Yesterday I wrote about winning competitive deals, which requires you to create preference through differentiation and value creation. Many consultants still look at sales as a self-centered activity, rushing to list credentials and pitch their services to prospects. This approach is outdated and ineffective today.
I want you to go through an exercise with me now so you can explore and better understand a different way to sell (credits to Anthony Iannarino for this). Here's the context.
You have a meeting with a prospect. The company is one of your dream clients, and you have reached out to them - not the opposite. You have a successful track record of selling and serving other companies in the same industry or niche.
To agree to meet with you, however, your dream client gave you a list of rules. If you violate any rule from the list, the prospect will end the meeting and refuse to meet you again.
Here are the rules you need to follow:
- You can't say anything about your consulting business, including its name or any other information that might allow the prospect to recognize it.
- You can't mention any other companies, including previous or existing clients.
- You can't mention any of your offerings (services, products, or solutions), including the outcomes and results they generated for clients.
- You can't make any comment or ask any question about the prospect's personal life as a way to build rapport and intimacy.
- You can't, under any circumstance, ask questions designed to identify current "pain points" or sources of dissatisfaction.
You have 20-30 minutes for the call, and when that time is over the prospect will decide whether he will schedule another appointment with you or not. The only criteria he'll use to make this decision is how valuable they found the conversation.
Now here are some questions for you:
- How will you open the call? What are you going to talk about?
- What can you ask to gain enough information and evaluate if the prospect is a good fit, and you can effectively help them?
Take some time to think about those.
Some of you may already follow a few of these rules on your first calls. The vast majority of specialized consultants, however, will find this exercise extremely challenging. The more difficult it is, the more likely you are to use a self-oriented and outdated approach to selling.
There are many ways to pass the test and get to the next meeting. Here I'm sharing the answers given by Iannarino, the creator of this thought exercise, but slightly adapted to our consulting world.
How Will You Open The Call?
You need to start the conversation without saying anything about your company or the clients you have helped in the past. This can pose a double challenge for many consultants, since:
- You might have worked hard to build a respected brand and reputation in your space and leverage them to communicate credibility.
- You might have good social and communication skills, and be used to relying on rapport building to connect with prospects.
Here's how you can start the conversation:
"Thank you for meeting with me. Would it be okay if I started by sharing with you a short briefing on some of the trends we believe will have the greatest impact on your industry over the next twelve to eighteen months?"
At the end of the briefing, you could mention how these trends could pose risks, both to your prospect and their company. This is a relevant and certainly valuable conversation to your prospect.
It's worth noticing that here you are climbing the "lead generation ladder" by taking the role of a teacher. There's a big difference between explaining to your prospect why they have - or soon will have - challenges than asking them what their challenges are so you can pitch your solution. The latter is what every salesperson does.
How To Gain Information While Helping The Prospect
You can't ask about your prospect's current pain points, but that doesn't mean you are not allowed to ask any questions.
An opening question might be:
"What are your thoughts on how these trends might impact your results, and which one do you believe presents the biggest challenge for your company?"
A good follow-up question might be something like:
"What initiatives have you already put in place to address these challenges, and what initiatives are you considering to make sure you won't have problems in the next year or two?"
You need to ask questions to find out whether the prospect is a good fit or not. There's no other way around it. The problem is most questions don't create a lot of value for your prospect, since they are only asked to share what they already know.
What the proposed questions do is to stimulate the prospect to explore and learn.
The first question is designed to start a conversation around change. Remember that you were the one that reached out to the prospect, so they don't have any urgent problem to solve. Change is hard and costly, so if they don't see something as a potential source of risk they will always choose to maintain the status quo.
The second question is one that every consultant should pose. When a prospect states a problem and you ask them what they've done in the past to address it, they are forced to justify choices and face their own limitations. Their answer to it will give you a map to continue exploring it in future conversations.
Improve Your Sales Conversations With Dream Clients
Want to earn trust through conversations? Here are 3 assignments for you to adopt a more consultative approach to selling:
- Brainstorm different consultative conversations that would create value for your dream clients.
- List and study what are the trends and factors that cause risk and poor results to your dream clients. Learn to explain what's their root cause, and support your assertions with numbers and verified data when possible.
- Make sure every call or meeting you have with a prospect is a unique experience, different from what they can expect from other consultants.