I’m a big advocate of consultative selling. But before I tell you how great I think the consultative sales approach is, I want to warn you of the negative impact this type of selling has had on some salespeople. Some sales reps visit a customer two or three times, ask them every question they can think of except the most important question of all – asking the customer to buy their service.
If on the second call you don’t ask for the shipper’s business, it then becomes a social visit and not a sales call. You can and should qualify the customer and re-visit their needs on a regular basis. If they’re qualified to buy and you don’t offer Sunteck’s help, then you’re doing them a disservice. On the other hand, if you keep calling on a customer who’s not qualified, you’re stealing time and money from yourself. Be sure after you’ve made a consultative sales call that you follow up by asking for their business.
Treat all your sales work as a consulting assignment. Consultative selling turns salespeople into experts and clients into partners. When you first meet the prospect take your “sell” sign down for the majority, if not all, of your first call.
The best salespeople are professional problem solvers. We’re in the business of solving transportation problems. But you have to know and understand the problem first before you try to solve it. You have to be willing to walk in the door without any preconceived notions as to how best to solve the problems identified.
Since you sell to other companies, you should consider yourself in the business of solving profitability problems. That’s the key concern you’ll ultimately be addressing: how to increase profitability. Everything you do should eventually lead to the goal of the clients’ company increasing its level of profitability. If you can’t break your sales efforts into solutions that help the customer, you’ll either base your sales on manipulating others or fail to persuade prospects that you’re offering anything of value.
On every sales call, be the student, because you really are. In real estate, they say it’s all in the location. In transportation sales it’s questions, questions, and more questions. You’ll be surprised and sometimes shocked at what a customer will tell you.
Not only is the consultative sales approach effective in finding the correct sales solutions, it’s also very helpful in eliminating people who are not potential customers, thus saving you time in the long run.
Even though it’s okay to call an initial visit with a customer a qualifying call, don’t only make the call to qualify. Make the call primarily to learn.
Sales listening is patient listening. Don’t anxiously wait for an opportunity to jump in and solve all the customer’s problems right away. After I ask a question I shut up and allow my prospect to speak. Sometimes I wait for several minutes. I don’t feel threatened by the silence. Most salespeople can’t stand a pause in the conversation. Take a deep breath, relax, and listen. Some prospects want to be listened to more than they want their problems solved. If a client or prospective client has had a bad day, let them talk about it. Don’t try to stop them. Once they lighten themselves of their burdens they can better concentrate on Sunteck’s services.
Everyone is so busy that asking for someone’s time is a big request. A prospect that agrees over the phone to give you a ten-minute appointment will give you an hour in person once you establish value. One of the best ways to establish value is to show that they are important and that you recognize that fact. People love to talk about themselves, their jobs, and their companies. Encourage them to do so.
“Pretend that everyone you meet has a sign around their neck that says MAKE ME FEEL IMPORTANT. Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.”
– Mary Kay Ash
Transportation salespeople who have been in our industry for a long time should re-visit how they qualify and maintain accounts. It’s easy to start believing that you possess all the answers. Too often we make assumptions based on outdated information. Visit accounts often and ask questions. You never know what changes might have taken place since your last call until you ask.
Take notes! Taking notes during your meeting with the prospect can be one of your most powerful sales tools. It will reinforce the reason you made the appointment in the first place: to learn more about the prospect and his company’s transportation needs.
Taking notes helps you listen. There’s something about holding an empty notepad in front of you that makes you pay better attention to what is being said. It also makes it more difficult to miss important points.
Taking notes puts you in a position of authority. You can also glance at notes and questions you prepared prior to making the sales call. Taking notes will also encourage the prospect to open up. Taking notes sends strong positive signals to the prospect. It says, “I’m listening to you. I won’t forget. I’ll use the information you’re giving me to find solutions when I get back to my office.”
It’s a fine line between asking questions that will help the prospect solve their transportation problems, and a cross-examination. Be sure your prospect feels at ease. Be natural. The consultative sale should be a comfortable two-way conversation.
Never waste the prospect’s time. That may seem like an obvious point, but many of your competitors never know when to get to business, or for that matter, even when the appointment is over. There will come a point when the customer will be ready to move past the small talk, and usually it’s quicker than you might think. Your contact, like most of us these days, is short on time. Most traffic managers, purchasing managers, and other decision-makers you call on appreciate you getting to the point. You can tactfully do this without jeopardizing the emerging relationship.
