same conversation, you are asking open-ended questions that help you capture the information you need to help the client with their initiative.
Your conversation needs to create trust and help to build the relationship with your prospective client. If you don't address the potential problems of executing, you will create an open loop of uncertainty.
Strategies for Providing Certainty through Consultative Selling
The benefit of a consultative, modern sales approach is that your experience as a salesperson provides you with a deep understanding of the buyer's challenges and their needs. Sometimes you must conduct additional research to learn about your client’s company and their industry. The most important thing to know going into the conversation is why the client has a problem. Communicating this clearly and effectively creates certainty.
When you ask questions you should already know the answers to, you create uncertainty. You wouldn't want a consultant who knew less about your problems than you do.
One of the most important and transformational changes in modern sales is that we now recognize that clients have fewer objections and greater concerns. You create certainty when you address their real concerns. You create another open loop when you try to overcome objections.
One way to help your client act with confidence is to share the proof that your approach produces the results. One way to create trust and certainty is to share how things go wrong and how to guard against them. Explaining what you and your company have learned to prevent your clients from failing can create more certainty.
In my time selling, I would often find myself with the stakeholders who I would need to take care of after their company signed a contract. Most of their questions were based on the scenarios that would cause them to fail, and me with them. Explaining what we would do assuaged their concerns.
The Impact of Certainty on B2B Buyers
The more your sales conversation creates certainty, the greater your chances of winning their business and helping them with the results they need. Your role is to reduce your contact's and their company's risk. You can only succeed if your client and their company succeeds.
One way I have created certainty is by addressing the changes the company will need to make to ensure they succeed. Instead of relying on my offerings alone to create certainty, I asked my clients to change how they do things. Not addressing these changes often ends in your client’s failure.
Overcoming Challenges in Providing Certainty
The challenge of providing certainty starts with a discussion of the external environment. Recognizing what's going on beyond the walls of the client’s business, and briefing them on the impact, can help you make sense of uncertainty in the environment and how you have helped others tame it.
You create greater certainty when you lead your contacts using a consultative selling approach that educates them about the decisions they need to make and what they need to have certainty.
The Certainty Sequence and Consultative Sales
The certainty sequence starts with an explanation of the certainty of negative consequences if clients stick with the status quo. Then, you describe the changes that can provide certainty of positive outcomes. Your first outcome is the creation of a trusting relationship that supports a sales conversation where certainty can develop.
If you are not leading your client using consultative techniques, you will need to adopt a modern sales approach, see Elite Sales Strategies: A Guide to being One-Up, Creating Value, and Becoming Truly Consultative.
The art of providing certainty is a careful combination of consultative selling skills, industry knowledge, and a commitment to understanding the buyer's needs. If you need to master this strategy, go here.