Win Your Customer Through Consultative Selling
As a Regional Manager-Sales, North, Sandeep leads a team of Key Account Managers at a consumer durable & electronics major. Besides being responsible for his region’s performance, he also handles few key clients directly. One among them is a multi-brand retail major in the country – Citylife Retail. The client has been facing a major slowdown in the brick and mortar model business from online sellers. With the foray of new brands and sellers based on digital technology model, the competition is fierce. Although Citylife Retail is a huge brand in North, it is losing its market share to perceivably newer brands and sellers for their novelty factors. Sandeep is known to be an expert in consultative selling by virtue of his training and experience he has supported many clients to win in the marketplace. In the recent past, he has supported his clients to transform through new media solutions. His current challenge is to transform Citylife Retail.
How does Sandeep understand Citylife’s problems?
Sandeep meets the director- sales &marketing of Citylife – Swati Pal – to understand the issues, challenges, and reasons for the dip in sales numbers. Over several meetings with Swati he learns more about the brand proposition and gains insights about the needs of Citylife’s customers. The meetings help Sandeep to infer that apart from other factors, the digital boom has been instrumental in creating a tough business environment for Citylife. The philosophy of consultative selling is found on understanding a customer’s needs and position the solution to those identified needs.
In today’s VUCA environment when the complexity of the ecosystem of business is ever growing, enterprises look for trusted and worthy advisors to guide them to better results. It can be inferred with reasonable certainty that this business environment is only going to become more complex in the future. The most significant reason for the same has been the internet. Digital has facilitated the decision-makers (customers) to research, analyze and assess the various offerings of the sellers online. By the time the customers start talking to a potential seller, they are already on the decision-making journey and this makes ‘consultative selling’ even more relevant.
What does Sandeep infer?
Citylife’s current customer demographic profile was skewed towards the older loyalist and they were not able to attract new customers owing to lack of novelty in the brand experience. Also, they had no online platform for the millennials who comprised the chunk of new buyers. Sandeep also learns that at the shop floor level there was an urgent need to engage the sales staff and for the back-end corporate team it was pertinent to understand new consumer trends and experiences. In consultative selling, the focus is on comprehending customer’s needs and educating the customer simultaneously. To render this, the sales professional often requires strong sapiential authority which is essentially possession of a high-level knowledge and insight that can be used to influence the customer. Today, what customers are looking from sales professionals is not merely defining their needs, but also educating and partnering with them for innovative ideas and solutions that will help their business to perform in a dynamic environment.
Sandeep concluded that if City life had to be relevant in the face of new market dynamics and customer expectations it first needed to change the internal customers. With experience, he knew that any successful change begins with an organizational culture change. Also, Citylife had to find a new way to reach the new customers who had a discerning preference for online shopping. Consultative Selling focuses not only on defining customer needs but also redefining how the customer perceives those needs. He communicated to them that it will take effort on their part to change and inspire them to take both strategic and tactical actions, thereby driving organizational change in the process.
What was advised by Sandeep?
Considering the fact that Citylife was already an established player in the traditional brick and mortar business model, Sandeep did not want to turn their apple cart. Hence he came up with a hybrid approach for Swati. Besides organization culture change and other solutions, the first proposition included ‘consultative selling’ approach as a key to address the loyal customer base. At the same time, his second proposition was the launch of an online portal with competitive pricing. Both were necessary to be relevant in the minds of existing loyalist while building a high perception brand value to attract the new consumers.
With multiple online media, there is a plethora of information on the web, and most customers and /or decision makers know how to find and construe it. This leads to tough competition giving multiple options to the customer to choose from. Almost invariably this leads to a situation where several competing players offer comparable approaches to solving the same problem of the customer. Customers are pampered with multiple options which allows them to compare different sellers against similar parameters thereby funneling it all down to price wars and discounting. The opportunity for consultative selling is to vivify the differentiated offerings in the minds of the customers. Consultative selling is an opportunity to share tacit knowledge and build greater perceived value. The seller with higher perceived ‘value’ wins in the marketplace through a consultative approach.
‘Value’ is defined as the perception of something of worth. Since it is based on perception ‘value’, it is determined differently by every individual. Buyers examine ‘value’ as what they get, versus what ‘price’ they pay. Hence Sandeep made Citylife understand that they will need to ‘create’ value as well as ‘communicate’ value to affect tangible business impact for themselves. This was a clear case of consultative selling to create sustainable brand value.
Why did Sandeep advise what he did?
The rise of the internet and social media has contributed to the acceleration of change in the sales approach and methodology. The belief is that in the future, this trend of internet usage and social media will continue to proliferate. Therefore, Citylife’s sales efforts will need to adapt ‘go-to-market’ strategies and new methods to support and fit the immensely increased knowledge power of consumers to see greater success. Social media has made everything transparent and brands who have a strong “digital presence” are more empowered to deliver value via new modes of digital media for a better customer experience.
Sandeep knows that the path of change was difficult; however, it is deemed to be a mandate for impacting business results in future. As a consultative seller, Sandeep has had a record of transforming the businesses of many of his clients to the path of success through collaboration. His solutions approach is multi-dimensional and much broader in its scope and nature. Even his customers are often pleasantly surprised at his creative abilities in providing solutions to impact business performance. His past collaborations with his clients have had a high success rate. This time to his solution to transform City life through his multipronged advice looks promising.
However, only time will testify about Citylife’s success and if Sandeep would succeed once again through ‘Consultative Selling’.
What is your prediction– will Sandeep create another successful business transformation?
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