What is consultative selling?
Consultative selling is a sales approach that prioritizes relationships and honest, meaningful dialogue in order to first create that solid relationship. Only once the relationship gets its foundation is when the conversation can begin to move toward identifying customer pain points and providing solutions to a customer's needs. But rather than the standard, where the product or service is at the forefront, this type of selling is very focused on the customer.
Check out this conversation between myself and Liz Ritzcovan, Chief Revenue Officer, to learn more about consultative selling, what behaviors Liz looks for in her team, how she coaches her team to best prepare before going into a conversation, and much more!
A Discussion About Consultative Selling with Liz Ritzcovan and Carole Mahoney
Carole Mahoney: Carole Mahoney here with Unbound Growth, and I am joined with Liz Ritzcovan who is going to talk us today a little bit about how they're taking their approach to consultative selling. I think this is so great Liz because as we were just discussing, you work with e-commerce, you know, B2C companies, and we're going to be talking about some B2B strategies and consultative selling with that but this really all started from our first conversation that we had when you were talking about how you're focusing on consultative selling with your team. Why do you think that's so important right now?
Liz Ritzcovan: Yeah, you know, it's consultative selling, I've always thought was really important, but you need to make sure you know what the product is that you're selling and understand if there is a need. And by the way, while we are into training around consultative selling and what that means and what that should look like and how it manifests itself with a customer and in discovery and all of that. It's also coming from a place of still early days for us, but it's also because we just need to know more, right? It goes back to that partners, brands, retailers… They want fewer and fewer vendors just because managing that can be its own, you know, pandemic in a way. I don't mean that negatively. It's just when you have too many it's hard to put your finger on the pulse of who is adding value where and is it the stack of them or are there certain contributors that are just driving whether it's your value chain, or the way you generate revenue overall.
And so it's important that we started talking about it because of what's happening in the world and we realize that you know, our customers are turning around and saying, “What's happening out there like our other brands and retailers experiencing what we're experiencing? Are there any learnings? Are their use cases or best practice that you guys are seeing? And particularly because we're in that, we want to create that fluidity of customer journey, and we want to make sure when consumers go online to purchase, it is uninterrupted. It is clean.
There are not hijackers out there disrupting that and so we know our customers learn and continue to learn from us in their hijacked population. And so we've now been able to say, okay, let's step back and look at the ecosystem. Let's find out what's going on and we've done that through a variety of ways in terms of talking to our customers, talking to our partners, having more of call it a community roundtable so we can share best practices. But we realized and I realized very quickly my leadership team and myself that we need to arm the folks that are out there having these conversations with how to do that because very much our product was “set it and forget it” because it was very low touch, very automated.
Carole Mahoney: I think the thing that's so unique here is that you're identifying a problem that a lot of your customers or potential customers don't even realize that they have and that requires a lot of education, really being able to uncover what value is for them is first helping them to understand what's actually happening and what they may be losing or what they could be gaining and not even realize it. It's almost like Steve Jobs in the early days of Apple. Nobody realized that they needed an iPod until they realize how bad it was carrying around 15 different CDs or tape cassettes are or what have you.
When you're talking about consultative selling with your team and how you're helping to not just understand where the customer is at now, which is such an excellent point because so many companies right now are trying to figure out what to do next and the very first step is to figure out what your customers need to do next. Then you can figure that piece of it out and really driving that value and we've seen this happen somewhat before when we saw our last major economic crisis.
And we're seeing that again, right? Where it's harder to meet people, people don't want to meet, we're getting invited in later on in the sales cycle, definitely price sensitivity, and people are more cautious. So it does sound like a lot today.
So why do you think or what do you think that this would look like in an ideal situation? You describe that a little bit when you were talking about how you're interacting with customers. How are you using some of those insights some of those things that you're learning in your outreach for example, what does that look like?
Liz Ritzcovan: Yeah. I mean first of all, I always think about conversations as a value exchange. Am I getting something from you? Are you getting something for me? And it's really about us doing that first. Let's share with our brands what's happening, and let's be open and transparent, you know building trust in any relationship; if it's a friend, if it's a colleague, if it's business, if it's personal, it's really important to establish those boundaries and open yourself up to you know, the, I have something to tell you and let's do this together, that dance.
