PRESCRIPTIONS FOR CONSULTATIVE SELLING IN THE QUALITY ERA
August 18, 1999
By Richard G. McNeill, Ed.D, CHME
They don’t care what you know, until they know how much you care. How much and what do you care about? Do you care about after-sale customer service? Do you care about your presentation skills? Do you care about satisfying customer needs and problems? Do you care about building relationships with customers? Do you care about yourself?
I’m certain that you answered a resounding “yes” to most of these questions. And, you may have already determined that this is nothing new, so why not just stop reading this article now? Like most things, there is usually nothing new under the sun, only new ways of restructuring old principles. So it is with the following discussion: a new model to integrate old principles.
This article describes a new selling model to integrate and understand old selling principles. This model will help you to organize what you already know. This model will help you to assess and evaluate your present selling activities. This model will help you plan and implement your future selling activities. Most importantly, this model will help you to continuously improve your selling performance and gain competitive advantage in the Quality Era.
Introducing the Consultative Selling Model
If you answered, “yes” to the six questions asked above, then you are somewhat familiar with the four primary phases and eight steps of the model (Refer to Figure 1):
1. Phase One -- Personal & Professional Strategy
a. Step # 1 –Professional Management
b. Step # 2—Personal Management
2. Phase Two – Supply and Demand Strategy
a. Step # 3 –Product/Service Management
b. Step # 4 – Customer Management
3. Phase Three – Customer Acquisition and Maintenance Strategy
a. Step # 5 –Presentation Management
b. Step # 6 – After-Sale Management
4. Phase Four – Evaluation and Improvement Strategy
a. Step # 7 – Metrics and Evaluation Management
b. Step # 8 – Continuous Quality Improvement Management
THE CONSULTATIVE SELLING MODEL
“Becoming a Successful Professional Hospitality Salesperson”
Specifically note that the titles of each “phase” contains the word “strategy.” And, each “step” contains the word “management.” Strategy refers to the general and broad plan to accomplish each phase. Strategy is concerned with “effectiveness,” making sure that your are doing the right thing, and aimed at the right goals. Management refers to specifics and the tactics used to achieve tasks. Management is concerned with “efficiency,” making sure that you are doing things right, and making sure that you are using your resources to maximize cost/benefit trade-off. In summary, strategy heads you in the right direction (objectives) and management ensures that you achieve your objectives in an efficient manner.
If you are to become a successful hospitality relationship
salesperson, you must
actively study and actively manage all four phases of the model. You must intensely care about helping your customers; you must continuously hone your knowledge, skills and attitudes; and you must persist in integrating and implementing all of the model’s phases into a seamless whole.
Now that you’ve seen the model, you recognize familiar territory and perhaps feel more comfortable. I won’t ask you to dramatically change your current selling styles, so please bear with me while I present my case. First, I will briefly place the model in the context of the Quality Era. Second, I will discuss the meaning of Consultative Selling and its interdependence with building “win/win relationships”. Third, I will provide you a brief introduction of the model’ structure and basic components; and finally, I will discuss each of the model’s phases and steps in detail.
The Quality Era – A Brief Overview
In the early 1980s, the United States was inundated by one more major import from Japan: Total Quality Management (TQM). By the mid-1980s and following Peters and Waterman’s, In Search of Excellence, the business press worked overtime producing books and articles that prescribed this new medicine to business firms and other organizations. At the same time, the Malcolm Baldrige Award for quality was established for business firms implementing and producing quality systems. Notably, the Ritz Carlton won this award in the early 1990s.
At first, many people predicted that focus on quality was simply another “fad de jour.” As increasing numbers of business firms effectively used quality to win competitive advantage, other firms noticed their success and began to implement or at least stress quality; the quality race accelerated out of the gates. Customers didn’t fail to notice that the quality “bar” was continuously being raised. In response, customers began to raise their expectations and to redefine the meaning of products and services. No longer was the core benefit of the product adequate or acceptable. The core benefit became a company’s price of admission just to compete. Continuously improving quality and service that exceeded customers’ expectations became the price to win competitive advantage. Think of Nordstrom’s to immediately gain an understanding of the power of quality.
Today, customers view products and services as complex, interdependent clusters of (a) the tangible and intangible characteristics of the offering; (b) the firm itself —philosophy, culture, quality process systems, and support capabilities, and (c) the qualities of the salesperson with whom they interface and the relationship that is established. As customers are swamped with increasing choices and increasing quality of products and services, they are demanding simplification. They want to trust in a reliable and high quality supplier in order to reduce the complexity and uncertainty in making product decisions. If they find this supplier, they are often willing to enter long-term partnerships and alliances.
