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Consultative Selling: How Knowing Doesn’t Assure Understanding

In recent weeks, our Baron Group blogs have examined questioning and listening skills. The underlying objective of every discussion was maximizing the consultative salesperson’s ability to fully and accurately determine client needs. The resulting knowledge should enable the salesperson to develop a focused, comprehensive recommendation that helps achieve the client’s objectives. When that doesn’t actually happen— which is all too often— it’s usually because the salesperson didn’t really understand what he/she knew. What went wrong?

 At least as important as “knowing what you don’t know” is “knowing what you don’t understand.” That’s not as easy as it sounds: every day, countless client dialogs end with the salesperson not actually understanding what he/she has heard.

 A typical example: the client says, “I don’t want to spend a single dime more than the minimum necessary to get this job done.”  Now, that statement seems straightforward— the salesperson knows the dictionary meaning of every word the client said, and is surely familiar with the generic concept of economical, efficient, prudent spending. So, does the salesperson “know” what the client wants? Yes, sure. Does the salesperson understand what the client wants? Absolutely not. If the dialog ends there, the salesperson is basically clueless.

 Maybe, what the client actually means is:

  • “We have a set budget for this project; if you go over it, I can’t proceed,” or
  • “My past experience with you suggests that you won’t try hard to minimize costs,” or
  • “Your competitor, XYZ, was here last week; if you don’t beat their price, forget it,” or
  • “My boss rips me apart whenever I try to rationalize costs; I don’t want to go there,” or
  • Etcetera, etcetera.

 Clearly, the only way to reach the correct “understanding” is by using the questioning and listening skills we’ve been exploring. The enemies of understanding are assuming, guessing and ending the dialog too soon. It’s no exaggeration to say that it takes perseverance, commitment and courage to keep the conversation going until you have reached a true understanding of your client’s needs.

 Most importantly, each client need, above, leads us to an entirely different solution, cost aside:

  • Suggesting ways that the client’s budgeting process could accommodate the cost
  • Demonstrating how diligent and expert we’ve been in trying to minimize the cost
  • Describing how our program’s cost/value proposition and results are superior to XYZ’s
  • Arming the client with the information he/she needs to persuasively rationalize the cost
  • Etcetera, etcetera.

 Taken at face value, trying to not “…spend a single dime more than the minimum” might have led us to cut our price to the bone. Yet none of the above approaches involved reducing our cost; indeed, the cost, itself, was comparatively incidental in each recommendation.

 Knowledge leads to understanding leads to solutions leads to making the sale. Don’t let a failure of understanding break that benefits chain.

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