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I joined Exotel from a sales outsourcing company. Oh, yes, it is a real thing. I worked for companies that outsourced their leads to us. We had to talk to their customers and sell the product/service. When I joined Exotel, it was like a whole new world for me. I felt like I was learning to climb a mountain here. And I’m afraid of heights. So, you can imagine my plight.

Where I came from, the type of selling I was familiar with was rather simple. The sales process had one simple objective – selling.

This is what the process of sale looked like where I came from:

Change is inevitable, and change is constant.
-Benjamin Disraeli.

This is very true in the context of sales. Selling has remained constant, but the way people sell evolves with the market and customer maturity.

1. Solution selling doesn’t work


As I mentioned earlier, the kind of sale I was familiar with was centred around me – how well I knew my skills, my target, my sales pitch, my selling – me me me.

On my first day at Exotel, I knew I was in trouble. My strength lay in the power of grunt work. I counted on calling people endlessly and pitching my product to them. But at Exotel, the customers I spoke to knew what they wanted. They knew about our product, sometimes even our competitor’s, they understood our pricing. This left me very unsure of what I was supposed to do if they already understood most of what would talk to them on a sales call.


What am I supposed to sell if the customer already understands the everything my sales pitch covers?

The answer came to me when I observed what everyone around me was doing – I was supposed to be selling solutions

And there is a world of difference between the sale of a product and a solution.


The consultative sales process

In a SaaS company, product and services are available over the cloud. The pricing is usually transparent and the customer has access to all the data she needs to make a buying decision. SaaS companies in the West aim to sell without ever talking to their customer. The process is usually designed to be that way. But, in India, it is unusual for a company to buy a critical system without talking to a real person.

And phone support is critical for businesses in India.

Typical sales call

There are two directions in which I could take this conversation. I could just tell the customer what he wants to know and set up the Exotel account as he asked me to. I would’ve done my job.
This is what I would’ve done in my pre-Exotel days. And that would’ve made me a sales person.

Lou Diamond, the CEO of FOBIA says:

“Similar to a lawyer who establishes trust and rapport with a client, a consultative seller seeks to do the same with a buyer. Rather than make a pitch to the buyer (“let me explain why you should buy our product”), a skilled consultative seller initiates a substantive dialogue with the buyer. It’s through this conversation where the buyer reveals how the salesperson can help them. In a way, a consultative seller influences the buyer to make the pitch, not the other way around.”

Selling as a consultative seller and not a sales person


One of the things I do now is, before picking up the phone to talk to a customer, I try to find out as much as I can about the person I’m about to speak to and the company. Even a simple google search can tell you a fair bit about the business and the person you’re about to talk to. Spend some time on their website. Understand their business. In addition to this, I’d recommend the use of tools like Rapportive, LinkedIn, etc to understand a little more about the person you’re about to speak to as well.
Encourage the customer to talk without any interruptions. The more they explain the problems they’re facing, the easier it gets for you to understand how you can solve the problem for them. Here are a few questions that you could ask her to understand the problem she needs to address.

  1. What is the nature of her e-commerce business?
  2. How are they managing customer calls currently?
  3. Why did she think of a solution like Exotel to help her right now?
  4. What are their call volumes?
  5. What is the image she’d like to project to the customers who call?
  6. What CRM do they use?
  7. Do they have a ticketing software they use?
  8. Do they offer cash on delivery to their customers?
  9. Do they inform customers of the status of their orders? If yes, how do they do it?
  10. Does she already have six agents or are they planning to hire them?
  11. Would they be interested in automating repetitive tasks?
  12. What kind of advertising do they do for their e-commerce startup?
  13. How do they keep track of their ROI?

Except for the first 4 questions, most of the other issues I asked her are not directly related to her problems. But they’re essential to the problem she’s trying to solve. Spending time talking to the customer also gives me an insight into the workings of her company. This will help me suggest a solution that will not just solve her problem but also integrate Exotel into the core of their business.
It’s a win-win situation. I win a long-term relationship with the customer (not to mention the revenue), and the client has a better solution to manage her customer calls.

Hubspot sums up the principles of consultative selling beautifully

There are six principles to the consultative sales process:

  1. Research
  2. Ask
  3. Listen
  4. Teach
  5. Qualify
  6. Close

These six principles should provide the basic outline of the consultative sales methodology that you create for your business.

Teach – this brings me to my next learning.

2. Always challenge your customers


This is something that usually happens at on our sales calls at Exotel.

While the client always assumes that they know best about what they need, do not be afraid to challenge the customer. After all, you have a better understanding of your product and the kind of solution that will fit in with their needs better.

Being a good salesperson is not always about saying yes. It’s also about saying no when you think the customer is making the wrong choice.

While this may be the antithesis of everything they teach about sales traditionally, this is the best way to win a customer’s loyalty.

If you’re serious about selling better, I’d recommend you read the book The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon. Here are some quotes from the book that have influenced the way I talk to my customers:

How you sell has become more important than what you sell.

(Challengers have) a thorough understanding of the client’s business and use that knowledge to push the customer’s thinking and teach them something new about how their company can compete more efficiently.

A Challenger is really defined by the ability to do three things: teach, tailor, and take control.

The world of solution selling is almost definitionally about a disruptive sale.

If you’re on the journey to more of a value-based or solutions-oriented sales approach, then your ability to challenge customers is absolutely vital for your success going forward.

Shift the discussion from price to value.

Challengers aren’t so much world-class investigators as they are world-class teachers. They win not by understanding their customers’ world as well as the customers know it themselves, but by actually knowing their customers’ world better than their customers know it themselves, teaching them what they don’t know but should.

A final note


Sales is not a “one size fits all” process. You need to treat each customer’s requirements uniquely and offer then something that works for them.

My biggest learning has been – Throw away the script you’ve been working with. It’s not going to work. Be genuinely interested in your customer’s success and have their best interest at heart.

Come with selling guidelines or checklists that help the entire team work as one entity and give the customer what’s best for them.

Manisha Mishra

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