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Consultative selling can require many months to close a sale. Typically many people are involved in the process, across multiple organizations and multiple levels from both your and the customer's organization. A discovery process is employed to fully understand the customer's needs. There may be an on-site presentation of the findings, and conceptual recommendations for next steps to determine the right solution. Relationships are built with the customer contacts throughout the sales process, and the need for references to close the final sale evaporates.
Solution selling can require a long sales cycle, however it often takes only 2-6 months. Fewer people are involved, with the seller engaging a technical specialist to assist with configuring or designing the solution. The sale frequently can be closed with only one or two versions of a proposal followed by the customer checking your references.
The culture of your organization
If the culture of your organization is one to watch revenue on a monthly basis, and hold sellers to monthly quota targets, a longer consultative process is difficult. While the eventual sale is generally larger than with a solution sale, it does not always deliver consistent monthly revenue. A solution sales approach, with its shorter, more simplified sales cycle will deliver more consistent monthly revenue.
If your culture values customer relationships across the customer's organization, a consultative approach will foster those relationships by demonstrating the value in working with your company. The discovery process, combined with the involvement of multiple people and the conceptual recommendation approach, has customer contacts involved in crafting the final solution, elevating the final proposal to their own recommendation.
The consultative sales approach works very well in the SMB segment and sellers quickly find themselves becoming trusted advisors to their customers through the discovery process. Continued follow-up in the solution sales approach will allow sellers to build strong relationships with their customers over time.
The offerings you sell
Many sellers believe the offerings you sell dictate the approach to use. This is only partly true. Complex solutions and high-dollar products do require a more consultative approach and a longer sales process. The customer needs more information to choose the right solution, justify the expenditure, and gain agreement to move forward, especially if it is a large expenditure in the SMB space. These solutions often include services, or may be service-only solutions.
Less complex solutions, or low-dollar products and services, which the contact understands with relative ease, are strong solution sales opportunities. The customer often knows what he or she is looking for and will be frustrated if you attempt to engage in a consultative, "let me help you figure this out" sales approach.
Evaluate the customer's need for information and education and let it guide you as to which approach to use.
What customers need from the sales cycle
If you are selling to an SMB contact who fully understands the technical intricacies of his needs, he has probably done his research prior to meeting with you. This type of SMB buyer knows what he wants and the type of solution he needs to solve his specific issue. He only needs you to provide product information, demonstrations, customer references, and your implementation process. For this SMB contact, the solution sales approach works well. Make suggestions. Provide options. Make it easy and let him buy his way.
Where the consultative sales approach works best is when you are working with business executives focused on business results. Often these are owners or partners. They value brainstorming together and recommendations for different solutions and services to consider. They appreciate your guidance throughout their buying process, and hearing how other customers have addressed similar challenges. They value long term relationships, and probably see their solution as one that will include multiple phases and have a financial impact on the business' results.
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