In the last couple of decades, advice on how to sell had mostly been a variation on the consultative selling theme. But as buying behavior changes more and more quickly, doing the same thing as before won't work. The way you sell must evolve.
I wrote about consultative selling before:
- Here, I challenged readers to go through an exercise: Can you sell yourself without a solution, brand, and reputation?
- Here, I argued that one of the best ways to be consultative is to share stories, and gave four examples of stories you can share with your dream clients.
Today, I want to write about the importance of helping prospects see reality from a different lens.
Bringing Consulting Into Sales
Sales professionals all over the world see the value but struggle to add a consultative approach to their work. When you think about that, it's absurd to see consultants who already have these skills insist on taking a reactive and transactional stance when engaging with buyers.
Founders and consulting partners would dramatically improve their sales if they looked at themselves less as "salespeople" and more as strategy consultants.
How do strategy firms such as Bain, McKinsey, and Booz Allen help their clients make the best decisions? They do two things:
- Share insights: Sometimes they share with clients how their industry is changing, and provide ideas on how to take advantage of the trends or reduce their risks through valuable conversations. Sometimes they take a deep dive to discover how each client can improve their situation, and provide a diagnosis on what needs to change. In any case, they provide advice that educates and inspires clients to change.
- Question the status quo: They push back. Strategy consultants don't accept paradigms and are not afraid to disagree with how the client thinks. By challenging current beliefs and reasoning from first principles, they create several "aha" moments that impact how their clients see the world.
Both of these traits lead to the same outcome for their clients: they redefine reality.
Moving From "Pair-Of-Hands" To "Collaborator"
Have you ever:
- Received an RFP or worked with a prospect who was asking for the wrong things (self-diagnosed)?
- Worked with a prospect who didn't see enough ROI in working together, and ended up doing nothing?
- Worked with a prospect who violently pushed back in a negotiation, as if it was a win/loss situation?
Each of these examples forces you to make a choice: stay quiet and accept the result (whatever it may be), or redefine how the prospect thinks. Which action do you think a strategy consultant and professional rainmaker would take?
Peter Block, the author of Flawless Consulting, makes a distinction between two types of consultants that's also helpful to bring this point home.
The first ones are the "collaborators". They don't just create and implement solutions, but also offer clients a new and outside perspective, and work with them to clearly define the problem before solving anything.
Another kind of consultant is what Block calls a "pair of hands". Their job is to understand what is the need communicated by the client, position their offerings to solve the need, and execute. They stay downstream.
"Pair of hands" consultants don't redefine their clients' reality. They may execute well (which is not a small feat) and even have their own methodologies to do so effectively. But as long as there are several other consultants who can solve the same problem, they will get stuck in a capabilities battle and will suffer from price pressure.
When you educate prospects with new ideas by sharing insights and questioning the status quo, what you offer is not only your services - but your thinking. You create value for the buyer while making yourself uniquely distinct from other consultants, and making the competition irrelevant.