The primary challenge in sales today is that the legacy approaches don't position the salesperson appropriately in the first meeting. Instead of positioning the salesperson as a business advisor with expertise in their industry, legacy approaches position them as someone who provides information about their company and their products.
The minute the salesperson starts to share information about their company and their clients, they expose themselves as needing a crutch to be relevant and credible. Despite their attempts, the salesperson cannot be relevant and credible unless they prove it in the meeting they requested from their contact.
The salesperson who relies on rapport-building often proves they are uncomfortable talking about more important and more difficult topics, like why the client should change, and the things the client is going to need to do to produce the better results they are currently failing to deliver.
The salesperson who asks their client about their problems has already revealed themselves as something less than a business advisor. Instead of asking, they should be teaching their clients why they have the problem. It's unfortunate that decision-makers and decision-shapers have little need for a salesperson and a tremendous desire for a business advisor who has the experience they lack. We call this being One-Up.
The Evolution of B2B Sales
B2B sales is moving in one direction. That direction is from transactional toward greater value creation inside the sales conversation. This is the reason so many salespeople are falling off the back of the wagon as it moves toward a more consultative approach.
Less than 50 percent of salespeople reach their quotas. You can blame this on any number of factors, all of which play some role, but there is evidence that decision-makers are often disappointed by their experiences with salespeople.
Their disappointment is well-founded, as no decision-maker finds being qualified by a salesperson to be an excellent use of their time. They also don't seem interested in a history course on your company’s history or its founder. Nor are they impressed with the salesperson sharing a large number of logos, a trophy case that is about as compelling as the participation trophies given to grade school children. (Everyone has a similar trophy case—including the prospective client's sales force.)
How to Score a Sales Call
The salesperson sitting across from their prospective client is a tiny bit nervous, as the contact they are meeting with has a C-level title. To cool their nerves a bit, they ask the contact about the pictures behind her desk and what she thought about the news of the day. The contact is polite and engages in a little small talk.
Let's use a scale of zero to ten to score the salesperson on the value they created for their client. Zero means the conversation created no value and ten is value beyond anything the contact has ever experienced in a sales conversation.
What score would you give the following example?
Having been trained and taught how to open the first meeting, the salesperson offers an agenda where they can share a little information about their company and how they help clients just like their contact, followed by some question to learn about the client.
The salesperson produces a slide deck that starts with a picture of their corporate office, one with a lot of windows and the reflection of the big city where they're located. The slides include the companies many locations, their senior leaders, and their many big-name clients, followed by a number of testimonials. The contact says nothing, but it’s difficult for the salesperson to recognize if the client is nodding in approval or simply nodding off.
On a scale from zero to ten for value creation for the contact, how valuable do you think this was for the prospective client?
With a deep belief that the most important outcome of the meeting is to get the contact to tell you their problem and how it is impacting the contact and their business, the salesperson asks the client what kind of problem they are having. The contact feels a sense of relief as she is finally getting to something that might help her improve her team's results. Her relief is fleeting, however, as the salesperson starts to explain why their solution is exactly what the client needs to get the better results she seeks.
Use the same scale to measure the value created, but any number over zero means you are not paying attention.
Becoming a Business Advisor and Consultative Salesperson
The next week, the contact meets with another salesperson. This person has no laptop or slide deck. They walk in with a legal pad, a pen, and a single business card, offering only a polite thank you for the client's time.
You might not believe this scores points, but it does because the contact doesn't feel the loss of time.
The salesperson starts the conversation by saying something like, "There are four trends we have been paying careful attention to, and we have a number of insights about the implications. I am certain you are aware of some of these, but I'd like to share what we see, and I'd be very interested to see if these are showing up in your world and how you are thinking about them."
Instead of asking the client why they are experiencing the problems and challenges that are preventing them from improving their results, they help the client understand why these problems and challenges are occurring. The consultative salesperson looks and feels like a peer, someone who can help the contact and their company with the ideas they need to improve their results.
The salesperson didn't have to ask directly about the client's problem because she has the experience necessary to know what they were before she ever walked into the contact's office. She also didn't need to ask the implications of the client's challenges because she is a professional.
The reason legacy salespeople lose to consultative salespeople is because they don't create enough value to win.
You can sell without rapport-building, without talking about your company, with no mention of your clients, without a solution or a product, and even without asking about the client's problem or pain.
You can't sell without a conversation that the client finds valuable as it pertains to helping them improve their results.