Within sales-based conversations, there are two processes occurring simultaneously: the selling process from the salesperson, and the buying process from the customer. Traditionally, sales training has focused heavily on the selling process, teaching salespeople how to talk, make an effective pitch and persuade customers to buy. Conceptual selling, on the other hand, is a customer-focused approach, which looks to understand a prospect’s problems and identify their unique need, before relating the product or service you are trying to sell to that need. In this article, we take a closer look at conceptual selling and how you can steer your team towards success.

The Basics of Conceptual Selling

The broad concepts behind conceptual selling, as well as the formula for success, were established by Robert B. Miller and Stephen E. Heiman in their 1989 book Conceptual Selling, which emphasized the importance of putting customers first and listing to their specific needs and concerns, before addressing them.

As a result of this basic re-addressing of the balance between the selling process and the buying process, conceptual selling can help to ensure salespeople have meetings and conversations with greater purpose.

Ultimately, with conceptual selling, the idea is that each and every interaction with a customer should aim to improve the relationship between the customer and your business, or move a sales opportunity forward. In many ways, there is a cross-over between good conceptual selling skills and good customer service skills.

Asking Intelligent Questions

One of the core philosophies behind conceptual selling is the idea that customers do not really spend money on products or services – they are buying the effects those products or services can have. In essence, they pay for solutions. With this in mind, the first step of any conceptual selling strategy is to find out information.

For this reason, the sales training you provide needs to focus on teaching salespeople to ask intelligent questions, which can help them to ascertain precisely what the prospect or lead is hoping to accomplish. Questions should not be leading and should be geared towards understanding the customer’s own concept of their problems.

“Effective selling begins with the ability to ask good questions,” says John Song in a blog post on the topic of conceptual selling. “[This] qualifies the prospect early; helps you understand the current situation; builds rapport [and] helps you determine the customer’s decision-making process.”

Listening to What Prospects Have to Say

Next, your salespeople need to really listen to what prospects have to say about their situation or predicament. Listening skills are at the very heart of conceptual selling and it is important that sales reps are able to take information in, process it and record it for future reference.

Depending on how your salespeople are used to operating, this may be something of a learning process. Many salespeople are used to doing most of the talking and expressing the various merits of the products or services they are selling in more general terms, rather than really taking in what prospects have to say.

Basic customer service skills can help with this. However, it is equally important to make effective use of technology, like CRM systems. This will allow salespeople to record what customers say – their issues, their challenges, their problems and their expectations – in a way that allows this information to be referred to again later on.

Providing Information and Gaining Commitment

Finally, once salespeople have asked intelligent questions, listened to what prospects have to say and formulated an idea of exactly what the individual situation is, they can start to provide information about the products or services they are trying to sell and create a totally unique sales pitch.

Crucially, the sales pitch should be tailored to meet the individual prospect’s needs, making it as relevant as possible, rather than providing generic product benefits. Moreover, it is important that meetings or sales calls end with some kind of commitment from the client and this commitment should deepen as the sale progresses.

“There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all solutions or value propositions for customers,” Miller Heiman Group explain in their Conceptual Selling product sheet. “The only way to understand what will help you win is to ask the right questions and listen. The result is purposeful meetings and win-win outcomes.”