Thursday, July 20, 2017

Consulting As A Sales Strategy

By Keith Unterschute, Director of Consulting Services, Mainstay

I have worked in both sales and consulting during my decades in the technology industry. In both positions the goal was to understand what problems the customer is trying to fix. For sales, the path of least resistance was to focus on selling products that the customer is actually interested in buying. Even when management wants you to focus on relationship selling, they still want you to sell something. As a consultant, you need to gather similar information but often for very different reasons. However, both consultants and salespeople are seeking the same thing: to provide value to the customer.

But in spite of having similar objectives, sales reps and consultants interact quite differently with the customer. If you’re a sales rep, your prospective customers are often a little skeptical of your motives. Although your pitch may be that you want to help them solve their problems, that lofty goal is tarnished by the fact that, at the end of the day, you want to sell them products. If you’re a consultant, you also want to solve the customers’ business problems, but you’re not getting paid to sell them something. Instead, you’re paid to give them unbiased recommendations and tools to help solve problems. For this reason, consultants are typically viewed as more trustworthy.

How the customer perceives you often determines the nature of your interactions. On the sales side, the customer tends to be cautious when divulging their realities and needs. The thought is that even if your product isn’t the best fit to resolve the problem, the sales rep will try to sell it to you nonetheless. By contrast, in most consulting engagements, customers know that the more information they’re willing to divulge, the more value they’re likely to receive at the end of the engagement.
During the times I worked as a sales rep, I often wished for a customer who completely trusted me. But no matter how trustworthy I may have been, to the customer I was always viewed as just a sales rep, so they always nurtured a seed of suspicion. Later, when I took job as a consultant, I was amazed at how much more open and trusting customers became when they knew their openness would positively impact the value I could deliver.

At Mainstay, we have been bringing the power of consulting to add value -- not only for customers, but also for technology vendors. In fact, many of our clients are technology providers that, as part of their sales strategy, sponsor business case studies for their prospective customers. Thanks to our objective, fact-based consulting approach, customers feel confident these studies are truly unbiased, and they genuinely appreciate the tangible value the vendor is giving them through the engagement.

Our business-case engagements allow us the opportunity to interview people outside of the IT organization, including business executives who the sales teams may never have access to. Our goal is to uncover specific technologies that could help the business achieve its strategic objectives.

Armed with this more strategic, business-focused analysis, IT organizations are able to present their case for funding new technology projects in a far more effective way – one that is likely to get the attention of business leaders and key decision-makers. Bottom line: the vendor’s sales team gets greater insight into the non-IT stakeholder, the IT department gets a better way to communicate to get the budget they need to solve real problems, and the business gets a solution that supports its high-level business objectives. Everyone wins.