And what we've been able to glean from round tables and things that we've been doing is just based on this pandemic e-commerce exploded, you and I start talking about that a little bit before. I mean, it is grown five to ten X, it's been a forcing mechanism. Let's just put it that way which has been I know difficult for many folks, has been exciting for others and either way everyone's ending up in the same spot of got to figure it out and got to figure it out quickly. And there have been many reasons in the value exchange that has been hard to do. And so it has made us kind of step back and think about, what does that look like? And so we have started to not only bring data to the table, but we've started really looking at what we call whiteboard sessions.
So when we first get engaged with a customer if they are understanding to your point, Carole, customer journey hijacking, you just don't wake up and know what that is. A lot of customers don't realize it's actually happening. And now with more people online purchasing it's even become much more populated the hijacking stands. More malware and more issues because you've got more volume and you might have more individuals that are exposed to things that can create negative effects when you're going through the purchase funnel.
And so with that these whiteboard sessions are really meant to bring in multiple key stakeholders. So let's not just talk to, let's say our ideal person is the head of e-comm. Yes, that is a great champion buyer for us. But you know the technology individual, the data and analytics person, and let's really get the trifecta of those that make a site run and function and create that great journey together. And let's talk about what are they trying to solve for. How do they look at acquisition costs of customers? How do they evaluate retention? How do they look at discounts, if they offer discounts? What does all of that look like? And the more questions you ask, I think inherently shows we really do care about your business. Tell us what's happening.
And then reciprocally when we can educate them on best practices of things that we've seen before in or out of verticals I think is a great transformation and it starts to bring the partnership aspect of what we really want to do faster together because you're building that trust, your’re building that shared value exchange, you're bringing data to the table. It's not just one-sided.
Carole Mahoney: I'm so glad that you said that. Asking those clarifying questions and then one of the things that I see that drives me a little bit crazy is that when I see sellers telling their customers what they need to do. Telling them, this is what's going to happen. It's like they're kind of like preaching down to them and they think that that's what consultative selling is. I'm giving them information. I'm giving them data. I'm telling them what they do. Why aren't they listening to me? It's because you're not listening to them. You are not asking their thoughts, their opinions. Like you said if there's no value exchange there is just like your mom nagging you to do your homework. You don't want to hear that. And you can't build trust that way either, to your point, right?
There is no back and forth engagement there. They don't feel like you really even understand them which one of the things that came out a few weeks ago I thought was so interesting, I don't know if you've seen the LinkedIn State of Sales report. And for those of the that are listening and watching, I would check this out because one of the things that I thought was so interesting is that one of the surveys they did was what do managers that are hiring salespeople. What are the top qualities that they look for? And then they asked buyers, what are the top qualities that you look for in sales people? And managers had active listening and building trust and relationships like fifth or sixth. Buyers headed up one or two.
So there's definitely some things that we need to start aligning both our teams and even how we hire those teams and I think that's happening for a couple of reasons. And another reason too, is that when we look at who has the abilities to sell consultatively, I did a little digging into the data, and that data from over 1.9 million sales professionals told me that on average sales people have about 41% of the skills and the competencies to be able to sell consultatively. Top performers had 67%. So it looks like you're focusing definitely on the right area. We need to really be digging down, doubling down on consultative selling skills. Not just now but even more so now, but always!
So let's talk about some of those skills and abilities for a moment. When you think of consultative selling for you and your team what are some of the things, behaviors that you're looking for? Definitely asking questions, but what else are you looking for?
Liz Ritzcovan: Being able to hold a conversation without a general presentation.
So, you triggered it. You triggered it for me when you said it before, it's sort of the the preach that you give it's like I know my 30 second pitch and I'm going to give it. I'm going to tell you what you need whether you actually need it or not because I'm program. Roboticized to do that. It's really just get rid of the presentation. Just like, let it go and let's talk. Hey, how are you? You know, how is your business? I read that because your publicly traded I can get lots of information. Do your homework, you know.
