Upskill consultative selling agents in food and beverage industry

Upskill consultative selling agents in food and beverage industry

In today’s hyper-competitive information age, product-focused selling – where power resides with the seller – just won’t cut it anymore. The pandemic has forever changed how people shop, how they manage their finances, and how they care for themselves. This is why consultative selling – which yields power to the buyer – is increasingly seen as the future of sales.

Today’s buyers see their purchases as investments and need to be reassured that you care about their needs, not just how much business they can send your way. Consumer trust has been shaken due to food safety and quality concerns. People are looking for partners that work with them to source safer ingredients, to help them better understand health/wellness issues that may arise from current consumption habits, and to ensure social responsibility is baked into a product’s supply chain before production even begins.

Consultative selling prioritizes relationships and open dialogue to identify customer needs and provide solutions. If a customer feels listened to and understood, they will be more inclined to buy into your offer and your brand’s vision. A consultative-selling approach is also better at addressing a consumer’s pain points in the long term compared to traditional sales techniques. It goes beyond the sale, builds trust, and nurtures sustainable relationships between buyers and sellers.

This is especially important in the food and beverage industry where consumers are savvier about their spending, making healthier choices, and becoming more knowledgeable about the products they buy. Consumers are now more conscious about what they’re eating and drinking, significantly affecting what their preferred grocery stores and restaurants source from their suppliers. They’re more inclined to buy local products, cut out processed foods, eliminate sugars, simple carbs, and unhealthy fats. A product-based seller, for instance, can’t push microwave dinners and sugar-laden drinks the way they used to. Now, they need to understand the needs of their buyers to make personalized and data-driven recommendations.

How can firms upskill their consultative selling agents to tackle new food and beverage industry trends?

Let’s dive in.

Upskill consultative selling agents in food and beverage industry

Think of consultative selling as an investigative approach to customer needs. Instead of rattling off why they need a particular product, reps engage with incisive questions to pick up pain points. Consultative selling guides clients towards products they need rather than products that meet your revenue goals. This way, the trust deficit between reps and clients narrows sharply, shortens future sales cycles, and gives you a significant advantage over competitors.

Here’s the thing: customers will know in a heartbeat when someone’s trying to foist something on them, especially if it doesn’t align with their needs. In fact, a Gartner study has found that buyers are becoming increasingly skeptical of the information sales reps feed them. For that reason, clients must believe reps are there to solve their problems rather than just sell them something.


The benefits of consultative vs. product-based selling

With product-based selling, moving the product is the priority, your rep’s number one concern. Their focus is fully trained on the product, its features, and its benefits. Agents assume (and you know what they say about assumptions) that every buyer needs ‘this great new thing’ and are firmly focused on pushing the product.

With traditional or transactional selling, reps do most of the talking while prospects do most of the listening (if they’re listening at all). Agents will counter any customer view and argument that gets in the way of the sale and pound their pitch around product descriptions and explanations. Ultimately, product-based selling puts the rep’s interest before buyers.

This is in sharp contrast to consultancy selling, which champions solutions, creating moments that matter and relationships that last. Consultancy selling spotlights the prospect rather than the product. Reps ask questions to determine whether or not their client even needs the product, thus weeding out low-probability sales before wasting anyone’s time. As consultative selling focuses on providing solutions rather than pushing products, building rapport between reps and clients becomes easier.

To reiterate, prospects do most of the talking while the agents listen. They clarify issues rather than dismiss them, continuing the trend of problem-solving rather than product-pushing. Consultative selling homes in on the client’s interests, pain points, and needs. Ultimately, it puts prospect interests before that of the sales rep.


The steps to consultative selling

The consultative selling framework, a blueprint if you will, can be broken down into six steps that reps can use to better execute their calls and meetings consistently. Consulting or collaborating to make sales decisions eliminates miscommunication, skepticism, and doubt from the process. It also helps customers find confidence in your product.

Research, plan, and prepare: When sales reps have a deeper understanding of a prospect’s needs, they bring an actionable sales plan to the table. Proper research and planning lead to more productive discussions. This, in turn, bolsters your rep’s confidence and credibility and ultimately shortens the sales cycle.

Connect with questions: In consultative selling, the prospect does most of the talking while the rep steers the conversation with carefully-considered questions and qualifiers, letting the resultant feedback guide the process. This allows reps to see the bigger picture and develop appropriate solutions.

Listen and understand: Reps can ask all the questions in the world, but if they don’t listen to and understand the prospect’s needs, then the very essence of consultative selling is lost. Be open, be flexible, be empathetic. This creates a climate for a meaningful exchange.

Recommend: Reps must make genuine recommendations that speak to a prospect’s needs rather than their own. At the same time, they must offer clear and compelling guidance linking product value to client needs.

