For the last five years, I have held the fulltime sales position of Client Partner with a performance improvement origination. In this roll, I sell individual, team, and organizational solutions to mainly Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 organizations. My position as a Client Partner is a consultative sales job. I partner with clients helping them achieve better results. Consultative sales are quite different and very unique, from traditional or transactional sales. In the Consultative sales it is not about convincing the potential client that you have the product they need, or how you have the best price.
Consultative sales are about results based conversations. Key concepts to Consultative selling are relationship building, effective listening, and closing the sale. Within the role of consultative selling, one must have the ability to build relationships, demonstrate effective listening, and then close the sale in order to be successful. I have been in this role for nearly five years. The last two years have been spent in the field, meeting face to face with clients and potential clients weekly. The face to face meeting is essential to the consultative sales role, as this is where the three key concepts are demonstrated.
Prior to moving to the field, I had very limited experience in live consultative selling. My first year was really trial by error. I am confident in this first year; I lost many sells and even client relationships due to my lack of skills. However, I can recall one of the most satisfying consultative selling face to face client meetings where using all three key concepts, resulted in a large client engagement. The client was Orica they are the largest manufactures and full service explosive organization specializing in the mining and engineering fields.
I received a call from someone in Orica, the individual was technical lead, and she was looking for time management training. She did not want to spend much time with me on the phone, nor did she want me to come out and meet with her face to face, she simply wanting the course outline and pricing to be sent over to her. This is the non-optimal consultative selling situation. However, two weeks later, I heard back from her, stating she wanted to go forward with the time management training program. Again during this conversation, she limited how much information she wanted to provide.
All she communicated was this was for an engineering group of 25 employees who had challenges around working very long hours. In addition they were challenged with too many emails in the day. Although any sale is very much appreciated, this sales situation is not optimal. With consultative sales we are looking to solve business problems. If we do not fully understand the problem (diagnose) we cannot solve it (prescribe). Most often when we land sales as these, the clients do not reach the desired results, resulting in no future sales. During this work-session, I went out and sat in on the time management training.
I joined in one of the tables. I began to participate to principals outlined in this session. This allowed me to hear the group responses to the questions, hearing what the actual challenges this particular group faces. Throughout the program, I checked in with my contact and would ask however thing was going. Unfortunately, she would not have much to say. Shortly after the work session ended I received a call from my consultant who delivered the program. He communicated to me that within the group today the Vice President of Learning and Development for Orica had been a participant.
At the end of the session, the Vice President asks our delivery consultant many questions about the particular solution, and its capabilities. Due to the lack of communication from my original contact, I was never aware this executive would be attending! It was soon uncovered that there was building interest. The fact that there could be additional opportunity was great news! Two days later I called on the Vice President of Learning and Development for Orica, as soon as the conversation began, my intent was building a relationship.
I called the Vice President asking for an appointment, with the intent of hearing his feedback on the work session along with giving a high level view of who FranklinCovey is and potentially have a deeper dive in conversation if he felt it was in alignment with Orica. I did not lead the conversation with what else I could offer Orica, but really wanting to hear his thoughts. He immediately agreed to appointment. The next day I drove out to his office. In the key concept of relationship building, one of the ways to do this is with a face to face appointment.
In addition one must lead with questions that are personal, this always help to build rapport and allows me to really begin to understand the client. The second part to the questioning is to demonstrate effective listening. As soon as I arrived for the appointment, almost immediately as we shook hands I notice he had a unique metal bracelet on with multiple engravements. I asked him about the bracelet, and this began a fifteen minute conversation, he explained that he served two terms in Afghanistan with the United States Navy as an E. O. D. (Explosive Ordinance Device). The names inscribed on the bracelet are those friends who were killed.
I spend the next hour really trying to understand him personally. I asked question, after question, the conversation flowed so naturally. The conversation evolved to where I uncovered his biggest challenge in moving to the civilian world which is finding purpose. There I had begun to build his trust. The questioning and effective listening have paid off. Through effective listening I navigated the conversations from personal question, to business framed questions. I really began to question the current organizational strategies, and structure, and goals. When I demonstrated effective listening, the questions naturally flow.
