It’s a pretty good bet that, no matter how desirable your product or service may be, it also has some important negative characteristics. Offering a ‘full service’, ‘one stop shopping,’ ‘turn-key operation’ benefit to your client is no exception. In fact, the more your service frees your client from his/her need for oversight, making decisions or taking action, the more it also becomes a worry, a fear, or even a nightmare. Here are some relevant strategies for the consultative salesperson.
Yes, having an outside expert handle some aspect of a client’s business for him/her is, rationally, a very attractive proposition. Emotionally, however, it’s always worrisome— even if the client is fully confident in the provider’s proficiency and dedication. As discussed in Peter Block’s widely-acclaimed “Flawless Consulting,” the issue here is what professional consultants refer to as “control and vulnerability.”
Every adult has a powerful need to feel in control and to reduce perceived vulnerability. Ceding power to others always works against these needs— no matter what— and no matter how non-rational it may be. (An example: fear of flying is largely a feeling of being out of control, even when the fearful passenger couldn’t possibly fly the airplane without crashing, if actually given control.)
Here are some things a consultative salesperson can do to counter the client’s concerns about control and vulnerability:
- When discussing how a project will be handled, ask straightforwardly about the client’s feelings regarding his/her control. Use open-ended questions that invite the client to fully disclose these (very personal) needs. Your queries will also validate concerns which might otherwise be suppressed— setting you up for inexplicable objections to your recommendations later on).
- Try to build opportunities for client oversight and decision-making into the service you provide. Seek a client-comfortable balance, wherein he/she is involved enough to feel in control, but not so much that you lose control, or that the client starts to feel overburdened. Thoroughly and frankly talk this through!
- Remember that feelings of control and vulnerability are completely subjective and client-specific. Some clients may require substantial (if superficial) decision-making. Others may be satisfied by status reports with appropriate content and frequency. Still others may feel in control just by hearing you frequently play back their needs and the elements of your program that will deliver on them.
- Be aware that the salesperson’s own ego and genuine desire to ‘add value’ can exacerbate this situation. In your zeal to provide exemplary service and to display your capabilities, you may unnecessarily cut the client out of the process, routinely reject or ‘trump’ his/her opinions and suggestions, etc. Always seize on clients’ useful ideas and remind them often of their contributions to your work (no matter how small).
Handle this challenge well, and your product benefits story will hold center stage— where it belongs.