How to Sell Invisible IoT Solutions That Deliver Verifiable Customer Outcomes – Part 2

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Mike Kunkle

Last time, in Part 1 of this post, I discussed that:

  • The market for IoT is exploding, for those who can capitalize on the potential.
  • Selling full-scale IoT solutions is very much like “selling the invisible” because you are often selling custom solutions vs. an off-the-shelf product.
  • If you fully apply the concept of consultative selling to an environment like the emerging IoT market, you will unleash a force rarely seen in modern selling history.
  • Advanced sales methodologies will be required, but those are almost impossible to scale across a sales force without a solid foundation of consultative selling skills.

In Part 2 of this series, I’ll identify some of the key mindsets and provide guidance on key skill sets that are foundational to true consultative selling.

The Foundational Mindsets and Skills of True Consultative Selling

On its own, this topic could easily be an ebook or book. For now, I’ll focus just on what I feel the key mindsets and skillsets are, and expand on both in a future post.

Mindsets

The paradox of selling was pointed out by Zig Ziglar many years ago. To get what you want in life, you must help enough other people get what they want. Thus, to succeed in the world of professional B2B selling, you must focus on helping your buyers achieve their desired outcomes.

Yet, there is a necessary balance in business – a Yin and Yang, if you will. You must remain profitable, so you can stay in business and continue to serve all your customers. Your goals, your sales performance, your recognition, and your compensation are an outcome of your behaviors. Focus on the right behaviors – serving your buyers and making them successful – and you will be far more likely to achieve the goals, performance, recognition and compensation that you desire.

At the same time, to be successful, you must uncover problems you can solve or opportunities you can enable. For other problems that you come across, perhaps you can grow your status as a trusted advisor by providing advice or connecting your buyers to others who can help (perhaps a strategic partner, when applicable), but you do need to focus on problems you can solve or opportunities you can enable. And, you must do it profitably. This is the context in which it’s okay to be focused on you – because it actually does serve your buyers and clients.

Lastly, how you think and speak about your buyers and the work you do, influences how you act and come across to others. If you want to be more consultative, you must think consultatively and collaboratively. This goes beyond what most people think of as mindset, such as self-discipline, optimism, persistence and others, and includes thinking very differently about selling itself:

  • Stop thinking “Inside-Out” (self-focused) about your products, services and solutions. Start thinking “Outside-In” (other-focused) about your buyers’ challenges and opportunities.
  • Stop thinking about “Matching Needs to Features and Benefits.” Start thinking about “Conducting a Situation Assessment and Gap Analysis between Current State and Desired Future State” (including impacts and outcomes)
  • Stop thinking in terms of “Overcoming Objections” (combative). Start thinking about how you can help “Resolve Concerns” (consultative) with your buyers or clients.
  • Stop thinking about how you need to “Make a Pitch” (all about you, trying to influence them with a presentation). Start thinking about how you need to “Have a Solution Dialogue” (a consultative discussion about how your recommended solution – preferably a co-created one – can help them get what they want).
  • Stop thinking about what to do to “Close the Deal.” Start thinking about how you can provide significant value and simply “Secure Commitments” on the next steps.

While there are other mindsets, both personality-related and sales-related, this is a good start.

Core Skillsets

Here are some of the foundational consultative skillsets to consider. By the way, while I’m calling these foundational, you may notice that these are fairly advanced compared to the average sales rep. It takes commitment and effort to make this shift, which I’ll talk more about in Part 3. Some of these skillsets build from the mindsets discussed above, as well, so there is a dot-connection between the two.

Advanced communication skills

Sales is simply a form of human communication. The more effectively you communicate, the more effectively you can sell. Authentic, transparent communication trumps sales technique every time, but the ability to summarize effectively, make empathy statements, question effectively with purpose, position or preface statements or questions for clarity or impact, and more, improve your effectiveness at leading sales conversations. I’ve always been impressed by Richardson’s “Six Critical Skills” as a foundation for fostering better dialogue. In addition to selecting an effective sales methodology, this is an example of the communications skills needed for consultative selling.

Research skills to personalize approaches

With the explosion of the Internet and social media, researching companies and contacts is easier than ever before. Doing it well, to find insight into the company’s challenges, risks, opportunities, and initiatives, or a contact’s perspectives, interests, and approaches, does take skill. And doing it with the purpose of personalizing your approach, improving relevancy, adding context, and creating interest, is the highest purpose for advance research, and a way to do it consultatively.