The conversation did not sound interrogative, but genuine. Through this conversation, I uncovered so much more than just organizational time management needs. It allowed me to uncover the fact they are looking for a global time management solution, they needed a project management solution, an entry level managers training program, and even a solution to help them execute on their goals. Almost always when I schedule a face to face client meeting, it is always scheduled for an hour. This client appointment had gone nearly two hours and forty five minutes. The meeting thus far was spent building the relationship though effective listening.
During the late portion of the conversation I looked down at my page full of notes, it is time for me to make my recommendation. I made a series of recommendations. My first recommendation is around the time management needs, then project management, then I tie in all the global and manager needs. I held off on the execution needs for the time. At the final closure of the meeting, I make the promise to send him what we talked about and the associated pricing. He shakes my hand and communicates he has already made his decision, and he would like to start with the first phase immediately.
Because I was able to build the relationship, demonstrate effective listening, I did not have to sell him on the data. He didn’t need case studies, or industry comparisons, or how our solutions match to their competencies. He trusted me. He believed I did have the solution. He was ready to move. Had I not had the meeting with him, and was limited to the first contact within Orica; I would have never had this account produce what it has. When I initiated my face to face meeting with the potential client, I recognized almost immediately how well he responded to my personal questions.
Walking into the meeting I knew what needed to be achieved, I needed to be closing a sale. I was aware of the key concepts behind a consultative sales role, but was unsure how I would achieve this. Opening the conversation with a personal question relating to his bracelet he was wearing, immediately set the tone for the remainder of the time together. It really was exciting to have the conversation flow so naturally. One question led to the next and the next after that. It was an enjoyable conversation that allowed me to learn so much about the client personally and his background with the war.
I also enjoyed hearing more about his transitions and its struggles moving from military to civilian organizations. During this time of the conversation, I was not concerned about talking about the solutions I could offer, or how I would close the sale, I was simply engaged in what the client had to say. With this appointment I was able to experience first hand why being face to face is vastly more valuable than a virtual meeting. Had I not been meeting with this client face to face, I would have not seen his bracelet, and chances are never had the opportunity to ask him about his background.
I also realized that once I was in the midst of this personal conversation that was so very interesting, I was able to demonstrate effective listening. Because of the nature of the conversation, I was easily able to listen effectively. As I ask one question, how he responded would result in my next question. I was able to be very specific in my questions, really trying to understand the personal challenges he had face along with the new challenges as a result of becoming a civilian.
As I reflect on the results of listening effectively, I realize how I was able to navigate the conversation to uncover many challenges within the organization. At the end of the client meeting, I looked down at the notes I had taken. I was genuinely impressed by how specific and deep my notes were. I could now make very specific recommendations. This really was an experience I had wanted for very long. The more specific and clearer understandings of what the client’s needs are the clearer and more specific of a recommendation I can make.
As I talked through the solutions and then followed it up with the recommendation on next steps, the client was extremely engaged. He was even surprisingly enthusiastic, that I was able to provide solutions to the challenges to which he had been tasked. What came as an even bigger surprise, he agreed to my recommendations on the spot! He wanted to talk though the details of starting the implementation. This was the first client appointment I had experience where I had demonstrated building the relationship, through effective listening resulting in a client agreeing immediately to the recommendation.
As a result I know have a deep pervasive relationship with the client who is so fulfilling and rewarding. In addition to this joyous relationship, I also have a large revenue producing account. This is the dream of every sales person. Since experiencing such success in executing the three key concepts, I have change and altered how I facilitate a face to face client appointment. I now see that the face to face appointment is more impactful and valuable to the sales process. Demonstrating the three key concepts at the meeting is vital to the success of my business.
When meeting face to face with clients, I focus on building the client relationship by primarily focusing on the person to whom the meeting is focused. If I can build repoire by effective questioning and listening, the recommendation, and making the sale will come much earlier. This experience has also resulted in deeper personal relationships. In addition to applying these principles in a professional environment, I have now begun to practice these concepts in personal relationships. I spend time really focusing on gaining deeper relationships through effective listening.
