For the longest time every company that you could name was about solutions selling or consultative selling. But there is evidence to indicate that this approach is not quite what it once was.
The reason is pretty simple. The Internet gives prospects the power to educate themselves. They already know most of what a “consultative salesperson” would have shared with them when the solutions sales craze was at its heyday. Per the article above, 60% of the buyer’s journey is already complete before they ever get to you.
Not that the consultative selling approach was a bad one for its time. Indeed, it marked the beginning of a larger wave that we’re still riding: the shift away from manipulative, in-your-face sales tactics and towards focusing on the customer’s needs, desires, and problems.
And in fact, consultative selling isn’t “dead.” It’s simply moved.
The consultative part is happening on your website. You’re providing those answers and offering an understanding of those problems in the content that you write instead of bringing that understanding to the sales table.
Of course, there is one disadvantage to this shift. In the heyday of the consultative selling period there was a great deal of focus on asking the right questions so that you could, like any good physician, diagnose the problem before offering the right product as a solution.
How do you diagnose a problem befor you see a patient?
After all, that is a trick you will have to master. If you don’t diagnose the problem before you write the content you won’t get that vital foot in the door, and your prospects will move on before ever giving you the opportunity to earn their business.
This is where SEO becomes so much more than a form of internet wizardry meant to entice search engines to give you good rankings. It is, in fact, the art of diagnosing thousands of similar “patients” at once.
You see, prospects are still talking about their problems. They’re just not telling you about them. They are telling search engines, instead.
And you can still ask the questions. You just don’t get to ask an individual customer directly.
Instead, you turn to keyword research, which will tell you exactly what your customer needs, wants, and is concerned about.
Now SEO becomes a very different game than the “insert keywords, pull out rankings” exercise that many business owners still believe it to be. You start teaching yourself how to give Google what it wanted all along…useful content that was written for human beings.
For example, a quick tour of Google keyword planner for the term “SEO” tells me that most customers still need and want to know the following things:
- What it accomplishes.
- How to do it.
- How to find the best company to do it.
- Other ways to market or promote their business online.
Now, I can just write content based on those four thoughts alone. But I also want to think a bit about what the conversation would look like if we were still practicing face-to-face solution selling.
The conversation might have sounded something like this:
“So, tell me about your biggest marketing challenge right now.”
“Well, I have this website but I’m not sure it’s really bringing me any leads.”
I suspect, were I selling SEO and internet marketing services, that a blog post with the title, “What to do if your business website isn’t generating any leads” would ultimately bring me more customers than a post called “Fourteen SEO Tips” because it speaks to the customer’s actual problem. After all, the customer’s problem is getting leads. SEO is just a means to that end.
As it happens, many business owners are still confused about SEO, and may not even know they need SEO services. The diagnosis is that they are having a hard time marketing their business online. The prescription becomes your marketing company’s services.
Put another way, patients don’t go to Web MD and type atrial fibrillation unless they’ve already been diagnosed. They go when they’re not feeling good and they type: “weird chest pains.” You have to educate them enough to help them understand what they’re actually dealing with and what they need to do about it.
That’s not to say that there aren’t more sophisticated customers out there. A good website will speak to both types of customers, ensuring that all of them get the information that they really need and want and continuing to educate them on what your products and services can do to alleviate the problem.
And, in fact, your sales representatives will still play a role in the process. They just have better tools than they did before.
After all, if they know a prospect is facing a particular problem they can get on LinkedIn with one of your company’s articles and simply forward the article with a quick, “Thought this might prove useful to you.” (They can do this with other, similar industry articles from other websites, too).
Sort of like the doctor, who has magazines full of health tips in his waiting room.
In fact, the only thing that has really changed is the name of the game (content marketing/SEO vs consultative selling). The nature of the game has remained exactly the same: take a deep interest in the people you want to serve, find out what they want, and show them how they can get it.