Problem/outcome-focused prospecting (vs. product-focused)

This may be the ultimate expression of consultative selling… a shift away from an inside-out, product/services/solution focus, toward an outside-in, buyer-oriented, problem-focused approach. Rather than pitching products, focus on the problems your buyers experience, that you can solve.  Demonstrate an understanding of their world based on research, without assuming you’re right, but also being prepared to confirm and fully understand things from their perspective, before bringing your specific solutions into play.

Providing data, insights, and thought leadership

Buyers are expecting more from sales professionals. They expect data, insights, expertise, experience solving the problems they face, and in many cases, thought leadership. In the (paraphrased) sentiment expressed by at least a dozen buyers during discovery sessions in which I participated over the past few years, “I want to work with someone who can help me see around corners.”  The bigger the problem, the more significant the investment, the higher the risk for political exposure… the more this is true. Buyers want to work with a trusted partner who can create value by avoiding risks, solving problems, and capitalizing on opportunities to deliver pre-determined business outcomes. They expect you to bring insights and expertise to the table.

Meeting management

I’m always surprised when I see sales pros who can’t effectively set-up, lead, and close a meeting. Yet, I see it a lot more than I’d like. This isn’t typically considered a sales competency, but it should be. To a degree, this is also part of…

Team selling: Navigating the complex sale

In the world of enterprise B2B selling at the executive level, very few decisions are made by individuals. Various studies show that the average number of decision-makers per opportunity ranges from 5-7 people. In these cases, sales professionals are more of an orchestra conductor than a lone wolf, and need to marshal resources and effectively coordinate a team selling approach. And, to the above point, lead these meetings effectively.

Discovery: Conducting a situation assessment with current and future state gap analysis

To many sales reps, conducting discovery means simply asking questions that will set up their product pitch. Consultative discovery is a form of business analysis and involves the use of the advanced communication skills mentioned earlier. Conducting a gap analysis between the current and desired future states is a core tenet of consulting. Sales professionals must also have the business and financial acumen to uncover and understand the business model, the metrics that matter, the impacts of the current state and the desired outcomes, expressed in terms of the metrics that matter to the buyers involved. Done well, discovery is a competitive differentiator.

Solution design (co-creating value)

Want better buy-in to your solutions? Want to deliver solutions that differentiate you from your competitors? When your solution allows for it, get your clients involved in the problem-solving and solution-building. Delivering co-created value is the highest order of consultative selling, and is a natural outgrowth of discovery done well.

Solution dialogue (communicating value)

Rather than pitching or making a one-sided presentation, a consultative seller will lead a dialogue with stakeholders and decision-makers about the recommended solution, involving the SMEs from his or her organization, the buyer’s organization, and any external ecosystem experts. And, these conversations must tie back to the outcomes of the desired future state and the impacts they will have on the business, again in terms of the metrics that matter to the decision-makers.

Negotiating with integrity (ensuring a win-win: value and profitability)

To fully convert to consultative selling, it’s time to set aside gambits and techniques and adopt an authentic negotiating style that understand interests and positions and strives to deliver win-win outcomes by delivering value for clients at profitable margins. 

Securing commitments (along the journey and to close the sales process)

It’s easy to make this transition by focusing on buying process exit criteria (BPEC). BPEC are the things that each decision-maker and influencer need to see, hear, feel, understand and believe, in each stage of their buying process, to feel comfortable moving forward to the next stage of the process with you. When you uncover, understand, and deliver on these needs, securing commitments becomes far easier, by simply reviewing the criteria, what you’ve done, getting their reactions, and asking for commitment to move to the next step. This works along the journey through their buying process, as well as at the end of the sales process when you ask for the final commitment to work together.

Resolving concerns

This is such a key skill that it’s surprising how few reps excel at it. I prefer a process that focuses on understanding and addressing issues, rather than “overcoming objections.” This will be a topic of a future post, but here is a methodology I endorse and teach:

  • Acknowledge the concern with empathy
  • Question to fully understand, weigh, and isolate the concern
  • Categorize the concern:
  • Disinterest
  • Distortion (incorrect facts/misinformation)
  • Disbelief
  • Disadvantage
  • Formulate best response, based on the category
  • Deliver response
  • Confirm resolution

For more on the consultative mindsets and skillsets required for success in modern selling, see my 2015 post on The Simple Truths About Selling, watch for future posts here on these topics, and check out Anthony Iannarino’s book, “The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need.”

 

Next Stop: Putting It In Action

In the final post in this series, I’ll provide guidance on:

  • Laying the consultative foundation, upon which you can layer even more advanced skills
  • Implementing the foundational and advanced methodologies in such a way to guide sales behavior change
  • Ensuring your sales force stays focused on delivering verifiable customer outcomes

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