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The last few months I’ve been doing a lot of research and shopping for a new(er) car. If you’ve ever done it before, you can probably confirm that this is historically one of the most stressful and frustrating consumer experiences that exist. The horror stories are everywhere.

The hullabaloo surrounding car buying is never-ending! It is a very high-involvement purchase and emotions run high because consumers are about to spend a lot of money. In addition to money, the buyer hopes to end up in something that fits their needs, is safe, and maybe even reflects their personality.

The concept of the high-involvement purchase is why so many sales jobs still exist even in the age of the internet-empowered consumer. Consumers want to feel that they can talk to an expert about the big, fancy, expensive product they’re considering buying. We want to feel confident in our purchases and have a resource that is easier to access than the fragmented information in thousands of places across the internet.

So why do we loathe, despise, and dread working with salespeople most of the time?

Valid question, I’m so glad you asked! Here’s the deal…there are SALESMEN and there are CONSULTANTS. They’re very different in concept and cause very different reactions in the customers they work with. This is a topic that has been discussed a few times throughout the interwebs, but I’ll give you my spin after I had my car-buying experience.

What we dread about the SALESMAN

  • It feels like he’s driven by making the sale and making it as quick as possible. He just wants to get a product in your hands and get you out of the store.
  • If he realizes you’re interested in doing more research or taking things a bit slower, his demeanor immediately changes and he sometimes even tries to get you to go away.
  • He sometimes oversimplifies your input and needs, and might even cut corners or omit information to drive you to purchase.
  • The amount of product knowledge he has is amazing, but he hasn’t tried to relate that back to your needs or lifestyle so it’s hard for you to get excited about the product he’s pitching you on.
  • That’s because he hasn’t really asked you about your needs or lifestyle. He took the first one or two bits of information you gave him, then went for the kill selling you the first thing that seemed like it might fit.

What we love about the CONSULTANT

  • It feels like he truly wants to help us find the best product or service to suit our needs. He asks question after question after question before he even starts to talk about what he has to offer.
  • He is also an expert in product knowledge, but he knows when and how to present it. He tells you about products in the context of the needs that you set forth in discussion and throws in fun facts and other standout features he wants you to be aware of.
  • His goal is for the sale to be a positive experience and the beginning of a relationship. He wants to get you to purchase the product that is going to make you the happiest so that you will keep using it and coming back for more.

Now if you have the word “Salesman” or “Consultant” in your job title, don’t let these lists go to your head just yet. There are plenty of people who call themselves consultants that emulate a lot of the salesman-esque traits that make consumers run for the hills. There are also plenty of people who call themselves salesmen that go about their jobs in a highly consultative manner and leave customers feeling warm and fuzzy inside.

The point is that you can be a consultative seller no matter who you are, you just have to work at it! There is a very good chance that your customers would love you for it, especially if you’re selling high-involvement products or technologically advanced solutions. If you operate in an industry where you can’t really justify having a customer consultant on staff, do the consulting before you even roll your product out. Ask your market lots and lots of questions, figure out their needs and lifestyles so that you can create a product that fits like a glove.

Don’t try to shove round pegs into square holes with your selling efforts. We can all be more mindful of how our actions affect our customers’ experience. If we take care of them, they’ll come back or at the very least leave us a good review or referral.

So let’s get to it! Let’s listen to our customers and be experts in our fields!