How Consultative Selling Can Help Your Business

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Almost every organization has their own sales methodology. It may not have a name and your sales team may not follow its tenets religiously, but there’s likely a methodology present if you look closely.

So, after thinking about it for a moment, how does your team sell?

If there’s little method to the madness, let us suggest a methodology that could help convert more of those leads into ironclad sales: consultative selling.

For those plugged into the business community over the last few decades, this term will likely sound familiar. The phrase first hit the scene back in the 1970s with the publication of the book Consultative Selling: The Hanan Formula for High-Margin Sales at High Levels, penned by author Mark Hanan.

While the concept has been around for the better part of forty years, its overarching principles still hold significant value when applied to the sales process.

So, what does consultative selling look like and how can it help your organization meet its sales goals?

Defining Consultative Selling

The primary principle that makes consultative selling different from other sales approach is its staunch focus on the customer and their needs.

HubSpot aptly describes this concept: “The consultative sales process is primarily focused on the experience that the potential customer (the lead) feels and sees during their interactions with you. It’s about the how you find ways to provide your leads with value and make it all about them. Not your product, your business, your numbers. The consultative sales process is most especially not about you.”

Essentially, the focus is entirely on the customer’s pain points and needs rather than hawking a product or service. While this may seem counterintuitive at first glance, selling solutions to your leads is a softer (and often more effective) approach. And that’s the first way it can broadly help your business.

Placing the Focus on Solutions

Consultative sales is also commonly known as solution sales. And that’s exactly what sales people are now working toward — learning a customer’s issues, and selling them your product or service based on how it can meet their needs.

That inverts many sales processes. Rather than browbeating customers to buy into your product or service through elevator pitches or long sales speeches, you listen to their pain points. Sales people must listen first and then offer genuine insights. Offering canned answers to customers will make sales people come off as disingenuous. But truly listening and offering tailored tools based on what you’re hearing often encourages leads to take the leap and invest. When they feel you’ve invested the time to get to know their needs, they may be more likely to invest their dollars in your solution.

Sales People Become Experts

When sales people are assisting customers and listening to their concerns, it’s crucial to know the company’s product/service inside and out. You can’t effectively offer what your company sells as a solution if you don’t know the ins and outs of your product.

Through the consultative selling process, your sales people are forced to become experts on your company and what it sells. And having a plethora of product experts on hand is never, ever a negative thing.

Better Align Products With Customer Needs

When this selling method is implemented properly, your organization will have access to a wealth of data on prospects. You’ll have a clear idea of the wants, needs and pain points of your ideal customer (and what that ideal customer looks like from a demographic standpoint).

When the sales team is constantly receiving customer feedback on what they’re looking for, it’s far easier to pass that feedback back to managers.

And in the spirit of continuous improvement, business leadership can realign product offerings or create new services that better meet the needs of the customers you’re targeting. Whether that’s changing marketing tactics, tweaking branding or brainstorming new services that help customers.

The Bottom Line

Consultative selling, when implemented properly, obviously has numerous benefits. The aforementioned reasons are just a few of the ways businesses can profit from this concept.

If your sales team is on the prowl for a new sales methodology, consultative selling is worth considering.


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ExhaleMarketingHow Consultative Selling Can Help Your Business

Why You Need a Social Media Listening Strategy

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Shh! Do you hear that? It’s the sound of millions of people talking about you and your brand online. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

And the best part? It’s okay for you to listen. In fact, it’s highly encouraged. Crucial.

There are hundreds of social media platforms online, not to mention the millions of blogs, forums, and discussion boards. We live in a time where anyone anywhere can express their opinion and release it to the world at any time, with a potential reach of hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people.

Scary, eh? The trick is using that potential to your advantage. Dealing with the negative, and acknowledging the positive. Connecting and engaging. Social media listening refers to monitoring and listening to the real conversations people are having online about your company and brand. It’s socially acceptable eavesdropping. And used properly, it’s a tremendously powerful tool.



Direct Line of Communication with Customers and Prospects

Social media is remarkable. Marketing and sales departments from as little as 15 years ago would kill for the opportunities most of us today take for granted, a direct and free channel for speaking with millions of existing and potential customers. Consider this:

  • Roughly 75% of internet users are active on at least one social media platform
  • Each age group of consumer has a social media usage percentage of at LEAST 43% and as high as 89%
  • Facebook has 1.15 BILLION active users, and almost 50% of Americans list it as a major influencer when they make a purchasing decision
  • Twitter ranks second with 550 million registered accounts, followed by Google+ with nearly 360 million users.

What does it all mean? Social media is dominating communications, and what people say on it matters. You’d better be paying attention. They say there is no stronger publicity than word-of-mouth. Imagine being able to lean in and listen to your clients talking about you at a restaurant, or gathering together tens of thousands of customers to discuss your latest product launch. It’s a focus group for the 21st century, to the nth degree. What if you could acknowledge each positive review, or address complaints almost instantly?

