In most cases, much of the transformation from transactional to consultative selling is about making the leap from “telling” to “asking.” It’s also about shifting away from an emotional and technique-based appeal to an approach that is more logical, honest and direct. And for some, making the leap from advocacy (telling) to inquiry (asking) is a difficult one.
After spending years coaching hundreds of sales professionals and leaders, I’m convinced that it’s easier to train non-sales people (i.e., consultants, product specialists, engineers, etc.) to become excellent consultative sellers than it is to re-train seasoned sales professionals who have been exposed to one or more technique-based sales methodologies. By technique-based methodologies, I mean those that focus on cornering the prospective client using slick objection-handling routines, abrupt qualification tactics, value reengineering schemes, frequent escalation maneuvers and relentless negotiation ploys.
On the flip side, I’ve also experienced the soft underbelly of inquiry-based sales methods. Often, there is a honeymoon period where transactional sellers are introduced to precision questioning. They decide to replace their pitches, presentations and demos long enough to ask some structured questions in a specific order to gain insight on the customer’s situation. This affords the seller a brief hiatus to enjoy the amnesty of being the one asking all the questions. They have pleasant conversations with prospective clients – and are offered the opportunity to set up future pleasant conversations. All these conversations feel good and make for one hell of a trip report.
But there will come a time when the customer will want the payoff for enduring your battery of well-formed and thoughtful questions. So, do you have an equally effective structure for transitioning to how your product or service (your solution) will help them when it’s your turn to do the talking and/or presenting?
I’ve developed an approach I call SO WHAT?™ that can provide an effective transition and structure when you’ve exhausted all your questions and it’s time to convey your solution in the context of the customers top priority issues (pains or gains). This can be executed verbally, using a whiteboard, aided by carefully selected slides or visual aids. In fact, this structure can also be used as the basis for a telephone or email script that can complement your selling efforts. Here’s how it works:
Summarize the Situation: Effectively summarize the conversation with emphasis on the customer’s situation and top priorities – and validate your understanding.
Offer Options: Offer possible ways the customer might solve their problem. Include DIY and competitive choices in addition to your own. These options can be widely classified in the following way:
- Do nothing at all: Remember that doing nothing is a valid choice (nobody wins).
- Do what they’ve been doing: Approaching the problem with suboptimal solutions, quick fixes, incumbent vendors, industry standards, etc. (the same somebody wins).
- Do something different: Narrows the field between your firm and other select competitors (you may win).
- Do something transformational: Redefine and align with a new way of approaching the problem that challenges convention, causes constructive disruption with an acceptable ratio of risk/reward (you will win).
What Makes Us Different: Based on what you know, which option might make the most sense for the client given your firm’s experience with similar customer situations? This is a step where you’d want to gain alignment on the attributes of the solution (and/or key themes & trends you’re seeing across the industry) to see if it parallels their beliefs and criteria (or NOT!).
Highlight Expected Benefits: Be prepared to support your recommendation using customer testimonials, case studies, whitepapers and industry benchmarks that represent the real potential.
Assert Potential Impact: If other customers can achieve this, it would stand to reason that your prospective client might experience equivalent benefits. Point to impact areas that would suggest the client’s stated goals for the solution would be met or exceeded.
Take Next Steps: Given the potential impact, does it make sense to continue to mutually explore the proposed solution or not?
Each step in SO WHAT? offers the customer an implied choice to proceed or not (go or no go). It focuses the seller’s energies on alignment vs. convincing and brings about a quality discussion. This discussion is framed by a logical path to help a customer decide if there is enough value to warrant additional discovery.
I think you’ll be surprised by the results you’ll achieve as a result. I would like to hear about your experiences using the SO WHAT? framework to help convey the value of your solution in the context of your customer’s top priority projects.
Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments and suggestions and/or if you’re interested in discussing creative ways to put the SO WHAT? method to work to boost your individual or team’s sales mojo.