Discovering Consultative Sales: B2B Selling Process Tips

In 2011 and beyond, the art of selling has gotten a lot more complicated.  The public has become conditioned to having their own ice cream flavors and stars named after them.  This can’t help but translate to the decision makers in business.  With so much emphasis on “ME”, you need to learn what the customer wants specifically by Discovering Consultative Sales, vital to the B2B Selling Process.

Picture this: you are at your best prospect’s company trying to find sales for your products and services.  You’re dressed to kill in your best suit; even the coffee stain you got this morning when gesturing to a passing motorist is camouflaged in your paisley tie.  You’re ready.  Then why are you so nervous when you begin your presentation, sensing failure with this prospect like you’ve seen so many times before?  Why don’t you believe she’ll see the value in what you’ve got to offer?  It could just be because you are forcing the B2B selling process instead of discovering sales opportunities.  There is a critical difference.

Like you, I believe I am always selling something.  I’ve rationalized that SELL is not a four-letter word in the colloquial sense. 

Let me share with you something I’ve picked up through years in the Consulting business that entices sales to bubble to the surface, to come to me, as I am conversing with a prospect.  It’s called the Discovery process; a term I first heard used in a Wilson Learning sales course called The Counselor Salesperson.  No one else in my company was paying attention to the instructor because they were forced to be there, but I was listening, knowing that I could use this Consultative Sales process in my career and maybe even subconsciously aware that one day I’d share it with you. 

The Discovery process as I use it has four basic components:  Paying Attention, Asking Questions, Documenting, and Feeding Back.

Paying Attention

Here’s a news flash for you—your prospect doesn’t give a damn about what you’re selling or your vast experience; that is, only insofar as you can solve her problem.  The first thing you need to do is find out what exactly are the issues in that person’s organization, and they may not be something that you can fix.  You find this stuff out through paying attention, noticing what is going on in the prospect’s industry and in her company.  This is critical in any B2B selling process.

Read trade journals relative to the specific industry to see what common problems all the players are facing.  See if the Wall Street Journal archives provide any information.  Maybe recent legislation or foreign competition has the company back peddling.  Maybe it’s product obsolescence (i.e. the company makes vinyl records).  Know something about her business before the initial appointment.

Now you’re on the inside, visiting the company.  Look around.  What are the people doing?  Are they smiling?  Ask for a factory tour (or even an office tour).  Chances are you’ll get it.  When you walk through the warehouse, does it look like a tornado went through the place?  Does the inventory look like it’s from 1932?  Your job is to use your eyes and your skills as a professional consultative salesperson and notice whatever seems problematic.  What did you notice in the last visit to your best prospect?

Asking Questions

Questioning the prospect does two important things:  it provides you with valuable information about the problem, adding meat to the skeleton, and even more importantly it brings the prospect into the process of Discovery.  If you see something wrong, gently ask the prospect if that issue is presenting her with headaches.  There are two types of queries you should ask:  just the facts and feeling-finding questions.

Just the facts questions look for short, simple, fact-oriented responses, often yes or no.  Usually these deal with four of the five whys—who, what, when, where, and the bonus how much? The prospect’s replies help you as a pro to determine the actual issues of concern.  Gather the important data on where the company is now with regard to sales, growth, employees, etc.

Feeling-finding questions get at something even more critical to you as a salesperson—what is important to the prospect.  Whatever the issue, you can get the prospect’s emotional reaction by asking, “How do you feel about that?”  Be careful not to continually ask what she thinks, because that might launch her into a tirade of logic, and believe it or not, that’s not what you are looking for here.  This is where you find out where the prospect wants the company to be in the future relative to its current status.

Once you determine the facts and feelings surrounding the issues you have noticed, you must address both in the discovery process in order to close future sales.

Documenting

If your thoughts have any value you must put them in writing.  Some call this the Discovery Letter; you might just term it a Call Report.  Start with a brief introduction, then segue into the first primary section stating where the company is now.  This should be a simple paraphrase of the facts you learned from the prospect.  Then go to a section of where the company wants to be.  Finally, include a few bullet points listing the challenges that the company now faces.  These challenges stem from the gaps between where they’re at and where they want to be.  Unless you’re touring God’s private company you will come up with at least three.  End with a section highlighting possible next steps the prospect may wish to take in order to address these challenges.   Prioritize them based on what is important to the prospect and by what will have the largest impact.  These next steps may or may not include your goods and services.  Your goal is to be a part of at least one of them.

Feeding Back

It’s a funny thing about people; they just love to listen to themselves.  Their ideas always seem to be the most pleasing to the ears.  You have looked and listened to what is going on with the prospect’s company, you’ve enlisted her by asking pertinent questions, and now you’ve documented your interpretation of what it all means.  It’s time to feed back that Discovery to the prospect.  Get an appointment and go over your Discovery Letter with her.  This accomplishes a couple of things.  First, it allows you to do a sanity check to make sure you’ve got the situation clear.  If not, the prospect will tell you where you have messed up and you can now correct the facts, so to speak.  Second, it shows that prospect that you care enough to get it right.  She is subtly moving toward being your customer, halfway—let’s call her a prostemer.  The best part is you haven’t even made a proposal yet!  Most importantly, you are validating this prostemer and her ideas.  Much of your Discovery came from your questions and observations, and the prostemer was a part of the whole process.  Now you are feeding back her ideas and priorities that you just helped to shed light on.  Her ideas—sweet music that will persuade her to ask you how to get started.  You’re engaging a traditional consultative selling process to build connection, something that today’s Non-Traditional Marketing via Social Media has as its cornerstone.

Here’s what you’ve done.  You have engaged the prospect in the Discovery process so that she defined the problems, and can help create the solutions to them.  You have shown a level of concern for the prospect’s well being by caring enough to get it right and not shoving a proposal in her face right from the get-go.  With the responses you get from your Discovery letter, you know exactly what ails the company and what to do about it, and so does the prostemer.  A successful prostemization will have your contact begging you for a proposal so she can sign up.

If you use this consultative sales process of Discovery to enhance your current B2B selling methods, exactly as I’ve shared it with you, I guarantee that your proposal hit-rate will double.  So what are you waiting for?  Go Discover some sales!

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2 Comments

  1. Gary January 4, 2011 at 11:28 pm #

    Great article!

    • Karl January 7, 2011 at 4:38 pm #

      Thanks Gary. I aim to please. Subscribe and check back.

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