Sales managers are increasingly rebranding their salespeople as consultative problem solvers, and many managers actually refer to their representatives as consultants rather than salespeople. On the surface, this seems like a good idea. Consultative selling sounds more professional, more prestigious, and more customer focused (to both job incumbents and customers) than do traditional labels, such as transactional selling or features and benefits selling. In particular, recasting sales roles in this way reduces recruitment resistance from Millennials, who, by identifying themselves as problem solvers, believe they are able to dodge the growing stigma their generation attaches to selling.
But bona fide consultative selling occupies only a small corner of the selling universe, and requires a set of personality attributes that are neither very common nor widely dispersed. These people tend to operate at higher levels, where the sales involve more zeros, where access to the buyer is more restricted, and where solutions and products need to be either created or significantly enhanced. We’re talking about the sale of consulting, engineering, and architecture services, marketing services, and some areas of advertising. Additional examples include sophisticated financial solutions, as well as computer networking and communication systems.
In all of these fields, the top performers exhibit strong creative abilities, innovative thinking, a concentrated focus on their goals, the capacity to effectively coalesce varied resources, and the ability to project both confidence and credibility. Once they table their proposals, they strive to close quickly and persistently.
Beware the Hidden Costs of Rebranding Sales Staff
Despite the improved image and motivational advantages associated with relabeling sales roles as consultative selling, several costly consequences more than offset the apparent advantages. As an example, hyping a transactional sales job as consultative can attract candidates who are seeking that which the job cannot possibly deliver.
Most workplace turnover occurs within the initial six months following hiring, and most voluntary turnover is triggered by what we call mismatched expectations. Once a high-potential salesperson with problem-solving and consultative talents understands the true nature and limitations of the job, he or she will waste no time jumping ship. It is very common and also very expensive.
The second issue, the lost opportunity cost, is actually even greater than the replacement costs associated with turnover. These are top-line dollars, those sales that could have been made, but never were. Once new hires make up their mind to leave, they disengage. Their lack of commitment rubs off on all their colleagues, undermining any possibility of building an esprit de corps, which is so fundamental to every highly performing sales organization. People want to be part of a winning team, so when they feel positive about who they work for and who they work with, they have an added competitive incentive to be the best they can be. As the saying goes: Higher water lifts everybody’s boat.
Effective sales management means hiring people who are motivated to do the job and stay in the job. Mismatched expectations, which account for so much turnover, can be, to a large extent, avoided by:
a) really understanding the type of sales style that works best in your business (given a whole host of considerations, such as your products or services, your marketplace, buyer knowledge and awareness, your marketing strategy and competitive conditions, the nature of the selling process, your selling cycle, and your incentive system, to name just a few)
b) calling that sales style what it is rather than rebranding it to make the style more palatable; recognize the talents incumbent in that style, and how they contribute to your sales performance
c) having the assessment tools to differentiate the style that works for you from other selling styles less likely to perform at the same level on a consistent basis
High-performance cultures are fragile. When sales people see a revolving door of new hires constantly coming and going, they understandably become suspect of management, more cynical, and less engaged personally. There you have it: High turnover has the added cost of affecting the performance of the entire sales force. It’s self-defeating to employ initiatives that drive turnover even higher.
__________________________________________________________________________For more than forty years, Frank Gump has been helping corporations become more productive and profitable by helping management teams identify and hire top performers and manage them most effectively. Developed and refined through extensive experience in more than 1200 organizations in the United States, Canada, England, and Australia, ADGI’s Organizational Management System (OMS) is a finely calibrated, technologically advanced decision-making process offering the potential for enormous payback. Contact ADGI for more insight and connect with Frank on LinkedIn. Follow ADGI on Twitter @ADGIGroup. Like ADGI on Facebook and follow us on Google+.