Again, I know I use this when you and I spoke before, it's the dating analogy! Think about someone that you want to have dinner with like don't bust up a portfolio of your life and why you are who you are, but just talk like a regular person. And I think when you can start unlocking some of that information hearing it from them because I find that people inherently really enjoy when you take an interest in what they do and you're really passionate about it. And reciprocally if you can continue to put in sound bites that are relevant not just the one-size-fits-all. The day of customization are definitely here. Meaning you need to take each customer as a unique person, a unique human being and thinking about them in that way. So it's practicing that.
I know that might sound a little silly or just, you know, for lack of a better term elementary, but getting back to basics which you and I talked about quite a bit. It's sit down and have a conversation and play that out and do some role playing around that. And what I'll do is I'll have our customer success team that is working with customers every day listening, actively listening, providing value. I always try to put them with a seller when we're doing some role playing because then you're starting to really share the best of two sides and truly those two people make a perfect person in the way that their brain works and how they assess a productive dialogue.
Carole Mahoney: I love that. It's almost like you just read my, or you were on my shoulder or something yesterday… I did a workshop for Boston Revenue Collective. And we were talking about onboarding and that was part of the framework, is when you’re onboarding your new hires, have them sit with and talk with, and work with, and collaborate with their marketing team, the success team, have them involved in the role plays. Anyone who's involved in the conversations beginning, middle, and end with the customers, have your sales people be doing role plays with them. Because who knows their buyer better than the ones that are picking up all of the complaints that the buyer has or the struggles that the buyer has after the sale happens. That's if I may say so myself genius.
Liz Ritzcovan: I think recording too like we're doing right now, I mean recording yourself speaking and being able to listen to it later and listen to other recordings of others doing it. It just opens you up to being self-aware, number one, and also starting to get okay with the things that you need to work on and there is nothing wrong with it. Every single person on the planet has something they need to work on. Multiple things, myself included in a thousand different ways. But you need to just recognize it and work with yourself and learn from others.
Carole Mahoney: Yeah. Absolutely. When I'm coaching salespeople and when I'm coaching managers. So managers, not only should you be encouraging and almost expecting and demanding that your sales people listen to their calls and come to you with pieces of those conversations that they want to practice and get better at, you should be doing the same thing with your coaching calls. Record your coaching calls have your manager and director say how should I be doing this better and that better? If we did that as a sales profession, I can't even imagine how much better things would be. Athletes do it, performers do it. Why aren't we doing more of it? Anyway, that's another tangent that we can go on.
And I know too, we had also talked about you know, being able to be present, be able to have that intelligent conversation with buyers and with prospects to add insights, we have to do our homework, right? We have to prepare. It's so important because if we don't, we don't know their business, if we don't know their industry, how can we offer value? What are some of the ways that you're doing that with your team now?
Liz Ritzcovan: You know it is looking at, it's listening to the recordings, as I mentioned. It's also so looking at real discovery questions, you know. It's deducing two things; one, who is successful and why and let's understand that, I mean in general landscape ecosystem. Let's look at those things, let’s really unpack that. And then it's also when you start to understand what that looks like, how do you train for that? But authenticity is key.
Again, it goes back to the robotic sort of general presentation. Don't always ask the same question. Really try to customize it to the customer that you're talking to. Now, I will say there are learnings that you can take from one category to another. One vertical can learn from another, from look at how cars have become what they are now in terms of the automotive industry. That is not because of automotive, that is what's happening in consumer electronics and what's happening in general in that ecosystem. Their enhancements are coming from lots of different places, and I think we need to use that to be really smart.
But it's to prepare for that meeting, to prepare for who you're talking to. Understand where were they before? How long have they been there? Is this a new role for them? Ask them what success looks like. How are they measured? Because a lot of people want to talk about things but it's important understand where their drive is coming from and if you understand how someone is, what their remit, and I'm not saying that everyone should be asking what people's compensation looks like. What I'm saying is, really break down what is motivating them everyday. What does best? What are their kpis or their okrs? What do those look like? And then you can start to blame what's important to them and really what's not and those pieces are also important.