The quality era is well underway in the US and has been synthesized and adapted to business functional areas. In this article, I discuss how the quality movement has been adapted to the functional area of sales—specifically, the translation of quality into an evolutionary form referred to as, “Consultative Selling.”
Today everybody is afflicted with information over-load. Customers no longer seek-out information; they select-out. Like organizations that are reducing and limiting their suppliers to a select and dependable few, customers in all areas of the supply/demand chain want to have trusted and long-term relationships with their suppliers and their representative salespeople. Selling is no longer simply about communicating and delivering products/services. Customers want to deal with salespeople who provide value and this means that the salesperson must be a consultative partner who is capable of creating “win/win” solutions. So, the consultative salesperson recognizes that he or she must first develop and maintain of mutually satisfying long-term relationships with customers so that the proper environment exists for consultative selling. Consultative selling through these relationship is a means to a profitable end for both the seller and the customer (Buttle, 1996).
Consultative Selling Defined
Consultative Selling (CS) differs from traditional or Transactional Selling (TS). Transactional oriented relationships between the customer and seller have traditionally been approached as confrontations or adversarial situations. These relationships are characterized by “win/lose” negotiations. TS focuses on individual sales and selling customer-by-customer and product-by-product. If an existing customer buys multiple times, this is a welcomed but not a pre-planned event.
Consultative Selling approaches the customer in “win/win” negotiations. CS requires that the seller see him or herself as partners with the customer in an attempt to help the customer solve “problems” using the product as a solution (Manning & Reese, 1997). CS operating with long-term relationships focuses on the lifetime value of customers. Obtaining a customer who buys multiple times (repeat customer) is a planned event. The primary difference is the salesperson’s focus: TS may lead to one sale, but CS leads to a lifetime of sales.
Consultative Selling is an outgrowth of Relationship Marketing (RM). Today, salespeople are increasingly referred to as, “micro-marketers.” This term is especially applicable to salespeople who sell high priced and complex products which must be customized for the customer; salespeople selling convention and group meetings fall into this category. The “micro-marketer” term recognizes that individual salespeople must perform most of the functions characteristically associated with marketing management. Definitions of CS parallel those of RM: (a) In1985 by Jackson, “…concerns attracting, developing and retaining customer relationships,” (b) In 1994 by Sheth “…the understanding, explanation and management of the ongoing collaborative business relationship between suppliers and customers,” and (c) In 1994 by Evans and Laskin “…a customer centered approach whereby a firm seeks long-term business relations with prospective and existing customers” ( In Buttle, 1996).
The author defines Consultative Selling as the process
of focusing on and managing personal communication and interaction between
the seller and buyer for the purpose of establishing a long-term social
and business relationship which results in an on-going interdependent partnership
that directly links the seller’s product/service benefits as a solution
to the buyer’s needs/problems. Relationships are the key to Consultative
Consultative Selling and Relationships with Whom?
The scope of relationships is wider than a singular focus on the external customer. Ten discrete forms of relationships in four categories have been identified: (a) Supplier Partnerships - Goods suppliers and Services suppliers; (b) Lateral Partnerships - Competitors, Non-profit organizations, and Government; (c) Internal Partnerships – Business units, Employees, and Functional departments; and (d) Buyer partnerships – Intermediate customers [wholesalers/agents] and Ultimate customers (Buttle, 1996).
The heart of consultative selling is focus on external
customer relationships, however, in the Quality Era focus on the supplier
chain leading to the ultimate customer is vital: internal customers [employees]
who produce product/services and intermediary customers representing or
reselling the product/service to end-users (Buttle, 1996). CS salespeople,
especially those selling services, must be concerned with relationships
across this primary supply chain. Service salespeople must specifically
establish relationships with internal customers (employees) who personally
produce and deliver the service.
Characteristics of Consultative Selling.
CS is about healthy relationships that are characterized by concern, trust, commitment and service. First, CS salespeople are concerned for the welfare of their customers. They work hard to fully understand the nature of the customer’s needs, requirements, and problem to be solved and then work just as hard to solve it.
