Consultative Selling: Are your customers like onions?

One of the things that I find most confusing in sales is that we sometimes take it too lightly.

This phenomenon often occurs when salespeople already have a lot of experience and go into what we call “Autopilot.”

This phenomenon appears when salespeople start to feel comfortable with selling. The steps that they used to do are now ignored. This happens because they assume they already know everything there is to know and will not find anything new.

This kind of attitude is the beginning of a transformation of a good salesperson that until now excelled, into an average salesperson who doesn’t leave his or her comfort zone.

When we work with commercial teams in the field, we try to verify their commercial process with two objectives.

The first is related to the analysis of improvement situations that may be achievable.

The second objective is linked to the “autopilot” phenomenon.

If we want to explain this phenomenon in cerebral terms, although in a very simplistic way, we could look at it as follows:

The first time we do something in life, a connection is made between two or more neurons, also called a synapse or set of synapses.

This neuronal structure is created in the upper part of the brain (in a simplified way).

The second time we do that something in life, the structure is strengthened, the third time it is strengthened even more, the fourth time even more, and so on.

When we reach the end of 21 days or three weeks on average, a fascinating phenomenon occurs.

Our brain, which is a fantastic machine, starts thinking and says:

“ Hmmm, if you’re using this something so often, then maybe the ideal thing would be that this would be automatic, and you wouldn’t have to think when you do it.”

So it replicates that neuronal structure to the innermost part of the brain, near the hypothalamus, and from that moment on, we no longer have to think when we do that something.

For example, when we started driving, we thought about every step we made; nowadays (in some cases), we don’t even think when we do it anymore.

With sales, it is precisely the same.

In the beginning, we give importance to all the details; we take the trouble to check the client’s website, what he does, who his type of clients is, etc.

After a while, when we gain confidence, none of this matters anymore; with the stress of sales, we ignore all the essential steps.

Things like creating a customer-specific value proposition no longer make sense in our heads.
Somehow we get on that autopilot, and it stops making sense, often with the usual phrase:

“My customers are more or less all the same!”

But are our customers, in fact, all the same?

To me, customers are like onions.

Don’t laugh now. I’ll explain.

If you start peeling an onion, layer by layer, it gets thinner and thinner and juicier and juicier.

Our customers are similar.

They often even make us cry like onions when we peel them.

When we face a customer, on a first approach, they all look more or less the same.

At the end of the day, like onions.

They seem to have the same problems, the same kind of people that influence the decision inside; in short, generalizing, they look the same.

But when we start to deepen our investigation and exploration of the critical issues of selling, we begin to realize that maybe it’s not quite like that.

Often, by taking our customers’ concerns and problems for granted, we are taking the first step toward losing the sale.

Although the companies are “similar,” most of the time, the reasons that lead them to buy are entirely different.

Sometimes we think that the sale is based on the profitability that our product provides them, and in return it has to do with something completely different.

Just the other week, at a large client of ours with whom we are working on a training and sales coaching process, an interesting question came up as an example.

Our client sells a piece of equipment that, when installed in the factory production line to replace the old equipment that their client has installed, increases production by about 30% to 40%.

When we were analyzing in commercial coaching the preparation aspect of commercial processes and, more specifically, the information that their salespeople collected before starting a commercial process, a series of questions came up.

Every experienced salesperson will tell you that selling based on the return on investment that our product or service brings to our customer is halfway to a sale.

Well, in this case, that was not quite the point.

We took a sales process that had been lost by our customer and started together with the sales team to analyze what went right and what went wrong.

The process in question had everything, in the beginning, to be won.

The customer had called asking about a type of equipment he had seen on the Internet.

My client is the market leader in this area, and their products have an excellent price/quality ratio.

In other words, asking for more than this was impossible.

But then why was the process lost?

After analyzing the different components of the process, we came to the conclusion that the seller in question had not peeled enough layers of the onion.

He asked his customer some standard questions, number of units produced per hour, type of equipment he had, maintenance periods and so on.

And after these quick questions, he started to work his sales argument on how much the customer would be able to increase his production and, consequently, how long he would make the equipment profitable.

At this stage of the sale, the customer began to lose interest, the deal was dying, and the salesman left with the usual response:

“Hmmm. Let’s think about it.”

As we began to explore further, an issue came up that the salesman had given no thought to.
The equipment had stopped, in the previous month, three times due to problems, incurring production downtime and image costs in front of their customers.

In other words, the real issue here was not the increased profitability; the real issue was solving a problem that the customer could no longer sustain.

By focusing on the profitability of their equipment rather than the security their customer would have, our client’s salesperson ended up losing a very juicy sale.

This week stop for a moment to reflect with your team.

Are we not peeling only the outer layers of the onion because we don’t want to cry a little?

Originally published at Results Driven.




A magazine about sales and negotiation strategies and techniques, written in a simple and direct manner by salespeople for salespeople.

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Jose Almeida

Jose Almeida

Sales and Negotiation, Trainer, Coach and Speaker. Author of several sales articles and books. Made his career in sales and leadership in several companies.

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