Tag Archives: consultative selling

In selling, sometimes the best thing to say is nothing . . . just listen, then work from what you hear

Sales tip: silence is one of the essential communication skills . . . and a powerful selling skill, as well.

When you're in the 1-1 selling face-to-face mode, non-verbals can be just as significant—and telling–as words.

Think of the questions you ask in a sales call as seeds. It's crucial to give the questions time to grow, and the power of silence gives that time. After you ask, be silent, even if it means letting the silence hang in the air. That gives the prospect time to think and respond.

Ask a question, then let it "grow" in the silence and listen closely to the response. In some cases, you'll need to rephrase the question so it's clearer, or to focus the Decision Maker's response so it's more on target.

But those are exceptions. As a rule, once you've asked the question, bite your tongue and let the prospect talk. Listening well is at least as important a communication skill as speaking confidently.

There are other good reasons to ask fewer questions and allow more silence: constant interruptions to ask new questions may irritate the prospect.

Besides, if you let the prospect go at her own pace, and in the general direction she thinks best, you may find other potential needs opening up in ways that you wouldn't have anticipated.

Above all, don't be so busy asking questions (and thinking of what your next questions will be) that you neglect to listen to the answers you do get.  That's another benefit of the power of silence: silence gives you time not just to listen, but also time to think ahead.

Somebody let the Apple out of the bag!

Apple was founded by a Genius, Steve Jobs, and now has emerged the secrets of how Apple trains employees to serve as geniuses (small g, as opposed to capital G for the late Genius-in-chief.)

Now it seems that Apple's sales training manual has emerged. It makes for interesting Ah-ha! moments if you've ever been to an Apple shop:  you'll be rehearing your conversations with the sales folks there.

But, from the perspective of your humble blogger, who has written a good many sales training and interpersonal skills books and courses, it is (a) well done, and (b) not all that unique in content, though (c) the presentation of the ideas and skills seems well done (from the little you can see in the leaked excerpts.)

The core article is in Gizmodo article: Apple's Secret Employee Training Manual.  I've seen parts of picked up by both Slate and the Washington Post.

But Sam Biddle in Gizmodo is most detailed.  I won't repeat, only this: "Selling is a science, summed up by five cute letters. (A)pproach. (P)robe. (P)resent. (L)isten. (F)ind."  Not all that different than my concept of the Selling Wedge (in  my book, SELLING 101, and others; pardon the shameless plug!)  The basic concept sounds to my ear an adaptation of Consultative Selling, also covered in SELLING 101 and a good many other sales training books and programs.  (Not that Apple uses the term consultative selling . . . at least not in the parts I've managed to see. But it's there, of that you can be sure.)

The Apple books also gets into nonverbals: things to do and avoid with prospects, as well as how to read what the prospect is "telling" you nonverbally. (Just in case you've missed good stuff on nonverbals, you might check out my little book, SALES PRESENTATIONS & DEMONSTRATIONS

But to have the APPLE acronym to work with! That made memory easy.

And, oh yes,  Apple has good products!  That makes it even easier.


NYTimes article cites the four key questions that the incoming CEO of IBM used to help set direction

The New York Times  this past weekend ran an article on Sam Palmisano, who is retiring after about a decade as CEO of IBM. Particularly interesting to me were the four questions he devised as a tool to help get key people thinking in productive new ways.

 "The four questions, he explains, were a way to focus thinking and prod the company beyond its comfort zone and to make I.B.M. pre-eminent again. He presented the four-question framework to the company’s top 300 managers at a meeting in early 2003 in Boca Raton, Fla."

Those questions:

 • “Why would someone spend their money with you — so what is unique about you?”

• “Why would somebody work for you?”

• “Why would society allow you to operate in their defined geography — their country?”

• “And why would somebody invest their money with you?”

 Seems to me those questions — especially the first — are equally useful for business ventures a lot smaller than IBM, including those of us who are setting up new businesses or consulting ventures, reinventing careers, or taking a fresh look at whether we're as effective as we could be. 

Further, a savvy sales person could incorporate them into a consultative selling approach, adapting these questions into a form to be asked of potential prospects … thereby establishing the need for your product or service.

NYTimes article on Sam Palmisano's four key questions

Your elevator pitch— how-to from two sources

The "Elevator Pitch," or "Elevator Speech," is not just a key tool in your selling activities, it's a must-have. Even if you never ride an elevator, you still need to be able to "net-out" who you are and what you or your product/service can do for prospects in a concise, intriguing way.

In this post, I'll be doing two things: First, citing an article bearing the Imprimatur of the Wall Street Journal on the need for a good elevator pitch. 

Second, I'll be including an excerpt from one of my own sales books on how to develop an effective, to-the-point elevator speech. 

(Actually, I don't really like either term, but they'll do until we come up with better.  "Pitch" implies a hard-sell pitch right there, whereas it should be more of a brief, intriguing answer to an implied question,"Who are you and what can you do to brighten my life?"  While"speech" implies standing and talking at the helpless, trapped subject. Beware.)

First, the article:  "Why you need an elevator pitch" — an article by Sarah Needleman a  couple of weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal blog section, "The Juggle"

 Go to article "Why you need an elevator pitch"

Bonus tip: be sure to read the comments, particularly one by Ruth Schimel, who raises an alternate approach: using that "elevator" time to ask questions that give you a better sense of who that person is, and what they may need that you can offer.  In a sense, this is a kind of precursor to a Consultative Selling approach.

Full disclosure: Ruth Schimel is a career consultant in, I believe, the Washington DC area,. If it's the same Ruth Schimel, we worked together for about five years: she as the very savvy contract coordinater for the US State Department on a series of management workshops I developed and presented. I'll be checking that out shortly.

