Tailoring a sales ploy to get results

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 April, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 April, 1993, 12:00am

HOW can an organisation's sales operation be improved? One of the keys to becoming more effective is to first determine the type of ''selling process'' which needs to be used. In other words, the role the salesperson must play has to be identified.

There are three different processes sales staff can adopt: narrative, suggestive and consultative.

The narrative approach depends on the salesperson moving quickly into a standardised presentation.

Every buyer receives the same presentation. Emphasis is on highlighting benefits and how the product or service can help the buyer.

This is an effective approach if the buying motive for all customers is basically the same. This process is well suited where there are a great number of prospects to be called on.

The suggestive approach depends on the seller being in a position to offer alternative recommendations.

This is quite different from the narrative approach as the presentation is to tailored to the individual customer.

Here, the salesperson must initiate some discussion in order to get the buyer in a positive frame of mind.

An example of this process would be a restaurant wine steward who has checked with the waiter what food the customer has ordered and then opens by saying that either ''this or that'' particular wine would go best with the food ordered.

This is an excellent approach where one doesn't have much time with the customer but is able to acquire some basic information and then offer a particular recommendation.

This process is well suited for products and services. However, it does require the salesperson to acquire basic information from the customer before moving on to the presentation.

The consultative approach requires the salesperson to have a thorough understanding of the customer and what the customer is trying to achieve.

The role of the salesperson is to become an adviser or consultant and must acquire a great deal of information from the customer.

With this information the salesperson can plan what to offer the customer.

In this case, the salesperson must tailor the presentation to highlight how the salesperson's product or service can be of help.

This approach will usually require a number of sales calls as the buying process may be complex.

The consultative approach requires a wide variety of skills, including probing, listening, analysis, creativity and persuasiveness. The other two approaches typically require fewer skills.

Hiring, training, motivating and rewarding salespeople need to be linked to the type of sales process being used and this is where the problem starts.

Many organisations which should be using a consultative approach use a narrative approach. They use standardised methods and do not tailor presentations to individual customers.

You see this in many industries. When this is the case, price becomes a key criterion for the customer.

A key issue in developing a professional sales organisation is in first establishing the sales process. When that decision has been made, all other sales decisions, including hiring, training and rewards can be linked to it.

Charles Steilen is executive director of Asia-Pacific Institute of Business, Chinese University of Hongkong