First, give the prospect a reason he or she should answer your questions. Second, make sure everyone involved in the decision making process is present if at all possible.
Salesperson: “We currently work with General Motors, ASW Technologies, and (use your own local examples of similar companies) in several areas to improve their service while reducing their costs! I feel there’s a good chance we can do the same thing for you, but I’m not sure yet. Do you mind if I ask you some questions?”
The prospect expects to answer questions and they’ll give you their permission to proceed.
Salesperson: “At most of the companies I’ve mentioned more than one person was involved in carrier selection. Are there any other people here that would be involved in this decision?” (If NO, proceed on. If YES, obtain their names and ask if they could also be present). Next, move on to your questions.
The following list will provide you with good examples of questions that you can adapt to your sales presentation. Know the questions you’re going to ask before you arrive at the customer’s desk. The list below is provided to stimulate ideas that will help you customize your own list. The information you collect from the customer’s answers will increase your chances of putting together a great proposal after you’ve made the consultative sales call.
1. What does your company do? Manufacturing? Distribution?
2. What do you ship? In what quantities? Expedited? Air? Truckload? LTL? Intermodal?
3. What commodities do you ship?
4. Where do you ship? Intrastate? Interstate?
5. What are some of the cities you ship to?
6. How often?
7. What service level is required? To where?
8. How is your product packaged? Skidded? Banded? Loose?
9. Average weight?
10. What is the normal pick-up time? What unusual pick-up requirements do you require?
11. Are your shipments normally prepaid? Collect? If so, what percentage?
12. What are your average monthly freight transportation costs?
13. Who’s handling these shipments now?
14. How long have you used them?
15. Do you have any vendors that you receive products from on a regular basis?
16. Who chooses the carrier that handles those shipments?
17. Where are those vendors located?
18. What commodities are they?
19. What is the frequency of those shipments?
20. Who’s handling those shipments now?
21. How long have you used them?
22. What percentage of shipments is routed by your customers?
23. How do you feel about your current service?
24. How do you feel about your current pricing?
25. What would you like to change about your current carrier’s pricing?
26. What is most important to you: service, carrier stability, technology, or something else?
28. How do you rate carriers? How is the rating communicated to the carrier? How often?
29. What are the ratings of the carriers you use today?
30. If you could change one thing overall about your current logistics provider, what would it be?
31. Does this problem lead to… (Build up problem with multiple implications / need pay-off questions)?
32. Would you change anything else?
33. What would cause you to begin using a different 3PL or carrier?
34. What is the volume of your cargo claims? Do you experience any frequent service failures?
35. Would you be interested in our EDI capability?
Last, but not least, be sure to wrap up the appointment by asking for the next appointment, and by getting a positive response on a trial close. It should sound like this:
Salesperson: “Mr. Smith, I’ve learned a lot here today, and I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to me. We’re at the point now where we should set up another appointment, one where I can come back after having sorted through everything I’ve learned here, and show you more about what Sunteck may be able to do for your company. Is Thursday at 2PM okay?”
Prospect: “Sure, next Thursday at 2PM will be just fine.”
Salesperson: “Great! One last question ( pause ) if you like the program I develop for you, would you be willing to give us a try?”
Salesperson: “I really appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions. Based on what I just learned, I’m confident there’s a fit between our companies and that we can definitely help you solve some of your shipping problems. I’m going to make a commitment to you to develop a customized proposal, which will include my recommendations to you and your company. What I’d like in return from you is a commitment to give us a shot. Let us prove how good we are. I’m confident you’ll be very happy! Can I get that kind of commitment from you?
“Great! I’ll need about a week to get with my team back at the office and develop a package just for you. Is this time next week good for you?”
Both of these approaches let the prospect know that when you come back for your second appointment, your sale sign will go up. It prepares them to say “yes” when you come back later and ask them to buy.
We’ve focused so much of our respective sales energies on the consultative approach that very little emphasis is placed on the sales presentation. I think this is a huge mistake. In the old days, many salespeople could care less about what the customer wanted or needed; all their energy was on the presentation. Nowadays some people in transportation have no definable presentation at all. They just go back to the customer and answer any questions or shipping requirements that surfaced in the qualifying call. I think both are hugely important—the consultative call and the presentation. Give your customer a dynamic sales presentation. He deserves it. It will make you stand out from the other freight reps.