Second, trust and commitment are the hallmark of CS. Salespeople initially spend inordinate time and focus on mutual trust. Additionally, they work as vigorously in communicating their commitment to establish a healthy partnership with the customer. Establishing an environment of trust and commitment is requisite for open and two-way dialogue especially during the Presentation Management Step (#5) of the Consultative Selling Model. In service selling (read hospitality service selling), communicating concern, trust and commitment is extremely important because of the relative absence of tangible clues and because the services cannot be examined before they are consumed. For example, an organization buying a meeting is buying the certainty of a flawlessly coordinated and executed meeting; they are buying certainty not a physical product. The customer makes decisions based on their perceptions of the hotel’s concern for them, the hotel’s commitment to providing a successful meeting, and their trust that the hotel can and will deliver. Often all of these perceptions are conveyed by the salesperson representing the hotel.
Finally, in an environment of commitment and trust, the presence of concern for the customers results in a desire to provide excellent service. CS requires a commitment to providing high-quality service not only from salespeople, but also from the entire organization. Again, in service selling this is essential since the “product” offered is the sum of personal production. In a hotel, all employees must play a symphony of coordinated instruments so that beautiful music is produced. When service meets or exceeds the customer’s expectations, satisfaction results. Long-term satisfaction results in long-term relationships.
Consultative Selling Benefits
Consultative Selling incorporates a basic sequence: (a) service quality leads to customer satisfaction, (b) customer satisfaction leads to relationship strength, (c) relationship strength leads to relationship longevity, and (d) relationship longevity leads to customer relationship profitability. Salespeople who can activate this relationship sequence have an advantage over those who cannot. Adopting a focus on the relationship selling model offers powerful competitive advantages: long-term repeat business and word-of-mouth referral business.
Consultative Selling results in long-term repeat business, which increases profitability. There are three major reasons for this linkage. First, it has long been claimed that obtaining a new customer is five to ten times as expensive as retaining an existing customer. And, the expense of capturing new customers is increasing since there are fewer new prospective customers in the pool as competitor salespeople increasingly solidify loyalty of their customer base. Second, the growing reality of the lifetime value of a customer retained by CS considers the stream of revenue and profit contribution earned from a long-term relationship with a customer as opposed to a transaction-oriented approach that measures contribution sale-by-sale. Third, studies have shown that sales per customer rise the longer customers are retained. As customers become more satisfied with the service they receive, the more they buy (Buttle, 1996).
Consultative Selling results in word-of-mouth referral, which increases total sales, profitability, and continued customer loyalty. Word-of-mouth referral is indisputably one of the most powerful forms of attracting customers thus; total sales increase with declining marketing costs. Further, the potential for a perpetual and endless referral chain is established: (a) Consultative Selling communicates concern, trust, and commitment to existing customers and delivers high-quality service, (b) existing customers communicate this strong relationship with the seller to their associates, (c) in turn, these associates are attracted to the seller who establishes strong relationships with them, and (d) these new customers repeat the sequence.
Becoming a Consultative Hospitality Salesperson
Question: How do you become a consultative hospitality salesperson? Answer: Implement the Consultative Selling Model (Figure 1). I have provided you a guide (Phases and Steps explaining the CS Model) accompanied by references to additional resources so that you can begin this journey to success. The guide is a step-by-step approach that describes the model’s four (4) Phases and ten (8) specific Steps. The resources are not exhaustive but will provide you a starting place to expand you understanding and skills. I have referenced these resources in two places: (a) in an annotated form cited at the applicable phase or step and (b) A full citation in a reference list located the end of this article. I have included both academic and popular references. Be aware that the cited Dummies series is written in a very clear format by well-known and knowledgeable authors.
Warning: Don’t become discouraged with the magnitude of prescribed attitudes, knowledge, and skills. Take your time to first absorb the model’s guiding components and second, apply your own experience to these components, and third, add new knowledge that you gain from future study. Adopt the Total Quality Management (TQM) adage that all of us are “works in progress.” Specifically, “Work on the possible, while awaiting perfection.” Even your smallest efforts will reap enormous rewards. And, your evolutionary progress toward becoming a successful hospitality consultative salesperson will be a constant source of personal and professional pride. Let’s begin the success journey!
The Consultative Selling Model – An Explanation of its Structure
Referring to Figure 1 (repeated below), note that the model is composed
of two structures: (a) The Consultative Selling Model and (b) The
Competitive Environment that affects the model. The model has four
distinct “phases” and eight “steps.” The competitive environment is continuously
changing and will affect how the strategies of the four phases of the model
are adapted to the changing environment.