You can.



What Not To Do

But, and this is important, you have to be careful. You have to be active. And you have to be real. Social listening means just that – you listen. You monitor. You need to be aware of what exactly people are saying about you on at least the major platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Google+) if you want to harness the awesome power.

The pitfalls are found in treating all dialogue the same or taking too long to respond. Social media, and the world as a whole, wants instant gratification. Instant recognition. Instant response. It’s possible, you just need to have the mechanics in place to do it. Setting up social media profiles and then not paying attention to them is a slap in the face. And potentially dangerous. Completely automating your social media platforms – for both posting and responding – is equally bad. Consider the following missteps:

  • A street artist posted a complaint to Twitter after being chased away from his sidewalk art in front of the Bank of America. His complaint, as well as the hundreds of comments and retweets, were met with a canned auto-response from the bank that said “We’d be happy to review your account with you to discuss any concerns.” The company looked ridiculous and robotic.
  • American Airlines recently auto-replied to an angry customer complaint with “Thanks for the support! We look forward to a bright future as the #newAmerican.” Opportunity missed.
  • The British grocery chain Tesco suffered a mistimed auto-tweet when it posted “It’s sleepy time so we’re off to hit the hay! See you at 8am for more #TescoTweets” in the midst of a horse meat scandal.
  • JP Morgan asked for followers to post questions for an executive in their #AskJPM campaign. Thousands responded…but not the way they had hoped. Questions included “Can I have my house back?” and “Is it easier to purchase a congressional representative or senator?” Perhaps JP Morgan has an image problem? Thankfully, the Twitter account was being monitored, but the damage was already done.

Instead of set it and forget it automation, you need a healthy mix of strategic automation and real engagement. It’s never a good idea to create a “one size fits all” response to every online mention. A real live person should monitor social media channels using any of the countless tools for the job, including:

These services can be set up to report or alert every time someone mentions your company name, brand, or keywords. Then you have the opportunity to handle it in a quick, professional, and human way. According to Social Habit, 42% of people expect a response to a complaint posted on social media within 60 minutes. 7 days per week. Fail that, and you’ve made the situation at least slightly (if not much) worse.



What to Do

Proper monitoring of channels allows you to respond to opportunities and address issues. Customers want to be thanked, or at least acknowledged, when they post something positive. A quick “hey thanks” goes a long way. Likewise, acknowledging a customer complaint, even if you can’t do anything about it right away (or ever) is a proven method to diffuse the situation. It’s all about connection and engagement.

Reach out regarding complaints that involve you but are not your fault, like Taylor Guitars. They addressed a customer whose guitar had been damaged by an airline. They offered their sympathies and suggestions for certified locations to get it fixed. And more importantly, they impressed that one customer – and everyone else who saw the exchange – by responding to something that involved them only indirectly. That’s an example of fantastic monitoring and brand awareness. You can bet they gained new clients and fostered loyalty through their response.

Virtually every department – from sales to marketing, from customer service to R&D – can benefit from social listening:

  • Identify and solve problems.
  • Identify customer discontent with a service or product
  • Respond to complaints
  • Acknowledge customer loyalty and praise
  • Promote and ask for feedback (but selectively, and be prepared for negative reviews)
  • Engage and communicate with real people in real time

And social listening need not be only for your brand. You can listen and monitor your direct competition, too. What are people saying about them? You can replicate (but not copy) their successes, and avoid their hiccoughs. It’s like being allowed to sit in on their board meeting or focus group for their next big product. Follow them. Monitor them. And actively use the data.

Social media can be a god-send. The data and opportunity it provides are unparalleled. But you need to remember the golden rules:

  • Be quick
  • Be real
  • Be honest
  • Be human

Address things as they occur. Use Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ to actively engage and connect with your customers and fans. Respond as a human, not a machine, to both positive and negative comments. Monitor the major social media platforms for any mention of your name or brand. And don’t be afraid to have a little fun, like Bodyform’s tongue-in-cheek response (from the CEO, no less) to a post on their Facebook page. You’re only human, after all.

Social listening makes you a fly on the wall in millions of homes and dozens of countries. It’s an almost magical ability to eavesdrop on customers, competition, and the market in a way that past businesses could only wish for. Everyone is sharing their opinion, and ranting, and praising, and complaining with the understanding that you may be listening. In fact, they want you to.

Don’t let them down.

Not sure where to begin? Connect with us, and let’s chat about how we can help.

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ExhaleMarketingWhy You Need a Social Media Listening Strategy

Top Networking Tips: 5 Ways to To Become a Great Networker

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istock-4595857373666-Networking goes hand-in- hand with success in the business world.