I have now gained the experience on how to grow deep pervasive relationships. An essential element of sales is building client relationships. “The fastest way to get what you want is first to help others get what they want” (Gaffney 2010). The best behavior change we can make as a sale professional is to simply get over ourselves and start focusing on our client and their needs. “Commonality of purpose unites you with people; it builds rapport that leads to trust and to the development of a long-term, profitable relationship’ (Graffney 2010).
The key first step of the sales process is establishing trust though development of the relationship. The client or potential client is not interested in what we have to say or what we are selling, unless they see how it is in their best interest. When engaging with client the universal truth “Focus on the client is the key to getting what you want” (Graffney 2010). When meeting with a client, we need to maintain this as a paradigm; building the client relationship and not falsely ‘pretending’ to be interested. The interest generated prior to the sale must be intentional and genuine.
A clients sustainable success is based on the principle; “success in business is about-helping your client, not helping yourself’ (Graffney 2010). The top 10 percent know that they can only be successful if they’re focused on helping people rather than helping themselves making the sale. Consultative selling is about starting a dialogue to uncover a prospect’s problem and then helping them solve the problem in the best way possible. In order to uncover the problem we must have the ability to not only ask questions, but to demonstrate the skill of effective listening. Listening is both a behavior and a skill” (Bonet 2001).
Many believe they have the skill of listening. Effective listening is “receiving information, giving meaning to the information, deciding what you think or feel about that information, responding to what you hear” (Bonet 2001). Most of us are not good listeners. Research indicates “We listen to 25% of our potential which means, we forget, ignore, distort, or misunderstand 75% of what we hear” (Bonet 2001). When we are able to listen effectively we are able to “understand problems, and build relationships” (Bonet 2001).
If we are not effectively listening to prospects or clients; how is trust established? Without trust there is no client relationship. “Consultative selling, in a nutshell is the art of effective questioning, listening, and probing the client to effectively ascertain their problems, challenges, goals, and objections; then presenting solution options, which is customized to meet their specific needs and are designed to form long-lasting working partnerships with the client to maximize their investment (Bennett 2006).
Consultative selling us focused almost exclusively on the clients rather than the product they are selling. The object is to understand the client’s situation to the degree that the “sale and implementation of the product or service becomes a seamless integral part of the client’s ongoing business operation” (Bennett 2006). It is apparent when the sales individuals executes successfully on building the client relationship through effective listening, advancement of the sell through competent recommendations is inevitable.
The success I experienced from the client face to face meeting has the potential to change almost all of my personal engagements with others. For example; by applying the same concepts to both personal and professional relationships I can deepen and broaden these relationships. The skillset of being intentional on building relationships through effective listening can transform almost any relationship. People enjoy talking about themselves.
If we genuinely want to develop and grow any relationship, personal and professional, by taking the attention off of ourselves, and focus on the learning about others, people respond positively. The behavior of effective listening communicates to the individual that they are unique and special. I have learned that people are accustomed to only talking about themself. People are often pleasantly surprised when they learn you are not there to talk about yourself, but rather learn about them! Prior to this experience I would be very nervous and almost sick over high value appointments.
I was under the belief that I need to have a strong business case, and with that alone, I would be able to make the sale. This experience demonstrated that focusing on the client through effective listen is the most effect way to gain sustainable results. I will now have the confidence and ability to meet and work with larger more complex clients. By applying the same principles of building the client relationship though effective listening, I can make competent recommendations, that the client will trust.
This will allow me to grow my business and the depth I am able to penetrate. Finally since this experience, I am now aware the building relationships requires being intentional. A quote that really emphasis this, is by former GE CEO, Jack Welsh “Be interested, not interesting”. The experience with this particular client taught me how true this statement is. I have since experienced the same success in the personal setting as I did in the professional. I look forward to additional successes, based on this model.