Figure 1 (Repeated)
THE CONSULTATIVE SELLING MODEL
“Becoming a Successful Professional Hospitality Salesperson”
Phase I, Personal and Professional Strategy, is a Foundation. It is the underlying driver and supports all selling activities. Without this foundation, it is impossible to build or establish relationships on a long-term basis. Let me repeat, it’s impossible to build relationships unless you first understand yourself and develop yourself. Any attempt to use superficial, quick fix, and popular “how to win friends and influence people” techniques, will ultimately fail. If building true personal and professional character is too difficult for you, stop reading right now. The foundation focuses on Phase I – Personal and Professional Management: (a) Personal characteristics values, knowledge, skills and persistence, the ability to persevere and see tasks to completion and (b) Professional characteristics which devote values, knowledge, skills, and persistence to the selling process.
Phase II, Supply and Demand Strategy, is focuses on information that is essential for all successful salespeople. You must intimately know your and your competitor’s products/services. And, you must understand customers’ buying processes, motivations and have the ability to locate and prioritize customers.
Phase III, Customer Acquisition and Maintenance Strategy, focuses on the Selling Process. The previous phases prepare you for the crucial steps of presentation of your product/service benefits to the customers. These proceeding phases emphasize thorough preparation before you ever place yourself in front of the customer in a presentation mode. If you are thoroughly prepared, your selling presentation will meet less resistance. You must be prepare in advance: (a) Attain product knowledge, (b) Build solid relationships with prospects and customers, (c) Establish and build a customer database in order to effectively manage massive amounts of customer information, and (d) In advance of every meeting with prospects/customers, prepare a presentation plan.
Phase IV, Evaluation & Improvement Strategy, is concerned with continuously monitoring and evaluating results achieved from the previous phases and how a professional salesperson would improve performance. These improvements are then implemented back through Phase I and the cycle begins again. Continuous implementation of the phases followed by evaluation and improvement leads to professionalism.
The Competitive Environment
The existence of this environment indicates a dynamic
versus a static situation. The four phases of the Consultative Selling
Model are basic selling principles. Principles do not change, but
the circumstances under which they are applied will change depending on
the competitive environment. Thus, it’s imperative that the competitive
environment is continuously scanned and considered when designing the strategies
of each of the four phases of the model.
The successful professional hospitality salesperson is continuously improving; continuously assessing both the internal and controllable elements (the model) and the external and uncontrollable (the competitive environment).
The Consultative Selling Model is explained in detail below. The approach is twofold: (a) first, prescribe and (b) second, refer to reading in the references at the end of this article.
The Four Phase (8 Step) Model In Detail
PHASE I: Personal & Professional Strategy
STEP # 1: Professional Management
Prescription. You must adopt values associated
with a consultative approach to selling; be a Problem-Solver/Partner with
your prospects/customers. Today, salespeople are sophisticated “Micro-Marketers”
and no longer “Peddlers.” Micro-Marketers are salespeople who organize
themselves and conduct selling operations similar to the business firm’s
marketing operations; all marketing functions, concepts, and principles
are self-contained within the salesperson themselves. You must philosophically
value your profession and role of selling and understand your contribution
to the betterment of society. Remember, as a salesperson, you provide
solutions to customers’ problems. You must adopt an ethical and “win/win”
approach to your negotiations with customers and think of yourself as a
consultant or as doctor. The customer has problems (ailments) and
you have products/services (medicine) which can help solve (cure) these
problems. Adopt the consultative approach to selling.
You must continuously develop and manage your knowledge, skills, and persistence in producing results. You need knowledge of the hospitality industry and knowledge of the interrelationship of selling and operation. Who are the revenue “Hunters” (salespeople) in all “sub-areas of the hospitality industry? Who are the “Hunted” (target customers)? What is the relationship between salespeople and operations people and how are they mutually interdependent? Study territory management, appointment/time management, and record management. Utilize computer technology to simplify your paperwork. Manage the stress associated with the typical salesperson’s motivation swings; the swings between the euphoric “high” of making a sale and the doldrums between sales. Avoid the, “hero one day, and goat the next” syndrome. Learn how to become a team player. Today, selling teams are selling to teams of buyers; especially when it comes to complex products.
Persist! Transactional sales has been historically ruled by the law of large numbers (see many people and sell in a single appointment) so, persistence has always been needed. With consultative selling, persistence is still needed.
