In recent years, a service mentality has begun to dominate our industry. The thinking goes that an exceptional service experience will wow a client into fierce loyalty and inspire a waterfall of referrals. In today’s connected world, however, service is not a competitive differentiator. Clients are not surprised by great service; they expect it. Service has become a baseline standard for doing business. Regardless of the subject or circumstance, great service does not inspire loyalty or set you apart because providing great service is simply doing what is expected of you.
At this point, saying you provide great service is like saying that you have a website. Of course you do. Everyone does.
In a business climate where exceptional service is assumed, advisors need to adopt a more aggressive, assertive approach to capturing prospect interest so that they can begin building loyalty well-before the service stage. This means building customer loyalty at the first stage of the relationship: the sales process.
Challengers vs. Relationship Builders
The relationship-building approach to sales has a lot in common with the service-based mentality that we discussed in our opening. Like great service, developing rapport with a prospect or client is certainly important but it’s expected. Prospects assume that they will work with an advisor they like. When every advisor is building rapport, your ability to do so will not set you apart.
To stand out, you have to challenge a prospect’s thinking, which means going beyond service or relationship-building to uncover insights for the prospect. With this approach, your sales process incorporates:
- A demonstration of your knowledge of the prospect’s business.
- An explanation of the struggles and concerns that are coming in the future.
- An explanation of a problem or opportunity within the space that the prospect was unaware of.
- A plan for building upon this insight to the benefit of the prospect’s business.
This approach challenges the thinking of your prospect. It forces prospects to think differently about their business and to reconsider their center points. Though it might be uncomfortable at first, adopting a challenger mindset ultimately leads to demonstrating your actual value as an advisor.
Every one of your competitors is building relationships and offering solutions while the challenger approach gets to the heart of what sets you apart. You immediately cut through the news to educate your prospects on aspects of their businesses or industries that they haven’t considered. You teach. You illuminate new opportunities, and you solve problems that they didn’t even know they had.
From the start, you are not someone selling a product or service. You are a valuable source of business insights that also happens to sell a product or service. This difference is crucial because it frames how a client thinks of your relationship in a very specific way. By establishing this dynamic from the beginning, the client immediately begins to grow accustomed to looking to you for advice.
The Mutual Interview
Part of the beauty of the challenger approach is that it immediately sets the tone for the relationship. You aren’t begging for a prospect’s business. You are aware of your value and aren’t afraid to have difficult conversations if it’s for the good of your clients. Taking this stance is not about aggression. It’s about finding the best clients possible to work with and helping your prospect evaluate you and what you do.
If you enter a sales conversation trying to pitch a solution that the prospect is already looking for, you will become a vendor rather than a partner. Vendors are often forced to compete on price. After all, if you are selling the same product as your competitors (from the prospect’s perspective), why wouldn’t the prospect look for the most cost-effective option?
When your relationship with the prospect begins with the frankness of the challenger approach, you move beyond the role of vendor. The real value that you bring is more than your product. The value is in you understanding what your prospects’ businesses needs better than they do, relative to the expertise that you provide.
In this setting, the sales process becomes a mutual interview. Your best clients will be the ones that are willing to think differently about their business and how they work with an advisor. Your best clients will be receptive and open to business insights even if it makes them feel uncomfortable at first. Your best clients will see the value of working with someone that can illuminate their blind spots and guide them to correct a problem or capitalizing on an opportunity. They will want to follow your lead and initiative.
At The PT Services Group, this is how we treat our sales call. We aren’t looking to work with everyone. Instead, we want to develop relationships where the fit is mutual. Sometimes that means walking away from a sales opportunity, but if that means preemptively eliminating a problem client—the one that your staff dreads to see on their caller ID—we know it’s for the best.
They might be a problem client because they are difficult to work with, but just as often, the problem actually be that we failed to effectively evaluate how well our relationship fit. Challenging prospects from the start helps us to do that, and as a result, the clients we work with are more satisfied and stay longer. It will always be difficult to walk away from a sale, but in the long run, it can actually make your business more profitable.
The First Sale Isn’t the Only Sale
When your sales conversation starts from a point of challenging thinking, you set an expectation that can last the rest of your relationship. Assuming that the prospect is receptive to this approach—and the best prospects are—you establish a dynamic where your future client is open to additional insights. After all, your relationship began with you helping the prospect see their business in a different light, so it’s only natural that the theme repeats itself.
For your business, this means an opportunity to challenge the prospect with new insights later, building upon the foundation of trust and expertise that you established from the onset. It won’t be uncomfortable surprise when you call a few months later to discuss a new opportunity that you see in their space. In fact, your client will likely welcome it since your first insight proved to be helpful and rewarding for their business.
And this is the culmination of using the challenger methodology to drive loyalty.
To review, the challenger sale accomplishes the following:
- Sets you apart from the producers competing on services or relationships.
- Defines and demonstrates your value as an advisor.
- Establishes a dynamic where you a partner rather than a vendor, which are easily replaced.
- Weeds out potentially problematic clients early in the sales process.
- Opens the door for future sales conversations with the same client.
To be clear, service and relationships still matter, but your willingness to challenge your prospects and clients better define the value that you bring as an advisor. When prospects and clients can clear see that value—because you are bold enough to make it clear—you begin to grow their trust and their loyalty. That loyalty doesn’t begin with service, it begins with the sale.
Challenge yourself to think differently, and start building loyalty today.
Article originally published in LifeHealthPro. Read it here.