With product and service quality becoming more and more alike, the skill of the salesperson is having a greater influence on the customer’s decision to buy. This means that it is no longer what we sell but how we sell it that is fast becoming the differentiator between suppliers in today’s competitive marketplace.
Level 1 – The talking brochureThe most basic Level 1 salesperson is the archetype for how non-salespeople think about people who work in sales. Often associated with a product-based sale, the Level 1 ‘talking brochure’ salesperson has a product or service to sell, and will quite simply knock on your door, call or email you (probably more than once), to talk to you about it. This type of sale is very much a tell – the salesperson presents a product or service and talks the prospect through it in the hope that they will buy. There is little attempt to tailor the recommendation to the customer. Instead, the salesperson hopes that at some point the interest of the customer will align with whatever it is they are talking about. This approach can of course be frustrating for customers – who might feel that the salesperson is pushing them to buy something that they don’t want, don’t need, or can’t afford.
Level 2 – Providing an excellent customer experienceLevel 2 salespeople add value to the sale by offering good customer service and a great brand experience. They know that most prospects can probably figure out the various ‘brochure’ features of a product or service for themselves, and are more likely to be persuaded to make a purchase if they feel that the salesperson is on their side. Consequently, the Level 2 salesperson is other-person centred and respects the prospect’s point of view. They don’t ‘push’ the customer into making a purchase, as they know that the sale will only advance if customers like the salesperson and their company enough to award them the business. Instead, they focus on creating positive interactions which help to build trust and progress the relationship.
Level 3 – Solving problemsIn addition to being knowledgeable about their product or service and providing a great brand experience, Level 3 salespeople add value by solving actual business problems. They ask their customers questions and listen attentively to the answers before suggesting a solution. Rather than focusing on selling whatever they can to customers, Level 3 salespeople view what they sell from a ‘what will it solve?’ mindset: what matters to the customer? What are they struggling with right now? What are their issues? They think of themselves like business doctors, and spend time asking questions, probing and exploring the problem before matching the correct solution. Only when the Level 3 salesperson fully understands the problem does he/she prescribe a solution. This is the consultative ‘solution-selling’ approach and the benchmark for B2B sales.
Level 4 – Providing valuable insightsAs more and more sales teams become expert at Level 3, it becomes harder for the salesperson to differentiate themselves from the competition. In order to add value and win more business, they need to move to Level 4. Level 4 sales teams go one step further in their efforts to understand the customer’s side of the equation. They act effectively as a partner, providing the customer with valuable new insights as to how they can run their business more effectively and more profitably. They educate their customer with new ideas – perhaps via market research, third-party data, or their own experience and expertise – which help to shift the customer’s perspective and uncover new opportunities for growth. And because Level 4 sales teams add the most value to their customer’s businesses, they invariably end up winning the most sales.
Are you selling at level 4?A great test as to whether or not you are operating at Level 4 is to ask yourself: ‘Would my customer still hire me as a consultant if I no longer had my product or service to sell?’ That’s a tough question, but if you are able to answer ‘yes’ from time to time, then huge congratulations – it means you’re operating at Level 4!
By Tom Fielder, Marketing Manager at LDL, Leadership Development Ltd, a skills development and sales training consultancy based in London.