While larger and more complex sales require multiple appointments for each sale and the consultative sales person calls on fewer customers, persistence is needed to effectively develop the customer account over a long period. Developing and managing solid relationships has been added to the consultative salesperson’s requirements for success. Building relationships and converting prospects into customers is a process. By continuously pursuing the steps of the Consultative Selling Model, you will be making long-term progress toward success in this process. Have faith and persist in fulfilling the promise of the model. Hone your skills and persist to produce seamless practice of the Consultative Selling Model.
Resources: (a) Dainow, Sheila & Bailey, Caroline, 1988, (b) Etzel, Barbara & Thomas, Peter, 1996, (c) Gilpin, Suzanne, C. 1996, (d) Hopkins, Tom, 1995, (e) Manning & Reese, 1997, and (f) Scholtes, Peter, R, 1988.
STEP # 2: Personal Management
Prescription. Personally, you must strive
to maintain strong ethical values, increase your knowledge, improve your
skills, and persist in tasks that you undertake. Your personal values must
include genuine honesty, integrity, and the respect for others. You must
value a balanced life: (a) Physical life, (b) Social/Emotional life, (c)
Mental life, and (d) Spiritual life whether define this as secularly philosophical
or religious. Balance is needed to maintain your holistic health
Personally you must have interpersonal knowledge and skills. These include listening and communication skills. These skills are the basis for effective professional skills.
Personally, you must have the ability and desire to produce outcomes. Personal planning and organizational skills, for example, goals and time management, are essential for your success. Additionally, you must balance time and effort between developing “production-capability” and managing actual “production” activities (Covey, 1989).
Resources. The following are suggested
further reading; see the references at the end of this article for a full
citation of the resource: (a) Covey, 1989, (b) Kouzes, James, M.
& Posner, Barry, Z., 1993, (c) Maxwell, 1997, and (d) Maxwell, John,
C. & Dornan, Jim, 1997.
PHASE II: Supply and Demand Strategy
STEP # 3: Product/Service Management
The Product/Service is a Solution to Customers’ Problems
Prescription. . Know your and your competitions’ products/services and sell “Features/Benefits. See your product as a “cluster” of benefits; product/service, your company (philosophy and commitment to quality), and yourself (values, knowledge, skills, and professionalism).
Resources. Manning & Reese, 1997. Also, consult any good marketing text for the discussion of differences between products and services. Pay specific attention to the discussions of the many value-added components of products and services.
Develop Product-Selling Strategies
Prescription. Position your product as it compares with your competition’s offering. Specifically, understand your product’s features/benefits and how they match with your target customers’ needs as compared to your competitors’.
Resources. Manning & Reese, 1997. Again, consult a marketing text for a discussion of “Positioning.” Remember you are a “micro-marketer” and use the same principles a does marketing for an organization.
STEP # 4: Customer Management
Establish and Maintain Relationships
Prescription. To establish relationships, adopt a “win/win” philosophy and project a professional image. Build networks of contacts and remember that you are marketing/selling yourself as well as your product/service. Maintain your established relationships by taking a structured and systematic approach. Use periodic and frequent contacts with your relationships and vary the types and purposes of presentations you make.
Resources. (a) Covey, 1989, (b) Etzel, Barbara & Thomas, Peter. (1996), (c) Kouzes, James, M. & Posner, Barry, Z., 1993, and (d) Manning & Reese, 1997.
Understand Buyer Motivation and Buying Process and Styles
Prescription. What motivates customers to buy? What do they need/want? What are their “communication” styles? Understand the motivations of buyers in general. Study the specific motivations of your targeted prospects and customers.
Resources. (a) Brinkman, Rick & Kirschner, Rick, 1994, (b) Dainow, Sheila & Bailey, Caroline, 1988, (c) Covey, 1989, (d) Goldberg, Michael J, 1996, (e) Leland, Karen & Bailey, Keith, 1995, and (f) Manning & Reese, 1997. Consult basic sociology and psychology texts. Good marketing texts also discuss buyer motivations.
Database Management of Prospects & Customers
Prescription. Compile a large list of “Potential” buyers: (a) Continuously update, (b) Prioritize according to potentials, (c) Categorize according to “stage of selling cycle” (where are they: relationship building, need assessment, presentation, or service?), and (d) Utilize computerized database technology to actively manage (for example: ACT contact software, Goldmine, Delphi products, etc.).
