How Should You Structure A Discussion For Maximum Effect?

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Wednesday, 9.09pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Consultative selling is about making presentations – in person, in print, over the phone – in any other media you can think of.

You will need to try and get your point across.

More importantly, you will need to listen – and that’s something we can find hard to do.

Take the way many sales presentations are structured, for example.

You know everything about your company. So, it makes sense to you to start there. The marketing team is going to pull some stuff together about how big you are, what kind of clients you have, what awards you’ve won and whatever else you can come up with.

When you meet someone for an hour’s meeting, you’ll typically have an agenda that starts with introductions. Then you have a little presentation, where you go through the stuff about you. Then you give the other side a chance to talk a little about them.

By this time, forty minutes out of your allotted 60 minutes and you’re really nowhere. Perhaps you can feel good that you took the time to listen to them and get your message across.

In my experience, however, the other side spent the first bit simply staring at you glassy eyed and wondering whether they turned the lights off at home and the emails they forgot to send and just have to get round to before lunch.

During their bit of the session, they ran through a vague history of where they are and threw out some bits that they thought might fit with what you do.

The chances are, however, anything they talk about they already know how to do. That’s why they have enough to talk about. If they don’t know how to do it, then they’ll probably say that instead.

All that bland, corporate stuff is simply what John McPhee calls throat clearing. It’s all the stuff that is just in the way, the debris blocking your way to the real issue.

Think for a second about the purpose of all that introductory stuff you went through. The reason for putting it in there was to show you are good – to credentialize you.

But… the prospect hasn’t thought of buying from you at this point. They don’t know if you can help them in the first place. Why would they think about engaging you?

The thing to realise is that the point at which people check you out is after they come up with the idea that they need what you might be selling in the first place.

Think of the way you go about your life. Do you spend your time checking the history of all the things around you? Or do you first make a decision that you need something – a new car, toothpaste, a holiday – and then start looking into it in more detail?

The point about consultative sales is that it usually involves a problem that needs solving. The special thing about this problem is that it’s something the client can’t do themselves – either they don’t have the skills or know what needs to be done but don’t have the resources.

You’re either providing knowledge – the experience to help fix things – or a pair of hands to help out.

So, in your 60 minutes with your prospect, what you’ve got to do is spend as much time as possible on the issue. Get started there as soon as possible.

For many “trained” salespeople this can sound like heresy. What about all the rapport building you should be doing? Shouldn’t you be looking around the prospect’s office and trying to work out what hobbies they have? What teams they support?

Shouldn’t you be trying to become their friend at the start?

I think the answer is no. Perhaps it is in some cases – if you’re the kind of person that has the ability to have people give you business because they’re your friend.

In those cases, I’d suggest that the friend really has a conflict of interest. They shouldn’t be having that discussion with you at all. And you shouldn’t be having it with them. You just can’t provide honest, objective advice if things get that personal.

The way you become friends, in my view, is if you work together over time and build a relationship of trust based on delivering on your promises. That’s a more solid foundation for a long-term relationship.

Anyway… I digress.

The point is that you must get to the point. Quickly.

The most successful sales presentations I’ve seen are where the client has a problem and asks you to talk to them about it. You can leave all the guff about introductions and credentialization for later. At that point, you have them interested.

All you need to do is start talking about the issue. The problem. What their situation is, the shape and size and scope of the problem they’re facing, what it means for them and what approach you’ll take to solve it.

If your discussion is about a specific issue, in that form, then the follow on takes care of itself. Your proposal will simply put down in writing what you said you’ll do. You’ll get to a place where you have one discussion which leads to one proposal which leads to one sale.

As I write this, I’m thinking about a tender I’m working on. I’m trying to explain a technical approach to trading – I harp on about the history of this approach, how it has worked, how clever it is. Then I write about how I’m approaching the prospect’s situation and how we would advise them.

Tomorrow, I’m going to turn it around. I’m going to write first about them and what I’m suggesting they should do. Then, I’ll go back to why I’m saying that, why we developed our approach and why it works.

Then, I know that in the first few paragraphs I’ll be talking about their problem and getting across the main message – which is what I’ll do for them – and leaving the rest of it for them to absorb later.

In newspaper speak – what I’ve done in my current draft is bury the lead.

Instead, what you and I need to do to get the discussion going with maximum effect is to get to the point.

In the first paragraph.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

As a reminder, this is the seventh post in a series that I’m planning on eventually collecting into a book on Consultative Selling. If you are reading this and are interested in this topic, please let me have any feedback, good or bad, so I can make this as useful and easy to read for you as possible.

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