Traditional sales continue to focus on domination and control by the seller over the buyer. The salesperson is taught techniques by the hundreds: techniques to ask questions that always results in “Yes” answers, techniques to handle any objection, “Closing” techniques designed to manoeuvre even the most reluctant buyer into the position where he almost has to say “Yes” (“Uncle!”).
When you spend your days persuading people in a manner which can be construed as exploitative and manipulative, you can’t help but feel bad about yourself. And when you cannot persuade the client to say “Yes,” even though the client may really have no need of the services, you are taught to analyse why you failed to close. Failed!
The nature of today’s buyers adds still more to this pressure on the traditional salesperson. They are better educated, have greater exposure to media information, and have developed a strong aversion to exploitation and manipulation. They have lost tolerance for the domineering salesperson who seeks to control them. You know or can imagine the tensions that arise as the salesperson – who also hates to be manipulated – tries to control buyers with standard dominating sales techniques.
Such pressure is NOT a natural function of selling. It does not have to go with the job. It doesn’t have to be this way!
Collaborative selling overcomes the unhealthy, tension-laden sales environment. It is not a new bag of tricks. There are no sure-fire gimmicks. In fact, it is a fresh look at some very long-standing and respected techniques used in clinical psychology, counselling, consulting, negotiating, management, and marketing. These non-exploitative techniques have been adapted to the selling environment according to the philosophy that it is neither healthy nor productive in the long run to attempt to manipulate and control other people.
Collaborative selling allows the buyer to feel that he has “bought” – not that he has been “sold.” The client operates from a heightened position of openness and trust because the seller avoids exploitation. Instead of “He’ll tell you what you want to hear to get a sale,” the salesperson using these guidelines is known for telling them “How it is” – even if it means no sale today. In the long run, sales will increase; clients will be more loyal; and, if you’re the trust-building salesperson, you’ll feel better about yourself and your occupation.
Collaborative selling is different from traditional sales. It requires a different way of thinking about the customer, the product, and the goals of the sales process.
THE SELLING PROCESS
INFORMATION GATHERING: At the information gathering stage, the salesperson and client find out if there is something the client needs or wants for which the salesperson may supply help.
In collaborative selling, more time is spent on defining needs than on any other stage in the sales process. In any form of consultative selling, the client’s problems or needs must be fully and accurately defined in order to effectively solve those problems or satisfy those needs. Then the rest of the processes evolve from a solid, accurate, informational base.
PRESENTATION: In collaborative selling, the presentation is both custom-tailored and participative. It is custom-tailored in that the salesperson only discusses the relevant aspects of the product or service as they relate to the specific needs or problems previously identified with the client’s help. In addition, only a limited number of features are presented and they are presented in their priority of importance to the client. This allows the salesperson to spend more time on each of the high priority features of the product. As a result, client interest tends to be high and to be maintained. The collaborative presentation process is also participative. The client takes an active part in designing a new action plan to meet specific needs. The approach encourages the client to talk more and the salesperson to listen more.
COMMITMENT: The commitment process in collaborative selling is where the agreed-upon solution begins to be implemented. It does just the opposite as that of the traditional approach – it removes pressure; it occurs in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. No separation occurs between “selling” and “closing.” With client problems, needs, and objectives mutually identified during the first stage of the sales process; with solutions arrived at mutually; with the client totally involved; the client commitment to the solution typically occurs at the end of the presentation process. The commitment process in collaborative selling, when deemed appropriate, becomes “when,” not “if.”
FOLLOW-THROUGH: The collaborative salesperson believes that the sale begins when the client says YES. At this point, the salesperson makes a commitment to the buyer to service and assist that client throughout their business relationship. The collaborative seller spends a lot of time at first establishing ways to be sure the service promised is the service provided.
Satisfied customers are a salesperson’s greatest asset. They talk about the benefits they have derived from the product and the salesperson, and they often leave their listeners with a feeling that they, too, should buy from the same salesperson.
Just as a satisfied customer becomes a source of future sales, a dissatisfied customer will prove to be a source of negative advertising and lost sales. Collaborative selling depends on long-term, trust bond relationships; and this is best accomplished through attentive after-sale service.
Correctly used, collaborative selling allows for information gathering in an open, honest atmosphere of trust and helpfulness. The client gains solutions to identified problems. The salesperson gains the support of a client who is fully committed to solving the identified problem.