Resources. (a) Etzel, Barbara & Thomas, Peter, 1996, (b) Jackson, Rob & Wang, Paul, 1994, (c) Nash, Edward, L., 1993, and (d) Hopkins, Tom, 1998a. Visit any large computer software retailer and browse the shelves; a large number of inexpensive contact and relationship software is available.
PHASE III: Customer Acquisition and Maintenance Strategy
STEP # 5 Presentation Management
Pre-Approach (Before Seeing the Potential Customer)
Prescription. Prepare a written presentation
plan prior to the actual meeting with the prospect/customer. Here
you set your objectives for the presentation and develop a plan to implement
the presentation. You should consider several scenarios: worst case,
best case, and most probable case. You want to anticipate as much
as possible; for example, the resistance you might meet (objections) and
how you would negotiate them (handling objections). Your best preparation
is to know everything possible about the prospect/customer and your product,
and your competition.
In a Single-Meeting Presentation (where you have never met with the prospect previously), you must do the following at a minimum: (a) establish rapport, (b) discover needs, (c) match your product features/benefits with customer needs, and (d) close (either ask for the order or get commitment for the next action step). In a Multi-Meeting Presentation (the most common in complex product/service selling), you must accomplish the steps above, however you may have: (a) a first meeting devoted only to relationship building, (b) another meeting devoted to needs discovery, and (c) another devoted to the benefit/need presentation itself. Multi-Meeting Presentations are characteristically used in selling group and convention business; a complex and expensive product/service. The primary purpose of the Pre-Approach Step is thorough preparation for the presentation.
Resources. Manning, Gerald, L. & Reece, Barry L, 1997.
Presentation and Demonstration (During the Face-to-Face Presentation)
Prescription. Presentations can be categorized by purpose: (a) Creating awareness, (b) Educational, (c) Persuasion, (d) Reminding [customer of your successful relationship], and (e) Service. Remember that you develop the relationship by varied contacts and make presentations that are not always aimed at persuasion. Also, you may be meeting with the prospect/customer: (a) in person, one-on-one or selling to a group, (b) by printed material (letters and brochures sent through the mail, and/or (c) electronically, telephone (one person or conference call), teleconferencing (audio/video connections), and/or by computer (shared electronic documents, e-mail, and internet interactive discussion).
Resources. (a) Hopkins, Tom, 1995 and (b) Manning, Gerald, L. & Reece, 1997. Both of these resources discuss the entire selling process.
The following discussion outlines the major component parts of a Persuasive Presentation. Many of the same principles are applied to other types of presentations and those conducted through media other than “face-to-face.”
Prescription. Learn how to establish rapport and/or reestablish your relationship upon greeting your prospect/customer. This is a social contact and influences the tone of the meeting. What will be your first impression? What would you talk about? Hopefully, you did your homework in preparation and know a lot about the prospect/customer. After briefly making the social contact, you must transition to the business contact (this is the primary purpose that has brought you to this meeting).
Resources. (a) Brinkman, Rick & Kirschner, Rick, 1994, (b) Goldberg, Michael J., 1996, and (c) Manning, Gerald, L. & Reece, Barry, 1997.
The Sales Presentation/Demonstration (Format)
Prescription. In a Single-Meeting Presentation,
after establishing rapport, you must ask questions to discover the customer’s
needs. In a Multi-Meeting Presentation, you already have discovered the
prospect/customer’s needs in a previous meeting. The following sequence
indicates the parts of a Multi-Meeting Presentation following establishment
of rapport: (a) Summarize the customer’s needs, (b) One need/benefit at
a time, match product benefits with each of the prospect/customer’s needs.
Use a sequence such as this, “You indicated a need for…; here is my product
feature (need solution) and demonstration (proof) of that feature; which
means to you…(translates the feature into a benefit); is this what you
had in mind?”(confirmation question); (c) Summarize all of the benefits
that satisfy the customer’s needs, (d) Make a closing statement or question,
and (e) Make an appointment for an after-sale service call.
The proceeding assumes that the prospect/customer did not object and agreed to purchase your product/service. As you know, it’s never this smooth.
Resources. (a) Arredondo, Lani, 1994, (b) Kushner, Malcolm, 1995, and (c) Leech, Thomas, 1993.