Ease into closing: Sales reps have worked hard to come this far, so it would be reckless to push and drop the ball now. Taking the closing process step-by-step lowers the risk of outright rejection. Reps have laid the foundation, so there’s no need to rush this crucial aspect and risk torpedoing the deal.

Follow-up: Let’s say the meeting went well, but a deal wasn’t struck. That’s okay. Prospects may need to get approval from upper management or have several other options to consider. Be patient, and time your follow-up. Persist, yes, but don’t annoy.


Upskilling agents in the food and beverage industry

With the consultative selling framework nailed down, it’s time to execute your plan. This means getting your food and beverage industry sales agents ready so they can better serve their customers. According to a Salesforce report, 84% of business buyers are more likely to buy from reps who understand their goals, while 57% of those buyers believe reps lack adequate knowledge of their business.

These numbers do not make for pretty reading, and with the food and beverage industry registering significant growth since October 2020, upwards of 435%, it’s thus critical to get your reps up to speed if you want to have a piece of the action.

A few pointers can help.


Learn to ask the right questions

Open-ended questions will enrich conversations and offer insights more than closed questions that’ll most likely lead to one-word answers. For instance, “How do you envision yourself capitalizing on food and beverage growth as the economy bounces back from Covid-19?” will likely get prospects talking about their broader organizational goals as they relate to current events, thus pointing sales reps towards products to meet those goals.

Other questions could include: What kind of obstacles currently stand in your way? What do you look for when making a decision about buying a new service or product? Now, your antennae really need to be up, as the answers here will determine how you customize your pitch.

An effective line of questioning can also lead to self-discovery on the part of the prospect. Because they’re not rattling off one-syllable responses, they’re likely to be more reflective, allowing them to uncover and understand things about their situation they may not have realized before. This makes for more informed buying decisions.


Make the sales process customer-centric

Most B2B firms average less than 50% on the consumer-experience index rating. This means most sales reps think they’re customer-focused but they aren’t. A customer-centric sales process means ditching the usual sales script and personalizing each interaction.

For instance, there’s significant consumer demand for more locally-sourced products in restaurants and grocery stores. As a result, business owners would be more inclined to listen to pitches about locally sourced goods rather than processed foods and beverages. In short, approach each prospect as distinct, with a unique problem that warrants a specific solution.


Double down on the qualifiers

Qualifier phrases show that sales reps are listening by referring back to points made by the prospect during the discussion and weaving them into the conversation. These qualifiers make people feel valued and understood. They also help bring clarity and focus to the discussion.

Some phrases you can use include:

  • “You mentioned your company…”
  • “Earlier, you talked about…”
  • “I remember you mentioning…”
  • “I want to circle back to something you said earlier…”

Are your agents listening more than talking? Are they responsive? What specific words, phrases, and questions are they using? Reviewing recorded sales calls is a great way to determine if qualifiers are helping your reps or if they need more training.


Active listening is paramount

All too often, reps are quick to jump onto the next question when they should be listening to the buyer’s response to the previous one. When prospects feel they are really being listened to (and you are trying to get to the root of their problem), they’ll be more inclined to engage further with your brand.

If a client’s primary concerns are timely deliveries due to supply chain challenges, for example, don’t ask if they’ll be interested in a new energy drink on the market. Focus on those supply chain concerns, and don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions if something doesn’t make sense. Remember, if you want someone to listen to you, you have to listen first.


Always back claims with evidence

In consultative selling, reps engage with prospects to sell them solutions to their problems. However, if they don’t understand the product and its problem-solving features themselves, they will have difficulty handling questions and come across as unprofessional.

Furthermore, if reps say a product can solve a particular problem for the company, they need to back that claim with accurate data. Let’s take consumer purchasing trends, for example. Since the onset of Covid-19, shoppers have increased the amount of utilitarian (useful rather than trendy) food and beverages they’re buying. That means more wholesome products like fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins rather than processed foods with high sugar, fat, and carb content. If a grocery chain has a hard time moving those processed items, a skilled consultative selling agent can present them with data-backed alternatives.


Earn trust, sell more!

Consultative selling puts purchasing power in the hands of the people who matter most: the consumer. Upskilled agents have many consultative selling strategies at their disposal to build stronger relationships, increase sales, and outpace the competition. By asking the right questions, actively listening to the responses, and providing actionable solutions rather than just pushing products, sales reps can take the buying journey to a whole new level.

Upskill consultative selling agents in food and beverage industry

This means never walking in unprepared again. Skynamo lets you start customer engagements with full knowledge of all previous interactions and info – even if you’re taking over an account for a colleague. All the information is available – even offline. Skynamo’s all-in-one mobile sales solution automates mundane tasks, minimizes data entry, and cuts through the admin noise, so field sales reps can focus more on what they are being paid to do: sell.

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