Consultative partnering offers a glimpse of the future of selling and account development. Customers are discarding rafts of suppliers in favour of the well-chosen few and developing close ties with them. By some estimates, companies have a third fewer suppliers than 10 years ago.
There are four principles to concentrate on when you move towards consultative partnering. Master these and you will transform your approach to important sales opportunities.
Look energetically for ways to be a resource to your customers. What could your organisation offer to help your customers run their businesses more effectively? Could you help your best customers reduce cost without reducing your price? What else can you offer in addition to your solution?
Here are some examples:
Never underestimate the importance of value-added services in creating partner relations. Become indispensable to your customer and so create ‘barriers to entry’ for your competitors and ‘barriers to exit’ for your customers.
This sounds obvious, but it goes much deeper than it appears. Giving your customer the impression you really want their business can be very persuasive.
Think about your own experiences. Time and again, if people have gone to great lengths to make you feel important and valued, you choose a supplier based on that feeling, not just on the proposed solution.
Imagine you are interviewing candidates for an important position. You have drawn up a shortlist of two people, Joanna and David. Joanna is slightly better qualified than David, but David lets you know by his attitude that he really wants the job. Who would you offer it to? We have asked this question of thousands of managers over the years and the vast majority answer ‘David’.
It’s exactly the same in business: we want to do business with people who make us think they will look after us, who convince us they really want to work together with us.
The impression you want to create is:
“You can’t buy anything from my company without getting me with it: my help, my assistance, my back-up, me on the end of the phone.”
The more people from both supplier and customer who are involved in building the relationship, the stronger it will become. It’s a team effort.
When your team meets the customer and explains what each member does, it gives you more credibility. The customer appreciates having access to all the players. They know who is going to carry out each element of servicing the account.
It’s no longer just the account manager talking with the buyer, it’s the supplier team working with the customer team to optimise effectiveness. And from the buyer’s perspective, the more people involved in the relationship the harder it is to change supplier. They would need to be satisfied that all their key people had no objection to the change.
When organising a team you should no longer be thinking:
“How can I put the best team together to win the business?”
Instead, focus on:
“Who needs to be involved so we can bring in all the expertise we’ve got to help the customer achieve their objectives?”
All contact with a customer should be coordinated through the account manager, who ensures that the account objectives are clear to all concerned and acts as team leader. The overall objective is to ensure that all the supplier’s resources – sales, support, marketing, research, finance, packaging and distribution – are used to identify and meet the customer’s requirements profitably for both parties.
What happens when a new business proposal comes into your office? For most of us this signals a determined effort to beat the competition. We seek to entice the new customer or client with better product value, better service, better proposals and a strong desire for them to just plain like us more than our competitors.
Salespeople who are concentrating on consultative partnering go further than this and ask:
“What do my customers require to satisfy their customers?”
“Who are their competitors and how can we help them to win?”
The golden rule of business – I can get what I want by helping others get what they want – is best applied by thinking about both your customer’s customer and your customer’s competitor.
Intel’s brilliant ‘Intel Inside’ marketing campaign worked because the chip maker looked not only at its own customers – original equipment manufacturers and distributors – but at their customers, people looking to buy a new PC. Never before has the end user been so aware of the brand identity of a single component.
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