Negotiating Buyer Resistance
Prescription. The following discussion is familiar to you as, “Handling Objections,” however; this term connotes a “win/lose” type of negotiation. It also connotes that somehow you plan to manipulate the prospect/customer to make the purchase using whatever techniques or means possible. Of course, a customer who later discovers that the purchased product does not fully satisfy their needs or that he or she has been manipulated, is not a candidate for a relationship with you. Consultative Selling relies on “win/win” negotiations. These are open, a two-way problem solving dialogue, and conducted in an atmosphere of trust. Thus, the term, “Negotiating Buyer Resistance” connotes the right for the customer to resist if the product does not satisfy their needs and/or if the customer doesn’t fully understand your presentation. It’s imperative that you assume a problem-solving consultative stance, fully listen to and understand the customer.
NOTE: Discussed below in Closing, methods used vary with whether or not you are involved with transactional selling (small sales that will be accomplished in a single sales call) or consultative selling (large, complex sales that require multiple sales calls). Similarly, negotiation/objection-handling methods vary with the type of sale in which you are involved. The following discussion primarily deals with negotiating resistance during transactional selling, but does provide insights into negotiating consultative sales.
Of course, your experience tells you that in most presentations you will meet resistance to your presentation (your presentation of your product’s ability to solve customer’s needs and problems). Resistance can occur at any time during the presentation. It may occur at the conclusion of a Benefit/Need statement when the salesperson asks a Confirmation question, at the Close statement, and/or anywhere else. There are common types of customer resistance and you must know these and be skilled in various methods to address this resistance.
For example, price is the most common type of resistance. Other types of resistance include: (a) resistance to the source (customer has loyalty to a competitor), (b) resistance related to time (customer doesn’t want to make a decision at the time of the presentation closing statement), (c) resistance to the product itself (customer is not familiar with the product or is familiar but has preconceived misconceptions), and (d) resistance to the need for the product (customer truly doesn’t need or doesn’t know that they need).
Methods to answer customer resistance include but are not limited to: (a) Direct Denial, which clarifies facts, (b) Indirect Denial, which acknowledges partial validity of the customer’s objection but offsets with a superior benefit, (c) Trial Offer of the product to reduce the customer’s perceived risk, (d) Superior Benefit, which outweighs the competitor’s offering, (e) Third Party Endorsement, which adds credibility, (f) Question Format, which restates the benefit and suggests an obviously rational choice to be made by the customer, and (g) Demonstration, which is a tangible supporting “proof” device that usually is combined with any of the methods above.
Resources. (a) Dainow, Sheila & Bailey, Caroline, 1988, (b) Donaldson, Michael, C & Donaldson, Mimi, 1996, and (c) Hopkins, Tom, 1995 and 1998b.
Closing and Confirming the Sale
Prescription. Closing “asks” for the
order and Confirming “reassures” the buyer that they have made the right
decision. Closing the sale is less difficult if the presentation
process has been properly handled. Closing is part of the selling process
and is a logical outcome of well-planned presentation management.
The closing stage in large and multi-call sales differs from the closing stage single-call sales. In single-call sales, closing asks for the order. In multi-call sales commitment from the customer can be expressed when the customer agrees to advance the buying process to the next stage (the next sales call). A successful close in the multi-call sale might be the customer’s agreement to bring a higher level decision-maker into the selling/buying negotiation—an advancement of the process. While the mechanics of transactional closing techniques (effective in single-call sales) are not always applicable to multi-call consultative selling, a well-rounded and developed salesperson knows these techniques and when and where to use them. The following describes these transactional selling techniques.
Closing a sale can be facilitated by some general guidelines. These should be accomplished during the presentation: (a) focus on dominant buying motives, (b) negotiate the tough points before attempting the close, (c) avoid surprises [new information] at the close, (d) do not isolate the prospect/customer during the sale [ensure that there has been two-way dialogue and involvement during the presentation], (e) display a high degree of self-confidence at the close, (f) ask for the order more than once [don’t give up if the buyer says, “no” the first time that you make a closing statement/question], and recognize closing clues during the presentation [prospect/customer may indicate verbal or non-verbal clues and you must be ready to Close at that point] (Manning & Reece, 1997).
Closing a sale can be facilitated by some specific methods. In preparing for your presentation in the Pre-Approach, it is advisable that you review the following closing methods and be prepared, if appropriate, to use one or all of them: (a) Trial Close, used at an opportune time during the presentation and when you perceive the prospect/customer is about to make a decision, (b) Summary of Benefits Close, used after you have presented the major benefits solving the customer’s needs and perceive his or her affirmative decision, (c) Assumption Close, used when you believe that there is a high probability of an affirmative decision, (d) Special Concession Close, gives the prospect/buyer something extra for acting immediately, (e) Negotiating the Single-Problem Close, used when there is resistance on a minor point and you move forward with a close attempt while simultaneously including a creative solution to the minor problem and resistance, (g) Limited Choice Close allows the prospect/customer several options and you to determine the relative degree of they buyer’s interest in each option; at the closing attempt, you then remove all options except those of high prospect/customer interest, and (h) Direct Appeal Close is simply asking for the order in a straightforward manner.
