How buying a suit changed my perspective on selling.
I love shopping. I shop department stores all the time searching for that perfect item for any given occasion. One trip in particular taught me a huge lesson about the power of consultative selling.
I went to a department store in search of a new suit to wear to a wedding. I didn’t have a clear idea about what kind of suit I wanted, and there were so many options to choose from that I almost gave up on my search.
After picking a few items to try on, a sales clerk approached me to ask if I was looking for something in particular. I told her I was trying to find a suit, but because I was satisfied so far with the items I picked up, I declined her help. After trying on everything, I found a suit I wasn’t in love with it but liked enough to purchase.
As I walked out of the dressing room, the same sales clerk was standing by waiting for me, so I asked her if she liked my suit. Her response: “No, it’s not my favorite.” I was taken aback! Does she not want/need the commission? Isn’t the customer always right?
She continued, “I’m going to pick out several suits for you to try on.” From her five suggestions, I found a suit I really liked. The wedding was a success, and several other guests complimented me on how well I was dressed. Since that experience, I’ve worked with the same sales clerk whenever I shop that department store.
I had an epiphany. The sales clerk did not let me purchase what I thought I needed; she used the power of consultative selling to sell me a product I truly enjoyed — and by doing so, she earned my future purchasing loyalty. She was honest and gave me some options I did not pick myself. She asked about the items I typically buy and made suggestions based on my answers. She acted as a true consultant and partner in my purchasing process.
Anyone who sells on association media, and anyone who works in association membership, should ask themselves how they can use the power of consultative selling to create a better fit between advertisers (or members) and the product or service being offered. Creating a consultative relationship between your association and your customers — whether they are advertisers or members — around the product — whether it is media, membership, or programming — will result in a better transaction that brings more satisfaction to both parties in the short- and long-term.
Five concepts that shape the concept of consultative selling:
- Honesty and integrity.
- Ongoing communication
1. Honesty and Integrity
The sales clerk, being an expert on men’s formalwear, did not let me purchase the random items I selected just to get an easy commission. She told me “no.” She asked me probing questions about my likes and dislikes in order to find a suit that worked for me.
In association media, how many times have you said “no” to clients who want to do a one-time advertising placement as a test? Knowing they won’t get the branding awareness they are looking for with just a single placement, we must be the experts that lead them down the right path toward their goals. Speak up if your experience tells you what a potential advertiser or attendee is asking to buy won’t yield their desired result. Offer the better solution. Explain the value of other options, even if they are more expensive, which leads us to the next point:
When the sales clerk told me she didn’t like the items I picked up, I was shocked because I’ve never had someone tell me “no” while trying to sell me something. She taught me two things: I needed her help more than she needed my business, and she believes in her products and her product expertise.
That’s valuable to any organization. To successfully sell something, you must convey to the buyer that he needs the product to reach his goal. We would not be in the business of providing association media — and associations wouldn’t exist — if there wasn’t a need for professionals to gather and share industry news, learn career-enhancing skills, network, and advocate for their profession.
You must believe in the value of your product. Have pride in your publications, your programming, and your events! Assuming the client is a fit for what you offer; your job is to educate them about how it will enhance their operations and help them select the products they need based on their goals and objectives.
The sales clerk did not just question my selection; she asked what my style and my end goal were. She then customized several packages to help me easily pick the option that worked best.
The process of creating a customized offering for advertisers or members should be no different in association media sales. Companies receive media kits or sales brochures all the time, but they don’t always have the time to look through the options. Exhibitors typically have dozens of shows where they could purchase booth space or sponsorships. You, as an expert on reaching your association’s audience and your industry’s influencers, should discover the specific needs of a potential client and customize several packages that include applicable advertising or sponsorship options. Make it obvious that your offerings contain the best opportunities for furthering their business. Earn your non-dues revenue.
After the sales transaction was complete, I was off to the wedding. I looked and felt great, and others confirmed this via their compliments. With these results, I trusted the clerk’s fashion expertise so much that I referred others to her. Trust leads to return business.
As a sales organization, we believe ROI and having a presence go hand in hand. You will not achieve one without the other. Our ability to be the association media experts with our clients, find out what their goals and objectives are, and educate them about the best way to achieve those goals helps build the framework of a great client relationship. How can you build trust in your media and in your expertise?
5. Ongoing Communication
Communication with the client does not stop when the transaction is complete. This sales clerk sends me emails and calls occasionally to let me know about deals or new styles in the department store. She keeps our lines of communication open so that I continue to place my trust in her, continue to give her business, and continue to look sharp.
As sales professionals, it is imperative we continue to communicate with clients with whom we build relationships. Whether it’s a quick phone call to get feedback about an ad placement or just to check in, make the effort to steward your non-dues revenue relationships. You want to make sure that clients remember you. The payoff? When it’s time to renew, it’s a warmer conversation.
Work on incorporating these concepts into your selling practices, and watch how the relationship with your vendors, exhibitors, sponsors, advertisers, and even members grows your non-dues revenue. Be honest about what you can offer. Show off the value of your offerings. Customize your offerings to the client’s objectives and goals. Earn their trust as they make a transaction with you. Then cultivate the relationship further so they invest with you again. Non-dues revenue isn’t sold; it’s earned.
John Bacon is a group publisher with Naylor Association Solutions. In addition to shopping, he is passionate about helping advertising clients find the right association media that will help them reach their desired audience.