Consultative selling is a much maligned and misunderstood word today in the services industry and more specifically IT services industry. Over the years in my experience I have seen most of the business development reps consider that consultative selling is to basically recite in front of the customer the catalogue of the services and products their company provides and “hope” that in “sympathy” the prospect/ customer will find by herself a need that fits the services offered. Once the customer figures that out, more often than not the only “value” that is provided is low-balling the prices to win the deal.
In my experience, a true business development professional in IT services has to be “consultative” and “ prescriptive” to win the hearts and minds of the CXOs of Fortune 1000 companies they sell to. And also to build everlasting relationships based on value they deliver, rather than price they provide.
Being “consultative” is not the ability to play a round of golf or discuss sports over cocktails. Though doing these could help in bonding with the customer, they are just not enough. Being “ consultative” is the ability of the business development professional to truly understand customer needs, priorities, exigencies and in a very bespoke way. Once he understands these, based on past experience and the competencies of his organization, construct a solution using various elements in his services portfolio that meets the need of the CXO in a very effective way. Services as against a product, cannot be touched and felt by customer prior to buying/signing on the contract to buy. Therefore, consultative selling also means painting a vivid picture to the CXO customer how the end state looks like once the solution is implemented and also explaining the ROI of such a solution. Hence, to be truly consultative, a business development rep has to have a good understanding of the customers’ industry, changes facing the industry, and the general imperatives for companies that need to execute to be successful. Reps also need to have a very good understanding of the specific customer landscape, financial situation and competitive situation. Knowing these in isolation are not enough; but the ability to tie in and apply these to the solution that is being crafted is also critical.
Being “ prescriptive” is the ability of the business development rep to advise the CXO on how to meet her business goals, in this context using technology. Being prescriptive is the ability of weighing in the pros and cons of each solution to CXO issue/ problem and suggesting the best way forward. To be prescriptive, business development rep should be perceived as a peer by the CXO. It has to be a peer-peer relationship with the CXO as against the master-slave relationship that is typical of current status in the industry. To be prescriptive business development rep must be perceived as some one who in his past life has encountered these issues/problems and has successfully devised and executed solutions to meet those goals and overcome issues. To be prescriptive business development rep has to have a “point of view” based on ability to apply his expertise to the current business objectives of the CXO. It also helps if the business development rep is considered a thought leader either in a specific technology or in an industry. Business development rep cannot be prescriptive to the CXO without building a value-based relationship and demonstrating deep empathy towards customer needs. It takes time and effort to build a relationship with CXOs for the business development rep to be prescriptive. Client partner as a role that is currently in vogue in the industry does address this need and we see successful client partners stay with the same customers year on years.
To my mind to be very successful in business development, Holy Grail is the combination of both being consultative and prescriptive. Happy building relationships!