Friday, October 9, 2009

"Consultative Selling" and... Travolta

The Consultative Sell is so "50s." OK..maybe 60s. Picture Travolta sitting across the desk from his customer; Hair all Brylcreamed into a "DA," black T, jeans and boots with a clipboard on his lap and notes to himself reading: "target customer(?), sales cycle(?), budget(?), competition(?)," etc.

"You're the one that I want, one that I want, hoo hoo hoo hoo," playing softly in the background.

If you've been trained at all to sell, chances are that a six inch black plastic comb was, or could have been, your training graduation gift.

And by the way, here's how Travolta got the appointment: "Mr. Jones, I'd like to visit with you. Not to sell you anything, I promise, but to learn about your business." It probably took him 99 "no thank yous" to get this appointment even though the approach was sincere and novel :). In truth, four out of every three calls this subject got since the day he opened his doors, began that way.

My first problem with the consultative sales process (B to B selling), is that it is based on a series of lies. Anyone taught to get appointments this way is being taught to SELL not consult. ("Not that there's anything wrong with that."). However we need to be honest if we want to develop trust. And we need to develop trust, and the reputation for being trustworthy, if we want to build a sustainable career and consistently meet personal and corporate objectives. If we can accomplish that, it will be because we became uncommon and remarkable sales executives.

Real and valuable consultants do much more than gather the information from the customer about his business and what the subject knows about its growth, stumbling blocks and potential. The real articles in the consulting business look and behave much more like Monk, Kojak and Colombo than they do, Fred Sanford. They partner with the customer to learn what he doesn't know. Guess what, if he knew, he'd be there, wherever "there" is to him. It takes courage to behave like a consultant when you are being paid to sell, . That's because inherent in the relationship between consultant and customer is the right to politely insult the hell out of the check signer. In effect the consultant is there because the O level folk with whom he's consulting are stuck. Their needs range from discovery to affirmation. But they are at the "ignorant" or "fork in the road" rest stop on their trip. And they know that and so aren't offended when the consultant reminds them of what they don't know. The work is for the two of them to "what if" everything under the sun.

But picture this: you SELL widgets. You are on your first visit with your prospect and you say, "Look dummy. You don't have a clue how to move your business forward. You are blessed that I am here. Let's get to work!"

You probably need a more elegant intro, but if you are to be a problem solver, a forthright (and fearless) communicator, a trustworthy partner and resource and therefore a remarkable seller, (with eternity spent sitting comfy on a white cloud), that's where it all starts. Takes a little courage, no?

Many years ago I was the VP/GM of a CBS owned radio station in Philadelphia. My initial task was to change the format from Talk to All-News. Within three weeks of beginning the new assignment, I had replaced all department heads, fired most of the DJs and coverted the survivors to "journalists," hired an ad agency, "suggested" the creative approach, bought a heavy television schedule--all in time to coincide with the beginning of a rating period. The ratings came out and we were the number one station in the market. The day of the release of the audience research data, I got a call from the CEO of the largest local advertising agency. He welcomed me to the market, congratulated me on the ratings, and then told me I was screwed and wondered aloud how I would dig myself out of the hole I'd just put myself in? Excuse me?
"Well," he continued. "You have masterfully called to the attention of a vast number of Philadelphia listeners a perfectly dreadful product. You'll be able to fix the product, but how will you ever get back the listeners who recorded truthfully their responsiveness to your advertising but made notes to themselves to never listen again?" I had no idea, but he had a new account.

Hoo hoo hoo hoo.

1 comment:

  1. Exactly!! Like a lot of simple concepts, consulting in sales is misunderstood. True consulting is often about the difficult challenges that have no easy answers. It takes trust and respect to get that dialog rolling, as Bob so clearly points out.

    Reminds me of a statement made to me by the legendary Bill Ziff, builder of two enormous publishing empires, and a brilliant seller in his own right. "Selling" Bill said, "is an elevated form of human interaction."

    What Bob's advising here is that we all need to elevate!