Carole Mahoney: Yeah. I'm going to go back to our dating analogy for those sales people and managers listening in. It is not appropriate to ask for someone's IRS tax form on the first date. So don't ask about how much they make on your first conversation. And now I know that you just released consumer benchmarking report. Can you share a little bit about that, how you did it? How you engaged with your prospects, your customers, your clients, and what you learned and why that was important for you to do.
Liz Ritzcovan: I mean it's important for us to do because we sit on such a large customer base in the e-commerce space and because we're looking at so many things around hijack traffic and working with our customers back to what our partnership is with them in terms of creating that clean, uninterrupted customer journey. And the reason that, and how we do this is basically we talked to different verticals. We're talking to customers. We're talking to shoppers. It's a plethora of different data points that we're taking in and our marketing team does just an incredible job putting these things together. So huge kudos to them.
But I would say a lot of the things, I'll give you a few data points that we glean from it, but hopefully we can in some capacity share more. Basically what we've realized is, you know, 15% of shoppers never shopped online before now, right? Because we did this right around the pandemic so that we could understand sort of pre, current, and we'll probably do something as we get through holiday possibly, but I'm not sure yet. 56%, most consumers have increased their online shopping due to the pandemic.
That makes sense, right? You don't want to leave your house. You want to stay safe and healthy, but you still need to get things that be of groceries or any essentials, right? 3% of shoppers have purchased personal care online for the first time. So if you think about it, that's where you were going to your local pharmacy potentially or a grocery store or a bodega depending on what part of the world you live in, that's where you would usually go for those things. And so these sound very logical but it's important to note that it’s happening, that logic does reform itself to fact-based data.
So that's been it's been really insightful and we can see different traffic patterns also that would absolutely deliver on some of the insights that have been gathered from the consumer benchmarking report.
Carole Mahoney: I mean, I've been a long time online shopper and I think most of us here listening and watching in can relate to the fact they've been spending more money online, but it's really interesting to hear that 15, was it 15% of people never have shopped online before are now?
Liz Ritzcovan: Yes.
Carole Mahoney: That's amazing. And I think that even puts more pressure though on those online retailers because those people who haven't done it before now have been holding out because they don't trust it, they don't like it, or something. So the owness is on them to create an even better experience for those newcomers if they want to keep them and have them coming back more, and more.
So I can see those kinds of data points and when you're doing these types of round tables and this data itself, I will definitely include a link for everyone to be able to download this later all of the data points that are there. And when you're using this data, how do you use this in the conversations or in the consultative sales process? Do you have any examples that you can share there?
Liz Ritzcovan: Yeah, I mean sometimes you know, first of all, sometimes we do it when we're just checking in with customers. Sometimes we do it in campaigns that we send that go through our marketing team. What we do is we look at it internally because it also lets us think about, there is a lot happening in grocery right now, for example, and what that online experience looks like and grocery which has always gotten stronger and stronger, but now it’s just completely flooded. I mean grocers cannot keep up with the demand.
And if anyone who is listening, which I bet is the case, has recently ordered the time it's taking to get it was long in the beginning and now it's kind of getting back to normal. Not quite normal, but normal-ish, let's call it. And so it's the adoption process that's happening. But we take those data and insights that helps us speak to our grocery customers, our grocery prospects. It lets us help them understand what we're learning. If it's a new customer that we haven't worked with before, we can look at category level data and insights and use that to to either listen to what they're telling us going back to active listening and validate that we're seeing something similar or add more value by saying yeah, you know, but we also saw X, Y & Z. And it can really help unlock again a very open conversation about what they're solving for, the pain they're experiencing, and potentially how we can help them.
Carole Mahoney: Yeah and great conversation openers because again, if they don't know that this is happening, they don't know that this is a problem that they might be dealing with, if they're even maybe new or stepping up that level of things, you know, we see that lots of customers are struggling with this. How are you handling that in your organization? Is that even an issue? That helps to start that kind of education process.
So one last question for you because I think this is one of the things that a lot of leaders that I talked to have the you know consultative selling, yeah, relationships all that fluffy intrinsic trickle-down kind of a thing and then you combine that with how do you measure the training and coaching and performance improvement of that. Now I think most people know what my opinion is, but I want to hear from you. How are you measuring not just the consultative side of the sales process, but even the improvement in the team and the progress that they're making and are you able to tie that back to revenue, for example, or this length of the sales cycle.
