Retail Versus B2B Sales

Retail versus B2B sales are animals of a different shade. If you try to use one skill set in a situation calling for the other, you will likely mess up the sale.

Earlier this week I bought new glasses.

In the process of doing so, I encountered two different and valid styles of selling—each appropriate for their situation, and effective.

retail versus b2b sales eyeglesses example

I'd like to do a quick compare/contrast of these two approaches, so you can understand the difference. In my experience, the public has typically only seen and experienced retail selling. This has resulted in a wide-eyed and "Eww" response early on in my training career when I let a regular person know I was a sales trainer. To the public, selling means lying, pushiness, manipulation and more awful techniques to force the poor, innocent prospect to buy.

And where do they imagine these terrible actions take place? In retail selling situations, of course. Appliance stores. Car lots. Street hawking booths.

This is what the average member of the public has experienced selling as.

Unknown to them is an entirely different style of selling: more consultative, slower, less reliant on a 'director'-style and increasingly about uncovering certain facts together.

But back to my experiences.

Consultative Selling: Retail Versus B2B Sales

First was my optometrist.

Three years have passed since my last visit, and I knew it was time for a check-up from several cues. Driving at night is getting tougher—the degradation of vision "on the tens" at 30, 40, and 50 is striking me. Headlights are blindingly bright. Contrast of shadows is getting harder to detect.

My current pair of glasses are increasingly uncomfortable.

I do not want just any optometrist, however. The guy I go to is talky...an "S" in the DISC profile...but he must have some "D" in him, too, because even though he always seems to have as much time as is needed for the appointment, he somehow stays on track and knows how to direct his staff.

This is the third time I've bought his services since moving to the US in 2009. And I'll be returning as long as he is in business and I live in the area...and maybe even if I move away.

His style is consultative. He answers questions, in full, explaining jargon with ease. And I have many questions.

He was the first optometrist to notice one of my optic nerves might be growing—a serious issue that would require medicine to stop me from going blind in that eye. Our previous visit demonstrated that it had not grown any further, much to my relief.

And so, to put it plainly, I trust this guy.

In spite of the fact that he has standardized tests and specific machines to carry them out with, working with him still feels like a unique experience. One feels that no two visits are exactly alike. Further, I definitely believe he has my best interests at heart.

This experience was much like one a typical member of the public never has: a B2B selling situation.

Slower. More questions. More collaboration. The "expert" not always acting as the subject matter expert, but as an expert process leader.

The end result not pre-determined.

This is key.

Now to contrast, my transactional, retail selling experience after coming out the door of the optometrist and into the frames showroom.

Transactional Selling: Retail Versus B2B Sales

I had not intended to go directly to shopping for frames. First important point here. The salesperson intercepted me.

Even though I was not slowing my walking pace, he knew I was a pre-qualified prospect...because I had just exited the optometrist's office, holding prescription papers in my hand.

What do your customers buy just before they realize they need what you offer? How do they let you know they are pre-qualified prospects?

After stopping me and getting agreement that I was indeed in the market for new glasses, he asked a few pointed questions to find out what kind of style and price range I was looking for.

In the DISC profile, I place him as a "D" with some "I" thrown in for good measure.

Now here comes the kicker:

He upsold me.

And I wanted to be upsold. Even if I had not acknowledged that to myself.

I had Ray-Ban frames last time. Many less-expensive frames were available, and I had said that's where my price range was.

Nonsense, and this guy knew it.

One of the first things he did was establish some authority. I had said I wanted frames that felt more comfortable, and he immediately pointed out how the bridge of my existing frames were too narrow for the actual width of my nose bridge.

I had bought this pair at exactly the same store, but from a different salesperson...who obviously had not cared or known.

This instantly put the retail salesman in the "Director's Chair", which is a good role to be in if you know your stuff. And when I encounter expertise, I am usually surprised—then I start to follow along.

I've had similar experiences buying suits.

When I enter the store, I'll have a basic idea of what I want. But if I encounter a competent director-style salesperson, I'll take their advice...because they do this all day, every day.

Couple this with my decisiveness, and we have a quick sales process.

"No," the glasses salesman was saying. "No...no." He was pulling frames off the rack that seemed to be what I wanted, and trying them on my face for fit.

After a few pairs we found a blue Ray-Ban frame. "Quelle surprise!" as the French say. Despite their being over my "budget", after trying some other pairs it turned out only these would do.

Then, sunglasses.

I haven't worn sunglasses in at least three years. But the salesman smoothly upsold me to this second pair.

Am I an easy mark? Sure, when I deep-down already want the thing. And that is the powerful ability of a competent retail salesperson: to detect and uncover that need.

The budget the prospect tells you is a nonsense figure.

Some people believe transactional selling results in undercutting of price. But that wasn't an issue here, was it?

What matters is their personal stake in solving the problem.

In this case, my personal stake in solving the problem of new glasses was having them fit and look good. And that happily overrode any money concerns.

Retail Versus B2B Sales: Which Is Right For You?

So let's review.

My optometrist is successful with a consultative B2B style of selling. It matches his personality, as well as the service he's providing.

I will see him again.

Could he do it in a "Director" style? Sure. But I'll bet you he wouldn't feel right about it.

The glasses salesperson is successful with a retail selling style, where he is the director of the prospect.

I likely won't see him again: while I did notice a woman who has worked there all the years I've been living in this town, the salespeople turn over regularly. If I see him again, great; but I don't expect to.

His style was a good match for his personality and the transactional nature of the sale.

Had he tried to use a more consultative approach in this situation, I suspect he would miss a lot of upsells.

He did not ask me what I thought of the bridge width of my current pair of glasses: he told me what he knew to be true and established dominant expertise that way.

This works well in retail selling.

In a B2B complex sale situation, it can create resistance.

As you go about your business, start noticing the selling styles of different people offering different products and services in different environments. Does their selling style fit their personality? Does it fit their product or service? How about their environment?

What about your own preferences?

Which approach, retail versus B2B sales, do you think could give you a greater chance of success?

>> Jason Kanigan is a business strategist and sales trainer. To book a call with Jason to discuss your situation, click here. <<