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A consultative selling approach fosters strong trust with a buyer. Instead of using pressure or charisma in your selling approach, you can opt to work like a consultant alongside the customer. This means defining the problem and providing advice that is in the best interest of the customer. This is especially effective around technical or complex problems that your customer may be dealing with.
 
However, what if you discover that you cannot provide an adequate solution to the customer’s problem? Should you recommend your competitors? After all, you are consulting with your customer and you have expressed a commitment to help them with the best solution. The difficult position of finding a right fit, whether it is with your company or another, can pose a perplexing dilemma in light of various considerations.
 
Ethical Considerations
Depending on the circumstances, sometimes referring a customer to a competitor can fly in direct conflict with the interests of your organization. Getting clarity on how your company views competition is important to understand in order to avoid any issues with management. This can differ between industries based on how competitors relate to one another.
 
Furthermore, your competitor might be better positioned in the market to service your customer – or vice versa. A good litmus test is to consider whether this customer could ever do business with you.
 
If the timing is not ideal, then it might be best to revisit the requirements at a later date and not recommend your competition. If your capabilities make doing business unrealistic, then you can create goodwill for both your competitor in a different segment of the market and with your customer.
 
Referring new business in a tactful and professional way can open up future opportunities. This is especially true if you can have a candid conversation with someone at your competitor’s business indicating what you are seeking to do to help the customer, and what you hope to gain in a loose relationship with both the customer and the competitor. Remember to encourage all stakeholders to be explicit in stating their expectations.
 
However, be sure to abstain from such contact if you sense it will be in direct conflict with the interests of your own organization. Ask yourself the following questions if you feel unsure:
 
If my managers were to know about this gesture, would they support it, or be against it?
What is the clear hope or expectation I would have of my competitor?
What would this do for the relationship with my customer?
Would I lose business?
 
Your first fiduciary responsibility is to your company. The secondary interest is to help the customer solve their problem, and it can be handled in multiple ways.
 
Positioning As the Trusted Advisor
Even if it is awkward, unethical or compromising to recommend your competitors, you can still remain seen as a reliable advisor to your customer. Doing so keeps your relationship intact and communicates your care and helpfulness.
 
One way to do this effectively is to provide clarity around the problems that your customer is seeking to solve. Record clear notes and outline exactly what they are trying to solve. Then communicate considerations they might explore. You are not necessarily referring a competitor, as the customer will still need to do some of their own research. You also don’t need to forge a relationship with a competitor at this point, but doing so may be desirable if there is a conflict of interest.
 
When you point your customer in a certain direction, try phrasing your recommendation in the words, “If it were me, I would look at these options.” Refrain from supplying specific names of companies, but provide what they need to find the answers. 
 
Additionally, be sure to clarify your position and where you can be most helpful. This is an opportunity for your customer to understand your value proposition more clearly. Let them know that if they are seeking a solution that fits your capabilities, then you are readily accessible. Make it easy for the customer to feel comfortable to come back to you with questions or future business. This keeps a relationship open for better timing, fit or referrals.
 
If you choose to be consultative with your customers as your selling approach, then your goal should be to build trust with helping them understand their problems and their options. You are a guide.
 
Your first customer, however, is your company. Keep your priorities and remember to stay loyal.
 
Ultimately, being consultative enables you to build opportunities and relationships with competitors who may help you with reciprocating sales leads. If there is such an opportunity, be clear on expectations and take your time building such relationships. Lastly, always remember: these connections should not compromise the integrity of your relationship with your company or your customer.
 
 

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