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CONSULTATIVE SELLING: THE ART OF DEFINING “NEXT STEPS”

Every successful salesperson knows the elation of closing a big sale— and the desire to “head for the door” immediately.  The “Next Steps” process that ends the meeting can seem like anti-climactic “boiler plate” to be quickly dispensed with.  Beware the urge to give short shrift to determining Next Steps— a task which has the power to make or break our selling skills triumph.

The bedrock of a good Next Steps determination is specificity and detail:

  • Make sure the Next Step is an action or process, not an objective or strategy.  It’s not, “Confirm the project’s legality…”;  it’s, “Email the corporate lawyer our plan summary and ask for her/his legal opinions, especially regarding our suspected problem areas A and B.”
  • Assign responsibilities and actions to individuals, by name.  It’s not, “the Brand Group will…”;  it’s, “John Smith will…”  Try to assign at least one “helper” to any task which appears to be at all complicated or time-consuming; don’t leave Mary Jones with a daunting list of solo Next Steps.
  • Always assign a precise due-date to each specific task.  It’s not, “Call Jim Johnson…” it’s, “Call Jim Johnson before close of business tomorrow….”

It goes without saying that every individual tasked with one or more Next Steps should feel comfortable and confident that she/he can accomplish the assignment(s)Ask that question in a consultative selling, empathetic manner that encourages team members to volunteer any latent concerns.  (Technique:  one or two “casual” follow-up questions about a task’s “how to” elements may uncover a worry that could keep someone from pursuing his/her assignment.)

  • Often, responsible professionals don’t proactively perform a task simply because they either don’t know how to do it and/or they’re anxious about doing it.  Both kinds of reluctance can be sensitively queried and addressed now— rather than after the project has mysteriously stalled.  Often, the combined client and sales team can brainstorm and overcome perceived obstacles during the Next Steps discussion, itself.

Get at least three Next Steps, if possible.  While there’s no magic in the number “3,” it has a way of signaling a truly substantial, important activity.  Further, a list of three tends to readily spark additional suggestions— and a comprehensive action plan builds rapidly and easily.

Make sure the client has at least one important Next Step in moving the project ahead.  His/her acceptance of a task is an indication of genuine commitment, and it generates a sense of client authorship and ownership (even if it’s essentially our recommendation and project).  Meaningful client involvement reduces the likelihood that the project will be easily stalled or abandoned when (inevitable) obstacles to progress arise along the way.

The meeting’s Next Steps phase is a golden opportunity for the consultative salesperson to facilitate defining both the sales and client teams’ future contributions to the project; let’s make the most of it.

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