Confirming the sale occurs after the customer says, “yes.” The purpose is to reassure the customer by pointing out that he or she has made the correct decision. This step is important is addressing "post-purchase remorse” which is a common emotion following a purchase decision. In Relationship Selling, Closing the Sale is the beginning of a long-term relationship with the customer. Your reassurance will be helpful in maintaining and developing this relationship.
Resources. (a) Hopkins, Tom, 1998b and (b) Manning, Gerald, L. & Reece, Barry L, 1997.
STEP # 6 After-Sale Service
Prescription. Servicing the sale encompasses all activities that enhance satisfaction with the purchase and all activities that enhance use of the product/service that was purchased. Service management is an essential part of Relationship Selling because Customer Satisfaction determines the length, width, depth, and duration of a customer’s relationship with you and your company. Servicing the sale maintains the relationship, which leads to repeat business, and increased purchases.
Customer satisfaction is the result of product/service performance compared with customers’ expectations of product/service performance. Customers obtain their expectations from messages from many sources but expectations come primarily from marketing messages and promises made by salespeople. Long-term relationships will not happen if promised expectations are not kept.
In the service industry [the hospitality industry] promises to the customer are met in two ways: (a) the employees of the organization [hotel] deliver the product/service that is promised by the salesperson and (b) you do what you say you will do. You have little or no direct control over employee performance; only indirect control through relationships you build with the employees [internal customers] and direct appeal to the general operations manager. However, you have direct control of the delivery of your promises made to the customer. There are three general areas where you can actively manage after-sale service: (a) follow-through on Assurances and Promises that were part of your sales presentation, (b) add value with suggestion selling of items that relate to the main purchase and further enhance it, and (c) customer follow-up methods which have the major objective to express your appreciation for the purchase and further enhance your relationship with the customer.
Service management after the initial purchase is the key to continuing long-term relationships. In the model (Figure 1), these relationships are grounded by your continuous personal and professional development. These relationships are developed by your commitment to consciously cycle through the Selling Process Phases. And they are maintained by your commitment to after-sale service management. These long-term relationships will produce repeat sales and referral business.
Resources. (a) Leland, Karen & Bailey, Keith, 1995, and (b) Manning, Gerald, L. & Reece, Barry L, 1997.
PHASE IV: Evaluation and Improvement Strategy
STEP # 7: Metrics & Evaluation Management
This step reminds the professional salesperson that they must monitor and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each customer encounter. Results indicate where gaps exist between goals and performance. Professional salespeople must be realistic and truthful about their performance. This approach is the only one that will provide the data for future improvement.
STEP # 8: Continuous Quality Improvement Management
Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) is an outgrowth of methodologies that have arisen in the Quality Era. Step # 8, CQI, dictates that the professional salesperson must do more than monitor and evaluate strengths and weaknesses of each customer encounter. The salesperson must actively apply information gained from evaluation. The salesperson must attempt to improve the next customer encounter using this information. Thus, the Consultative Selling Model revolves: Phase IV supplies new and updated information which is fed into Phase I and the model cycles another time. Each CQI effort continuously improves the effectiveness and efficiency of the consultative salesperson.
Remember, “they don’t care what you know, until they know how much you care.” In the Quality Era, competitive advantage in selling is dependent upon the strength of your relationships with prospects and customers. Develop these relationships so that the customer will allow you to become a trusted consultant to them. They don’t care what you know or what you have to sell if you don’t convince them that you care about them and their interests. Increasingly, they won’t give you a chance to tell your “product” story if you haven’t first established a relationship with them. Why? The answer is because your competitors have probably already started building a relationship with them.
Get started today. The Consultative Selling Model prescribed in this article is a guiding map and you can customize it by adding your existing knowledge, experiences, and practices. You already have many of the skills prescribed. Improve where you are already strong and add where you are deficient, but commit yourself today to becoming a successful and professional hospitality salesperson. Embracing the Consultative Selling Model is your key to competitive advantage in the Quality Era.
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