Consultative sales in ELT: How to boost your sales conversion using this sales strategy?

It’s the beginning of the year.  Private teachers and educational managers are looking for new students while retaining the current ones. However, one area of weakness in keeping with most ELT professionals lies in their sales techniques. Therefore, by brushing up on their sales pitch, we may improve dramatically their conversion and, ultimately, their revenue.

This article aims to shed light on an often-overlooked sales strategy called consultative sales. I’ll describe what constitutes its main features, its philosophy and goals. Afterwards I’ll explore ways in which consultative sales can be used in the ELT industry, especially bearing in mind private teaching.

 

 

What is consultative sales?


Consultative sales is a strategy rooted in the holistic and nuanced understanding of your clients’ needs and the tailoring of one’s products or services to meet those very needs. There must be a genuine focus on the clients’ needs and the customization of solutions. Moreover, the salesperson (or the private teacher acting like a salesperson) does not behave like a traditional one. He/she tries to establish a connection similar to a mentor and mentee or a consultant and a client. There’s a great deal of energy being devoted to listening attentively to the clients limitations, background and goals. Some hypothesis might be discussed during this professional chat where the salesperson often resorts to their broad expertise on the field. Some of the main features of consultative sales include:

 

The digging up of the clients’ genuine needs

 

In order to solve a problem, one should first identify the issue and then understand what remedy is the most effective to address it. The pursuit of clients’ whys (pain or rewards) is a must. One should avoid one-size-fits-all solutions at all cost. We are talking about personalization, not massification. Using a needs analysis questionnaire or interview really helps here. Notwithstanding, pesonalisation is not guaranteed by the needs analysis alone. This tool provides teachers with data that must be analyzed and will serve as the basis for the customization of courses. There is no room here for a one-size-fits-all-solution.

 

Deep analysis of the needs through tools and active listening

 

 

Needs analysis data ought to be scrutinized since it will lay the groundwork for the solution design. This demands from the ELT professional their expertise and experience in separating the wheat from the chaff. Which information needs further analyses and which ought to be taken for granted.  If a client says he is intermediate, is that so? A less seasoned teacher may take the client by his/her word. More experienced ELT professionals take that with a pinch of salt and propose a consistent placement in order to check that.

 

 Hypothesis checking

 

Needs analysis per se may not tell the whole story. This is even truer since clients, more often than not, have tantalizing perceptions over their own problems. A learner may say in their needs analysis that English is too hard and the one to blame is school X or Z, where they studied in the past. This potential victimization might reveal the student’s lack of discipline (time management) and some learning beliefs such as “I pay, I learn”. If learners don’t know how to learn perhaps it’s the role of the consultative sales to investigate that and offer in a English learning syllabus learning to learn strategies alongside with lexis, grammar, phonology and whatever involves the course being designed.  What may be considered a problem is actually a symptom of something rather obscure, though easier to tackle. That is also true for their reasons. Sometimes students aim for a C2 level when, according to their needs and aspirations, a B2 level would suffice. Alleged motivations might be just a perceived factor. One interesting technique to try and understand the client’s genuine motivation is the 5 Whys.

 

Professional expertise devoted to problem-solving


This is the moment when we see theory in practice. Everything the salesperson has in terms of ELT expertise should be used in favour to the client. That’s why CPD is so relevant and is perhaps the best competitive advantage an ELT professional can have. This ELT knowledge should be used to understand the client’s goals and the means to help them to achieve them.  Hence, the focus is not on the service per se but on the solution. Traditional salespeople often devote their time and energy talking about the products or services. Consultative salespeople talk about solutions and problem solving. You are going to need a sales presentation which can be summarised as follows:

Sales presentation (problem-solving + results + pricing)

The sales presentation is a moment where the salesperson delves into the problem with professional eyes. After careful analysis of the situation, he/she comes up with a set of customized solutions and explores all the beneficial results that will transpire from the problem solving.

 

How can we use consultative sales in the ELT industry?


 

Just like regular clients, students who pay for educational services are looking for solutions for their problems. Using a needs analysis and 5 whys techniques, we are able to collect a myriad of issues and genuine needs.

Teachers who use consultative sales techniques tend to spend more time trying to test hypothesis, building rapport, listening attentively and already providing the client-to-be with hints, suggestions, free content and anything that will not only assist their future student but also painting the picture of a consultant and client.

By using our expertise (which has been cemented over years of CPD and reflective practice) we are able to design ELT solutions for our clients. Some will need a more functional driven approach to acquiring the language. Others may benefit from dogme(ish) lessons while others may need a course book with formal grammar instruction AKA deductive grammar. Perhaps your needs analysis study may lead to designing a short course focused on lexis and functional language for traveling (bearing in mind that is your learner’s needs). The point is that your expertise is devoted to designing educational solutions for your learners in a very customized and client-oriented basis.

The presentation moment is a pivotal one. This is when you show your prospect their future learning trail. Teacherpreneurs who use consultative sales show their future student where the prospect is now (point A) and where they want to be (Point Z). Moreover, throughout the presentation it becomes clear that the ELT consultative salesperson’s services are what the prospect needs to go from A to Z. This connection is what will endorse the value and, eventually, the pricing. The relationship between the problem, solution and the positive results is exactly what will get the contract signed!

What are the downsides of consultative sales then?

 

You have the choice here. Not all clients (or even market niches) will have the patience to see their linguistic needs scrutinized and exposed through needs analysis forms, learner’s preferences questionnaires, meetings, etc. Some prospects just want the beaten path of mainstream teaching often influenced by one-size-fits-all solutions. Those niches will rather vacillate between a genuine (but rather pricier) ELT customized programme and a non customised (often budget) teaching institute.
So, it might not be a solution for ELT professionals focused on the lower end of the market for pricing reasons.

 

Why then use consultative sales

 

For starters, it is more client oriented, placing the focus on the clients’ genuine needs. This amount of time allocated in the pre-sales stage is, for many, time well invested.The whole course tends to be smoother as there’s a strong alignment between what is done and which results are yielded, hence, the programme tends to be more efficient and more precise. The syllabi coverage only takes into account the client’s genuine needs, the set of ELT solutions designed to take the client from where he/she is now to where he/she needs to be.
The revenue is also more interesting and this sort of sales strategy is often preferred by more demanding, result oriented and less sensitive to pricing clients! As results tend to be better and faster due to a clear systematisation between background, limitations, goals and ELT expertise, the results and word of mouth are considerably higher. My professional experience and networking allow me to say that there is a considerable demand for this sort of sales strategy and service delivery in the market. Moreover, when consultative sales is used with accurate marketing techniques and focused on the right niche, sales conversion can be very high yielding extremelly positive financial results.

If you want to go deeper down the rabbit hole and become more proficient in sales strategies in the ELT industry, please check our course on sales strategies. Just click on the image below:

What are your thoughts on consultative sales? Have you used any of the stages mentioned? Would you like to implement it in your sales? Let me know your view on the topic by writing in the comment session below 🙂

Júlio Vieitas

Júlio César Vieitas has been a TEFL professional for 20 years. He did the Delta course at IH London in 2012 and is currently doing his MA in TEFL at Birmingham University. He also holds project management Certificates by FGV and Insper. He's the founder and managing director of Julio Vieitas Consultoria Educacional (www.juliovieitas.com.br), a consultancy firm specialized in education management and teacher training. He's fascinated by the interplay between education management and teaching methods/approaches in ELT.

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