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Wednesday, Jul 26, 2006

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Consultative selling

R. Devarajan

The basic principles of sales management had been clearly established by the beginning of the last century. Managers were well versed in understanding the needs of the buyer, his motives, and developing suitable strategies to complete a sale. However, the selling environment changed considerably towards the close of the last century. In the current commercial context, everyone in business knows that it is imperative to build a relationship with the customer. The selling organisation must be a consultant to the buying organisation.

Consultative selling involves a professional and umbilical connection with the customer, beyond the realm of normal seller-buyer equation. It implies creating an impact that is at once emphatic and enduring. In order to be accepted as a consultant to the buying company, the selling organisation must acquire full knowledge about the buying company, its values, and its philosophy.

The concept of consultative selling was first advocated in 1970 in a book jointly written by Hanan, Cribbin, and Heiser. The consultative seller's goal is to ensure success for his company, by helping the buying company to increase its profits. Towards this end, the consultative seller will understand and appreciate the needs and nuances of the buying company.

Developing solutions, rather than selling goods and services is the talisman and trademark of the consultative seller. It is thus that he builds value and creates customer loyalty and long-term relationship. Sometimes in the overall interests of the relationship between the two companies, the consultative seller may even dissuade the buying company from purchasing a product made by his company. While loyalty to his own company is doubtless a pre-eminent priority, the consultative seller will not allow such sentiments to jeopardise the welfare of his customer. This kind of a conflict-of-interest situation is a minefield, and must be negotiated wisely and carefully. On the whole, consultative selling is a mutually reinforcing and reciprocating relationship par excellence.

(The author is a Chennai-based freelance writer.)

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