In business, a lot of service providers focus on how to sell their proposals better. Many
techniques have been learnt, from high-impact selling to persuasive selling and from
emotional selling to consultative selling. All these skills are useful once there is a formal
opportunity to propose. The question is: how do we get the opportunity to propose in the
first place? Without that opportunity, the chance of successful selling is zero.
To increase our opportunities, one important skill that business people must have is
Consultative Dialog. While the goal of consultative selling is to get the customer’s buy-in, the
goal of consultative dialog is to get a formal opportunity to propose to the customer. When
we say ‘formal opportunity’, we mean that the customer is fully interested, is looking forward
to our proposal and is ready to invite the relevant stakeholders to the meeting. This is not the
usual laissez-faire attitude of ‘send us your proposal for us to have a look.
Consultative Dialog is a systematic way of engaging customers in normal conversations and
when the opportunity arises, he/she is swift to guide the dialog towards a subject that can
help create the opportunity to share a formal proposal. Most skillful salespersons could strike
up a consultative dialog while having informal lunches with customers or in a cocktail party.
Some could engage in a consultative dialog during the review of a previous project or even at
the end of any meetings with customers.
We think most of us have that experience where after a business review with a customer,
some casual chit-chat takes place and before we know it, both parties are talking about how
the customer could use our service again in another situation. In other words, we could have
engaged ourselves in consultative dialogs without us being aware. Isn’t it good if we can
replicate our success at other meetings or lunches too?
Consultative Dialog is a systematic 8-step process comprises many skills and techniques. It
will be too long to be completed and too technical for this article and we have chosen to
emphasize a few tips that all of us could find useful and could apply easily in our next dialog.
Tip #1: Business cycles
To engage in interesting subjects with a customer, we must first understand the customer’s
business cycles. What are the common business cycles a customer is going through now or
soon? Is it budgeting or staff resignation? Is it quarterly review or chasing quarter numbers?
When we talk about the subjects that the customer is going through, we get more of his/her
Tip #2: To be interested, first be interesting
Once we have the right subject, learn about the customer’s situation with genuine interest
instead of with an intention to sell. Remember: to be interesting, first be interested. If we are
not interested in the customer’s situation, why should he or she be interested in our services?
Tip #3: Don’t find the right lock for the right key.
Many a time, salespersons listen with the intention of selling their solutions. If we do that at
the early stage of a dialog, we probably will miss out a lot of opportunities because we only
could hear what we want to hear. If we do that, it is like we have a key and we try to find a
lock that it can open! If we are truly customer-centric and solution-centric, we would want to
know what problems the customer is facing and what solutions the customer is seeking. Then
we can review their situation with our available solutions and provide a connection.
Tip #4: Killer questions
Asking questions is a powerful way to influence customers. But there is one type of question
that is more powerful than the rest and when this question is asked, it will hit the customer’s
prime concern or need directly and motivate them to open up to us for solutions. These
questions are called killer questions. Killer questions touch on the customer’s prime concern
or need which they want to solve urgently or passionately. Killer questions are very contextual
and because of that, the questions differ from customer to customer and from industry to
industry. In training, one of the common customers’ frustration is that customers are unable
to measure the investment return on training. A sample killer question will be “if we have a
methodology that can quantify the investment return for all your trainings, can I say you truly
want this problem to be solved once and for all?”
We hope the tips will help you create more opportunities in coming dialogs. It’s the year
end and 2017 is just around the corner. What cycle will your customers be in by then? What
are their primary concerns and do you have your killer questions ready?