How to make the shift from transactional to consultative selling

This is one client’s journey and illustrates how they went through the adoption of consultative selling within their business.  It shows how successful this approach can be when applied diligently in the appropriate situation.

Initially our work was to design their future value proposition and then to coach the sales and senior leadership team on how to sell to large OEM customers consultatively.  The company, let’s call them Lucstar, is a medium sized, services company with revenues of around £400,000 and their leadership team have been mostly responding to tender requests.  They realised that to sell their new value proposition and to re-position themselves in their market, they needed to adopt new behaviours – to stop doing certain things and start doing others.

Here’s how the Sales Director, Nicolas, described the new consultative selling process they went through.

“We looked at who we were dealing with in the OEM, and what we wanted. We mapped out some of the more senior people that we needed to get in front of, and that we weren’t in contact with today. Then we wrote a story: “The Vision for [OEM name] in 2022.”  We then told the story to everyone we spoke to at the OEM. The story focused on them, not us, and their distribution model and all the issues they encountered.  We then got them to imagine what good would look like – their vision in the areas that we could help with.  We carried on telling the same story over and over and as we went to more senior people, our story became more relevant and important.

In creating the story, we had to get material that we would never have considered before. Previously we would have just answered the RFP with what we could do and not focused so much on the impact of the customer’s problems.

After developing the story, we worked through a number of different iterations, creating an argument that fitted each process for each person we identified in the customer. All customer interactions were heavily planned and all actions were sequenced plus we held debriefs after each session to improve the next.  When we were confident that we had opened up their minds, we could then speak to individuals at the OEM in one-on-ones. 

Within our company, everyone was on-board from the beginning – the biggest difficulty was getting people to stay ‘on piste’ during the discussion and not give away the answer too soon i.e. tell the client about our solution.

Our MD also wanted to attend most of the meetings but we told him no and that we needed to deploy him strategically at the right time and with the right seniority of people.

The consultative selling technique was definitely a shift in selling style and there was a phenomenal level of preparation at the beginning and lots of face-to-face time spent with the customer. For face-to-face time spent I’d say we had a ratio of 35 hours of preparation time to 1 hour of face-to-face time. There were 4 people involved from our company so that’s nearly 9 hours of preparation time per person for every 1 hour with the client.”

When asked what advice he would give to others, Nicolas said, “You really need more than 1 person driving it – at least 2 people on board from the start, ideally a team and then these people should sit down and go through the concept step-by-step”.

He continued, “What’s definitely worth doing is the detailed sequence of steps of the meeting – who’s there, what level of sign-off do they have, what’s the level of decision making, etc. Also, when you go in as a team, you need to plan and decide who is going to say what.  What tends to go wrong is when someone from your own team goes off-piste and doesn’t stick to the script.  It’s so tempting to jump in and tell them the solution before completing the whole process.

Another challenge is ‘leading the meeting’ through directed questioning.  Leading the meeting, taking charge of it and directing the conversation is vital.  We learned to grab back control from customers by saying things like “Yes, we will address that in a moment.”  And then, carrying on with our sequenced approach.

The big challenge to us was ‘the belief’ – when you at Futurecurve told us that the only way to succeed is to get them to change the tender to suit our solution I thought they would never do it – but they did!

It was still a competitive tender so we had to be careful of price, but they did re-write the tender to our specification.

The consultative selling technique has certainly changed the way we approached some of our smaller customers too. I used the same approach for price negotiations recently and it went very well.

There was only one customer, who is based in Germany who would not engage. They insisted that we should only fill out the RFP and be judged in the traditional way.”

So, after all that effort, did it work Nicolas?  “Well, it’s started to yield rewards.  Just this morning we heard that we won a bid for considerably more business than we’ve ever won from one customer in Europe.  The new deal will be instrumental in gaining a foothold and substantial organic growth in two countries and it has already made other OEM’s approach us. The deal is worth roughly Euro’s 7M. We will be expanding our operations in early 2018 to meet the demand.  This deal means that we will be delivering into 2 different countries and will be, by far, this OEM’s largest supplier.  We managed to get the deal driven chiefly driven by Operations and Engineering people who encouraged the Purchasing Department to explore the different approaches we proposed. In ‘Round 3’ of the procurement process, the customer changed the tender to suit our offering.  This win represents phase 1 of a substantial entry into the wider European market for us.”

Key learning points

In summary the key points are:

  • Prepare, prepare prepare - this includes doing lots of research

  • Know when, how to and why to deploy your most senior people including the MD/CEO

  • Have a clear picture of what the ideal ‘sell’ would be and work towards that

  • Make sure to use directed questioning and manage the customer through an emotional journey

  • Focus on customer issues and problems and don’t share your solution too early in the process

  • Believe, believe, believe!