Second, here's the excerpt from my book, How to  SELL FACE-TO-FACE: SURVIVAL GUIDE . . .  

which (thanks for asking!) you can order from Amazon in either the paper version or Kindle e-book.     Order via Amazon How to Sell Face-to-Face: Survival Guide

Here's that excerpt:

6.    In 30 seconds or less, how will I sum up the essence of what kind of needs my product or service fills?  In other words, who does it help, and how does it help?

    In sales jargon, this is The Elevator Pitch.  It’s the short, smart, pithy, intriguing response you’d make if  you’re riding the elevator at a convention, or standing around before a Movers and Shakers Luncheon,  and somebody asks what you do.

    But short, smart, pithy, intriguing responses don’t just happen: you need to invest time in advance thinking through and rehearsing so the words come out just right.

    The key is to focus on what your product (or service) does for customers— that is, what needs it fills—rather than on what it is.  Example:  suppose you’re asked that question of what you do.  Which of these responses do you find more powerful and compelling?

❏        “I design web-pages to meet the new HIWE standard.”

❏    “As a consultant, I help clients improve their internet marketing reach using new technologies just becoming available.”
    It may take time, and several early drafts, before you have the perfect  Elevator Speech,  so begin thinking about it early.  But don’t lock it into concrete too early.  Be open to what the marketplace tells you as you are making your early sales calls.

    You want to keep your options open so you can adapt to what opportunities open up,  yet you do need to be able to speak of one or a few areas in which your experience is relevant as a way of setting the context of what you are capable of.

    For example, you could say,
    “My experience has been in the general field of _____, and I'm adapting that expertise to  problem-solving  in related fields.”

    Or you could respond,
    “I'm basically a problem solver, working in the general area of _____.”

    If possible, immediately back up these general statements with a capsule summary of one or two relevant accomplishments: 
    “For a large manufacturing company, we  _____.  We anticipate offering those kinds of services to smaller firms in this area.”

Consultative selling at Staples

I needed a new laptop recently and did the usual rounds of stores. I ended up buying a HP from Staples, along with various accessories, and here's why: the sales rep asked good questions that broadened my thinking and gave me confidence that he knew his stuff, and that he was thinking ahead not just to making this sale but to winning my loyalty as a long-term customer.

I'd been around all the shops, and had in my mind settled on one at Sam's, costing around $1000.  On the way to Sam's, I stopped at Staples for one final look, hoping they'd have finally gotten in some new Toshibas (my long-time laptop of choice).  No luck on that front, but luck was with me as Evan stopped by to "answer any questions" as I was looking at one of the units.

Interestingly, instead of going for the sure thing and telling me the unit I was looking at was the usual "great choice," he began asking questions. (Whether the questions were Evans' own, or the result of Staples training I have no idea. But they were good.)

His first questions related to how familiar I was with computers in general. I passed on that score, so then he asked what I'd be using it for.  Since I don't play online games, he said, then I didn't need one with an I-5 chip.

In short, his questions expanded my thinking. (I was upgrading from Windows XP to 7 and didn't know what I was getting into, and  his questions guided me by bringing out the diffferences as they related to my actual work.)

He asked about my printers and my security software — a good way, of course, of expanding the potential sale, but prudent concerns all the same.  My printers were fine, but my old security wouldn't jibe with Win7, so there was another sale.

All in all, his questions, drawn from his obvious expertise,  built my confidence and trust in his various recommendations.  That confidence made me more open to his further questions, and so on.

I wish I'd taken notes of the questions he used. Suffice to say, they went much beyond the kind of questions we more often run into, the questions that only sow distrust: "How much did you expect to pay?"  and "Will you be paying by paper or plastic?"

As you know, in my books I focus on consultative selling and the use of the selling wedge, mostly in the context of making sales calls. on prospects  My point here is that consultative sales questions can be equally useful when the prospect comes to you. Both involve selling face to face, just in diffferent contexts.


Consultative sales skills: How to set the context before asking questions

Consultative selling, bear in mind, is selling by asking the questions that prompt the prospect to recognize needs for what you offer.

Another key point to bear in mind:  In using a consultative sales approach, ask questions, but shape the

Continue reading Consultative sales skills: How to set the context before asking questions

Handling “easy” objections and questions

Some questions and objections are so easy that you can safely respond to them
quickly and directly, and move on.

For our meaning here, that kind of "easy" question or objection is in an area
in which your product or service is strong, or that raise issues that you can
handle quickly without raising secondary concerns.

For example, if the objection relates to a misunderstanding on price that you
can set right by pointing to a catalog, do that and move on:

"The answer is yes, we do guarantee our installations for three years, the
longest in the industry, according to this survey in Industry Times which I'll
leave with you. Now, moving on to the issue of . . ."

But if the objection or question is more complex, then use the Four-Step process for responding to objections. Go to that Four-Step Process for handling objections and questions

Responding to more difficult objections and questions

Responding to an "easy" sales objection or  question? Then handle it directly, get it out of the way quickly, and move on. See the section on handling easy questions and objections. 

When you encounter more difficult objections and questions, it's best to work systematically through this Four-Step Process:

Continue reading Responding to more difficult objections and questions

Consultative selling: selling by asking the questions that reveal the prospect’s need for what you offer

What is consultative selling? Basically, it's the sales approach you're introduced to in this website/blog, and our books.

Consultative selling, is marked by three factors:

Continue reading Consultative selling: selling by asking the questions that reveal the prospect’s need for what you offer