Saturday, September 22, 2007

Build trust through ability, competence and empathy

• "Consultative Sales" -- Something new? • What does "sales" have to do with helping others? • Building trust is a key to sales success, but how?

This semester, a student approached me before my first class and asked, "Is this course going to cover this new thing in business-to-business sales called consultative selling? My boss mentioned it, your students from last semester talked about it, I even heard it mentioned on the golf course. I `Googled' the phrase and got more than 1,700,000 hits. What's the short answer?"
My first thought was, "New!" My second thought, "Short answer!" Consultative selling has been around since the early 1970s in one form or another. That this student did not know about it, however, was no surprise. Many people, some in sales, believe that sales success depends on fast talking, pressure, manipulation and never taking "no" for an answer. They are wrong. Willy Loman is dead! I told her, "You are in luck! Consultative selling is the subject of the entire course." I went on to say that it's similar to the process used by other professionals who "consult" in law, finance, medicine, IT and other fields. The process involves researching the client before the first visit, establishing rapport, asking strategic questions, interpreting responses in financial and human terms, and offering comprehensive solutions to customers' needs. These are the steps, but they are just the rudiments. A successful B2B consultative sales person knows that being successful comes from helping clients meet needs. This is done through having a strong customer orientation and being a trusted advisor. Mutual trust is critical. A Swiss study of sales relationships indicates that trust is the most important factor in long-term success. Developing trust takes time, and it's done through demonstrating dependability, competence and empathy. Dependability comes from simple acts of courtesy, such as showing up for appointments on time, honoring promises and keeping confidences. Show you are good for your word. Competence comes from experience and training. Companies worldwide spend billions to develop capable sales people. Hewlett-Packard, for example, trains its sales professionals to become business consultants to their technologically sophisticated buyers. HP sales professionals learn about their products and services and their competitors, too. Empathy is the ability to see things from the other's perspective. This requires active listening to generate an environment of understanding and sincerity. The ability to pick up on subtle cues and remember small details demonstrates a customer orientation that creates feelings of trust. In short, success in consultative selling could be summed up by a comment from Zig Ziglar, a well known motivational speaker. He once observed, "You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want."- (Charlotte Obserer, 16 Sep 07)

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