So what do you do if you’re a shy business professional, riddled with anxiety at the thought of a networking and mingle event? We have a few top networking tips which we guarantee will help you out!

Tip #1:
Realization: Know you’re not alone!  Networking (and other social events which put you in the spotlight) is listed in the top 5 phobias people have.  When you really think about it, most people would get antsy at the thought of walking into a room full of strangers who they are expected to build an instant rapport with.

Application: When you realize the person you’re chatting with is probably also trying to calm down the butterflies in their stomach, you’ll find yourself beginning to relax. If you need an extra bit of help, try the old technique of taking a deep breath, hold for a moment and exhale.

Tip #2:
Realization: If you’re not an extrovert (outspoken, social butterfly) you’re probably like most introverts  —  a fantastic listener – use this!  At networking events, we are inundated with sales stories and elevator pitches, yet it is rare that we meet a great listener.  In fact, when you do come across someone who really seems to be paying attention to what you’re saying and not simply prepping mentally to verbally dump on  you their own pitch, it’s a relief.

Application:  Use you’re great listening skills to your advantage!  Not only will the person you’re connecting with be able to tell you’re really paying attention,  you’ll also be able to make mental notes.  These little treasures will come in handy when you decide to connect with them later, allowing you to create a custom reply instead of an obviously generic follow-up.

Tip #3:
Realization:  It’s not a popularity contest. Nor is it a race.  A successful networking event is not measured in how many people you connect with or whether you’ve been able to “work the entire room”.  Instead it is about the quality of the connections made – potential partnerships, possible cross-promotions, prospective suppliers, opportunities for sales and even future friendships.

Application:  Don’t rush and put away any thoughts that your success is measured on how many business cards you’ve collected.  Adopt an alternative measurement “did you make any connections that have budding possibilities?”  Even 1 will make a difference to your business, brand and bottom line. Not everything is a numbers game.

Tip #4:
Realization:  No one likes the hard sell, and an obvious elevator pitch is… well.. honestly boring.  People prefer authenticity & sincerity, they love real life stories and anytime we laugh with a friend, colleague or stranger we build a little bond.

Application:  Rather than go into automatic mode, — robotically stating your memorized 30 second overview — try sharing a story about your business, or a recent achievement.   Even better, use your listening skills (remember point number 2) and encourage your new contact to share their business first, then adjust your business intro to directly relate to their enterprise or better still see if you can present a way which helps with their expressed challenges. This is the essence of “new selling” — giving, sharing, providing solutions– so much better than the old school hard sell.

Tip #5:
Realization:  Networking doesn’t end when the event closes down, in fact the gathering is only the beginning.  All of those business cards you’ve collected and new connections made will not nurture themselves, just like  a garden they need to be cultivated.

Application:  Within 48 hours of the event follow-up – send a friendly relaxed email to all of your new connections.  If possible avoid a cold salesy letter. Make it a personalized note.  By connecting within 48 hours of the event you are still fresh in their mind and the leads are what we call warm, if you wait longer they begin to turn cold until you are once again the equivalent of a cold call.

Apply these 5 tips and we can guarantee this will make a difference at your next networking event.  Have any of your own special tips for networking?  We’d love to hear them!  Feel free to share them in our comments section.

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ExhaleMarketingTop Networking Tips: 5 Ways to To Become a Great Networker

The Power of “Thank You!”

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Thank YouAn often underutilized solution to increasing your repeat business and building better word of mouth consists of just two simple words:  “Thank You.”

An article in Entrepreneur Magazine expressed:

“Study after study reveals that when you say “Thank you” to your customers, they both spend more money and tell their friends about the exceptional service and products you deliver, increasing your profits. Volumes chronicle how employee productivity zooms when appreciation is expressed, raising your margins. Vendors go the extra mile to extend credit and deliver “just in time” when they hear gratitude regularly, not just in November, and keep your cash flowing.”

According to a recent Forbes article

“Saying thank you to your clients, particularly new clients, increases your business by 17%”.

Often forgotten about in the modern world of business, the “thank you”, especially when delivered in a personalized and unexpected manner can bring your organization ongoing rewards.

Some may feel that Thank You messages are a relic of a bygone era of handwritten letters, but a well crafted “thank you” message delivered in a personalized manner is a hidden gem of smart marketing. These simple words convey appreciation and respect to your consumers and clients. Although there are points in the sales cycle and times of year that Thank You’s are often expected, sending a note, email or even SMS greeting of thanks after the sale (or donation) is finalized, creates a lasting impression in your customer’s mind.

The payback:

  • Enhance customer loyalty.
  • Build word of mouth.
  • Deepen customer trust.
  • Gain a competitive edge.

Have you experienced a thank you that stood out recently?  We’d love to hear your story, feel free to share in our comments section.


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ExhaleMarketingThe Power of “Thank You!”