Take the Side of Your Customer: Consultative-Partner Selling and the Stakeholder Approach
October 4, 2018
We recently published a longer than usual, but hopefully interesting blog which asked the question: ‘what is a good organisation?’ A difficult question to answer conclusively, but on the blog we used the stakeholder model to suggest that while a good organisation will inevitably mean different things to different people, an organisation that aims to be good should consider the interests of its different group ‘stakeholders’.
In particular, we explored the interests of employees as an example of a key stakeholder group, turning to the literature around employee engagement to illustrate the connection between the satisfaction of employees and overall organisational performance.
On this blog, we are going to continue to develop the stakeholder approach to organisational success by turning to another key stakeholder group – an organisation’s customers – in the particular context of the sales relationship (an area of some interest to us at LDL!). What, we ask, does the stakeholder model have to tell us about the way salespeople should be approaching their effort to sell their products and services to clients?
Salespeople and Their Clients
To begin with we should note that there are at least two stakeholder groups in any sales interaction: the salesperson, and their client or customer. While the salesperson will (we hope) want to make a sale, hit a target, and get a bonus, the customer will (we also hope!) want to find a product or service that matches their requirement. The question is: how far do the interests of these two stakeholder groups align?
In a straightforward sense we might predict that, if the product or service which the salesperson wants to sell does match the requirements of the customer at a reasonable price, then the customer will decide to buy, but if the product or service does not match the requirements of the customer at a price they can afford, then the customer will decide not to buy. On such a transactional understanding, the success of the salesperson depends on talking with as many customers as possible who have (or could be convinced that they had) a matching requirement.
But things are not always so simple. And that’s because in today’s competitive marketplace, with products and services becoming more and more alike, the fact is that customers can often get a similar product at a similar price elsewhere. In such an environment, the question is not so much why a customer should want to make a particular purchase, but rather: why should a customer want to buy from you?
The Importance of the Salesperson
A wide range of factors may of course be at play in influencing the customer’s decision (ranging from brand loyalty to the fantastic quality of a company’s blog…), but very often it comes down to the kind of sales and service contact that a company is able to provide.
Indeed, according to sales measurement consultancy Chally Group the key factor influencing the customer to choose one supplier over another is the skills of the salesperson. Based on data from over 100,000 business decision-makers, Chally Group claim that 39% of B2B buyers select a vendor according to the skills of the salesperson rather than the price (18%) or quality (21%) of the product or service that they actually sell.
What is it about a salesperson and their sales skills that is likely to incline a customer to select one vendor over another? Chally Group identify three sales skills in particular that really make a difference:
Personally managing the total customer relationship.
Understanding the customer’s business.
Acting as a customer advocate to correct any and all problems.
The Sales Skills That Matter: Consultative-Partner Selling
Now notice that each of these skills referred to by Chally Group involve the salesperson taking seriously the interests of the customer, and offering more than a merely transactional approach to the sale. Selling here is about building a relationship, making the effort to listen, and trying to take – as far as possible – the customer’s side.
The stakeholder model, remember, teaches us to take seriously the interests of various group stakeholders (such as our customer’s), and to responsibly negotiate tensions of interest where they arise. A wealth of research indicates that such an approach is linked to organisational effectiveness, especially with regards to organisational adaptability.
The research seems to be telling us that the sales skills that really make a difference are exactly those that pertain to considering and meeting the interests of the customer. It is what we at LDL describe as ‘consultative-partner selling’.
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