Developing a consultative sale is like founding a startup.
You’ve got some skills, some experience, a background. But, you don’t know which problem you should solve. Which problem someone will pay you to solve.
And that’s the important point – one that is very easy to miss. It doesn’t matter what you can do. What matters is what someone is willing to pay you to do.
Steve Blank is a well-known Silicon Valley entrepreneur who has written extensively about startups. His work led to the lean startup movement, now taught in entrepreneurship courses and startup bootcamps around the world.
Blank wrote about the importance of getting the facts. “There are no facts inside the building”, he writes, “so get the hell outside”.
We know this, really. When you look around you see all kinds of people doing well in all kinds of businesses. There doesn’t really seem to be a plan where the smart people start businesses and make loads of money.
It’s a little more random than that.
Quotes capture this well, from Robert Kiyosaki’s rather brutal observation that A students work for C students and B students work for the government to the rather more scathing question of “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”.
And then you have the old adage – if you want to know what god thinks of money, just look at the people he gives it to. Or she. We don’t really know, do we?
We digress, however. Back to the issue at hand – where is the money?
The pot of gold we seek is out there. We’re trying to create businesses and projects that have value, that people want to buy. So, how do we go about doing this?
Well, if you’ve been in this position you might remember a few approaches.
Perhaps growth targets are handed down from on high. The management team then sits down and tries to work out what areas are likely to grow.
We brainstorm, perhaps come up with a number of ideas.
We winnow these down, select the ones we think are most likely to succeed and build campaigns around them.
The campaigns go live, the messages start to flow and business pours in.
Or more often, there is a tiny trickle – but nothing like the river of business we need to meet those expectations.
The problem, it turns out, is that when we sit in a room and come up with ideas, all we’re doing is coming up with conjectures and opinions and beliefs.
Those are not facts.
Facts are what you go out and find. What you discover by talking to your customers.
Blank calls this the Customer Discovery process, and it’s one that we need to get our heads around and adapt to our circumstances.
In a consultative sale, this starts with the realisation that we aren’t really trying to sell anything.
What we’re trying to do is have a conversation. We’re actually trying to listen – listen to what customers say their problems are.
That means not talking about ourselves and what we do and how good we are, but trying to understand where our customers are in their businesses, what they’re trying to do, the kind of problems they’re facing and what they’ve done to try and solve them.
Let’s take an example problem that we’re all going to have. How do you get good quality conversations with prospects?
You could go direct – beat the door down. Or you could get introduced by someone you both know.
The second option is the better one – but you’ve now got to find those people who will be able to make the introductions in a way that helps you.
There is an industry now of conferences – what seems like the fastest growing industry of all. In every sector you’ll find awards and meetups and conferences.
They exist to create customer lists and sponsorship opportunities and networking events. And we buy into the idea in large numbers – happily attending free ones and putting up with the pestering from salespeople to buy tickets or buy space or sponsor a session.
What you want is an introduction, ideally a one on one conversation with a prospect made easier by someone who knows both sides.
What the introducer wants is for you to buy into the idea that if you engage with their event, the prospects will drop out because of all the content or mailing or whatever else you do on their platform and during their sessions.
Once you realise this, you’ll start to push your money in the direction of people who can help you get what you want.
The organisers who don’t realise this will always struggle to get your business.
As Zig Ziglar said, “You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want”.
So, let’s imagine that you’re back at the start of the process – trying to get to the pot of gold.
You’re lost in a fog of opinions and ideas and beliefs. What do you need to do?
You need to find out what the customer wants – and the way to do that is to have a conversation. Not about what you’re selling, but about what they are trying to get done and the problems they’re having along the way.
Ideally, you’ll find that they have a big problem that they’ve tried to solve themselves and found the going hard. If you’re lucky, your product or idea or project has the potential to solve this and make their lives easier.
The secret then, to developing a consultative sale, is the same as developing a startup.
Leave what you think in your building. Get out, go and talk to customers and find out what they want.
Then, shape your business to help them get what they want.
That will get you a sale.
ps. As a reminder, this is the ninth 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.