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CONSULTATIVE SELLING: GIVING INSTRUCTIONS “UPWARD”

Previous blogs about making recommendations to clients have noted that the consultative salesperson has “earned the right” to present— after first exhaustively exploring his/her client’s needs in the situation-analysis phase of the dialog.  Yes, it’s fair to expect (hope?) that the client will listen to us, now that it’s our turn to talk.  Are there selling skills we can use to increase the odds that we’ll actually get the attention we need?

Certainly, the most direct way to assure the compliance we want is to instruct the client on how to behave.  The question now becomes: how do we “earn the right” to ask the client to take our instructions?

First and foremost, we’ll need to motivate the client by making it clear that following our instructions will benefit her/him  (not just us).  In other words, compliance will meet one or more client needs that he/she may not have been aware of.  Here’s an example of a client compliance benefit statement from an advertising presentation:

“We’d like to ask you to hold your questions until we’ve completed presenting both the creative concept and the media placement recommendations.  The creative executions and the media forms that display them are synergistic and amplify each other’s effectiveness.  It’s likely that your understanding of our unified, integrated advertising program will be reduced if we digress into questions before the complete program has been shown.  Of course, we’ll answer all of your questions when the time is right.”

Now, the client sees the benefit to him/her of not interrupting us in the middle of our presentation.  Some technique supporting this process:

  • Always give the instructions up front, before getting into the content of the meeting.  If we wait until the client does something disruptive— and only then explain that’s not the behavior we hoped for— we’ve just needlessly blind-sided and embarrassed her/him.
  • Confirm the client’s agreement (and “negotiate” our instructions, if necessary).  This shows that we have the client’s interests at heart, and it will improve the odds that we’ll get the cooperation we want.
  • Having gotten client agreement to comply, it’s fair for us to give a polite reminder— once­— if an instruction isn’t followed; e.g., “Again, I’m hoping that you’ll hold your questions because…..”  Stated sensitively, this could assure better cooperation later on.
  • If the client repeatedly ignores our instructions, we’ll just have to live with it and do the best we can.  We’re no worse off versus having given no instructions at all (unless we reveal annoyance about the lack of compliance).

Whether or not the client follows our instructions, we’ve started off by showing that we’re professionals with a thoughtful, client-centered plan for making the meeting productive.  That’s a welcome enhancement to our credibility and commitment­— and another small building block in a trusting relationship. 

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