Consultative Sales Making Imprint on Companies Large and Small

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"Sales is undergoing dramatic changes," said Tim Hartman, CEO, National Journal Group at our recent BIMS Conference. "[You hear] a lot of talk about editorial transformation and holding editors to higher standards. But sales gets under emphasized."

Like others, National Journal has moved from transactional sales to consultative sales. We tend to associate this only with bigger companies. But the ideas behind it—maximizing your resources, taking advantage of the growing number of services you offer, and getting more in your customers' workflow—should apply to businesses of any size.

Here are other sales mantras I've heard lately.

You have to support your sales people in new ways, said Hartman. "They are pushing very strategic proposals. They can't be the expert on everything—digital, conferences, expos, using a program with all the components. Equipping sales people with the tools to do all that" is vital. It was also pointed out that sales people are more hesitant to sell something that makes them look stupid or fail, so there must be some internal training and buy-in.

Get a proper point of contact, said Tyler Alvarado, director of SIPA member Inspectioneering. They are a great example of a small business—six staff people though that will probably go up soon—that successfully sells corporate licenses. "It's easier when the money is coming out of a central location," Alvarado said. The companies he deals with can have multiple refineries and offices.

Create multiple products of value. "I wanted to stay away from the advertising aspect and deliver information to companies that were willing to pay for it," Alvarado added. "We cleaned up the corporate license program to see if we could get all of the oil and gas companies on this program. I wanted to create a product of value. We take a lot of pride in providing the highest level of information."

"Sales people need to act as trusted advisors," said Raoul Monks, director of Flume in London. They should "be prepared to challenge conventional client-thinking in a collaborative and authentic way that achieves client results. However many sales teams are simply not doing this, and the problem often lies with the fact that they are not empowered to do so."

"Enable your sales team to act and perform in the way that will make them stand out in the right way," added Monks. "This means taking a different approach to sales management—one that is more focused on helping the sales team behave in the right way and have the right drivers, rather than just looking at short-term results."

Use data to drive sales, said Peter Goldstone, CEO of Hanley Wood. "Data has allowed us to change the conversation with our customers. [It] helps our customers embed themselves in their customers' workflow."

"You need sales reps who will listen and know what questions to ask," said Elizabeth Petersen of BLR. Their HCPro division does consultative sales for their lucrative customized training. "We don't want to waste too much sales time on lower priced products," she said. "Don't be afraid to push on price... If you have that brand that people respect, [companies] will pay for it."

"One of our big pushes of 2013 was to move to enterprise selling," Jeff Litvack, president, ALM Digital, told me last week. This allowed ALM to develop large law firm accounts. What they lost in individual subscriptions, they gained in overall growth and expanding their community.

Litvack also said not to forget print in your selling. "One of our more relevant stats...was that when offered to buy subscriptions [after they completed a short trial] one in three attorneys who bought the digital chose the print with it." The price is higher so Litvack is okay with that. "The key is not to get locked down up front, or try to solve everything day one. Iteration and learning."

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…