Liz Ritzcovan: Yeah, it's a great question. So first of all, I tell you everything back to revenue and that is both that is both are we doing the right things for our existing customers? So from a renewal standpoint that's important. Are we continuing to look at upsell metrics? Meaning are we sticky enough? Are we continuing to have the right dialog and relationship that represents a really big chunk, which is very interesting. And then from a net new perspective. Absolutely.
I want to look at consultative selling and training as something that must be tested upon. So in order to do recordings, to have people stand up and do role playing, it's not just because I think it's the right thing to do, I want to make sure they're learning. And so what we haven't done yet, but are working on is training type testing modules that we can do and it's not long, it's not expensive, but some of them are; I want to hear you do your discovery questions. I want to hear you have a conversation with someone and they'll be two people that are being recorded. And we're going to grade you on that and the grade completely reflects and is connected to their ability to look at overall performance. So if you want, if you been with the company for two years and you're doing a good job in sales meaning you're hitting your numbers or you have a valley but you continue to peak. Okay, and you're looking for more. Well, let's look. Have you done all the training that's been asked of you. Have you pased that training? It's important to connect the dots on performance.
It's important when someone says to me, I go, “how did that meeting go?” If someone says “great,” I’ll go, “Okay, but yeah, give me a little bit more. What does that mean? What did you take away from it? What made it great?” I always ask those questions and it's the same thing in testing if they're if that was a great class, okay, why? And then past will inform pass/fail if they really did take it in, absorb it, but then can populate it back out and use it in everyday experience in work.
Carole Mahoney: Yeah. I'm a huge fan of things like scorecards and scorecards are great ways to get what I call the leading indicators, right? Like what are the behaviors that are going to lead to the outcomes that are going to lead to the results and the revenue. So I'm always looking too for things like, have the conversation and in that conversation, how in the moment are they? Do they look distracted? Are they not actually hearing what the prospect’s saying? And asking those clarification questions. Are they able to get people past that? Oh, well, that might be nice to have some day but we don't really need it right now types of things. And not only is it the number of questions, I think they ask, but how do we tell if it's a great question? Is it a great question, like if the buyer says, “oh, that's a great question, I hadn't thought of it that way before.” That indicates a great question, right? And like how do we tell that they're building trust? Are they telling them things that they wouldn't normally say to someone on a call? That is an indication of trust.
And even after the call, one of the things that I love to do with salespeople is called active recall. We asked them to recall something that happened multiple times in multiple different ways. I love the idea of the quiz that they get that's one awesome way to do that when they say good. Well, what does good look like and ask them specific things about the call and do it multiple times and see how accurate their memory is of all of these things.
The other thing I love to look for is what I call healthy skepticism or curiosity, where when someone says something to me and I'm like, but what about this or that… Or that's interesting that you say that, and they ask that kind of I'm not sure about that way, but I would love to get your opinion on it kind of a thing. So, I love what you guys are doing there. Thank you so much for joining us. I hope others are able to take away from this the need for training and development of your team on consultative selling. Love the way that you’re bringing in customer data and collaborating with them.
Liz, any other final thoughts that you want to share with everyone about you know, consultative selling and where you see the future even of e-commerce or be to be selling going.
Liz Ritzcovan: Yeah. No, I would just say if folks get a chance to check out some of the data, Carole, since you're going to put it out there. Look at it because if you are in, if you touch any of those verticals in any way, there's a lot of insights that you can bring to the table for either customers you're working with, or friends that are in that space because I think if anything it's very powerful to have data lead the discussion and just make sure before you launch into data you're asking compelling questions, to make sure that you're actively listening to those answers.
Carole Mahoney: Absolutely. Liz, thank you so much for joining us. Have a wonderful summer. We're going to have to exchange recipes for some of the smoked things that you're doing. So for those of you that don't know Liz is a excellent smoker of many types of meats from what I hear. So there's a little something you didn't know about Liz, and so, I love it. Liz, thank you so much.
Liz Ritzcovan: Thank you very much Carole.
Check out the data!
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