Sales

Relationship Selling vs. Consultative Selling: Which Is Better?

Discover the dynamics of relationship vs. consultative selling. Dive deep into techniques, benefits, and find the best fit for your sales strategy.

Rory Sadler
September 20, 2023
February 24, 2024
Discover the dynamics of relationship vs. consultative selling. Dive deep into techniques, benefits, and find the best fit for your sales strategy.
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Ask a sales professional (with a solid track record) what their secret is, and they're likely to expound on their sales philosophy. Relationship selling, consultative selling, transactional selling… and on and on. Sooner or later, listening to these different tactics feels less like a sales lesson and more like a sale.

Do any of these tactics make a difference? And if so, how do they work?

The problem for many is that salespeople are good at selling. They'll sell you their philosophy as well as their products. How are you supposed to know which tactic will work for you?

In this guide, we're delving into two prominent philosophies in the sales world: relationship selling and consultative selling, exploring how they work and which one's better.

We'll also cover:

  • Consultative and relationship-selling definitions
  • How do these philosophies affect the sales relationship
  • Mastering relationship and consultative selling techniques

What is Consultative Selling?

Consultative selling begins and ends with a single word: value. Its mantra is to create value and trust with customers, discover their needs, and match them to your products and services.

Forget the hard sell – it never worked anyway. Don't bombard a customer with the product or service you want to sell. It's too much work and a waste of effort. Rather, you discover what they want through a careful and methodical consultation.

You greet them politely, ask about their preferences, find out what kind of product they're after, or if you've got a problem in need of a solution. You listen; you think; you advise.

It's like going to a doctor's appointment. If the doctor tried to convince you that you needed a particular medication before you'd even sat down, you'd never take it. However, because the doctor sat, listened to your history, asked insightful and probing questions, and used their expertise to advise, you can be sure the medication they eventually prescribed is correct.

You see, the consultation builds trust.

Pros and Cons of Consultative Selling

No sales tactic is perfect – while consultative selling sounds like a no-brainer, there are several pros and cons. Let's go through them:

Pros:

  • Deepens Customer Understanding: By actively engaging with the client and asking pertinent questions, sales reps develop a deeper understanding of the client's unique needs and challenges.
  • Builds Trust: Customers are more likely to trust the salesperson and the recommendations made when they feel understood and valued.
  • Promotes Long-term Relationships: As opposed to a one-off sale, consultative selling can lead to a lasting and mutually beneficial business relationship.
  • Less Buyer's Remorse: Since the products or services closely match the client's needs, there's a lower chance of post-purchase regrets.

Cons:

  • Time-Consuming: This approach takes longer than traditional sales tactics, which can be a disadvantage when dealing with a high volume of leads.
  • Requires Skilful Reps: Not all salespeople have the patience or skills needed for consultative selling, and training can be intensive.
  • Might Not Suit All Products: Some products, especially simpler or very standardised ones, may not benefit from a consultative approach.

Consultative Selling Process

Ignore any fancy consultative selling techniques. There's no fast track or secret sauce – all you need is four key steps:

  1. Know Your Stuff
  2. Ask the Right Questions
  3. Diagnose the Problem
  4. Prescribe a Solution

1. Know Your Stuff

Doctors go to medical school before they launch into their first for-real patient consultation. You don't need to spend five years studying; you do need to know your product or service, your industry, and your competition inside-out.

Not only that, but you also need to know who you're selling to. Scour their social media, dissect their website, and read all their relevant communications. The more you know, the easier diagnosing their problems will be.

2. Ask the Right Questions

Consultative selling is all about listening and asking questions. Start with open questions – the ones you can't answer with a yes or no. Find out the general problems they're having and identify their pain points.

As you learn more information, your questions should become increasingly closed as you target the underlying issue.

Maybe they've come to you because they're not recruiting the right people for their business. You could start with an open question: "What kind of candidates are you looking for?"

As the consultation continues, you could ask, "Could you tell me some specific problems you've had with past employees?" And finally, you can start to get closed, "Should all candidates have at least a master's degree?"

3. Diagnose the Problem

Armed with all the information, make your diagnosis. "You're advertising for jobs in the wrong places." However, just because you've found the problem – their primary pain point – doesn't mean the consultation is over.

You'll also want to know any caveats around a potential solution—for example, their budget, their end goal, their time scale, etc.

Remember, sell the value proposition: You've got a problem: buy our solution, and you'll see these outcomes.

4. Prescribe a Solution

Now, it's time to do the salesy part. Convey clearly and concisely how you'd solve their problem, what your product or service can do, and why it's important. That means being honest. A doctor who tells a patient about a medication's side effects ensures they continue to take their medicine even if they experience a downside: they want the end benefit.

You educate your prospects on your solutions. Just don't push it. Expertise, honesty, and transparency will yield a far greater long-term return than a pushy, assertive sales style.

What is Relationship Selling

Relationship selling is similar to consultative selling, except the emphasis isn't on value; it's on trust. It prioritises building a rapport between the sales professional and the buyer. It's this relationship that forms the bedrock of the sale.

And it works. According to HubSpot, 72% of the top-performing sellers use a buyer-first technique. They put the sales relationship above all else.

That means personalising every step of the process. Forget pre-written scripts or email templates. To sell (according to this method), you need to stop being pushy and start actively listening.

If it sounds like consultative selling, you're not alone. The difference is likeability. This technique relies on charisma and charm to persuade the customer to buy.

Pros and Cons of Relationship Selling

Relationship selling is fantastic if you mean it: Who doesn't like the honest and earnest? However, getting a customer to like you (by any means necessary) just to make a sale isn't always ethical. What are the pros and cons?

Pros:

  • Long-term Customer Loyalty: By building a solid rapport, customers are more likely to stay loyal to the brand or sales representative, resulting in repeat business.
  • Higher Lifetime Customer Value: Satisfied customers who have a relationship with the brand tend to buy more over time, increasing their overall value to the company.
  • Word-of-Mouth Referrals: Satisfied customers, built on strong relationships, are likely to refer friends, family, or colleagues, bringing in new business without additional marketing costs.
  • Enhanced Feedback: Customers who have a close relationship with a salesperson are likely to provide honest feedback, helping improve products or services.

Cons:

  • Risk of Dependency: Over-reliance on a few strong client relationships can be risky. If one or two key clients leave, it can significantly impact revenue.
  • Potential for Misunderstandings: A close relationship might lead to informal communication, sometimes resulting in misunderstandings or unmet expectations.
  • Possible Ethical Grey Areas: There's a fine line between fostering genuine relationships and offering incentives that might be considered bribes or unethical behaviour.

Building a Sales Relationship

Relationship selling walks a fine line between professional and overfamiliar. Schmooze a prospect too much, come across as too friendly, and you could have the opposite effect. You also risk seeming two-faced and not genuine.

That's where the golden rule comes in: think about the long-term effect. Follow these tips to secure a professional yet friendly sales relationship:

Honesty with Customers

Dishonesty negatively impacts business relationships. It's crucial not to mislead by offering false information or hiding key details.

Consistent Check-ins

Engage with clients regularly, from social media interactions to value-added emails. Knowing personal details like their kids' names or hobbies makes interactions more genuine and personable.

Exceed Expectations

Always aim to deliver more than what is anticipated to nurture loyalty. For instance, alongside event tickets, consider arranging special interactions like a speaker meet-and-greet.

Follow-through

Upholding promises and meeting due dates are vital for trust. Even if a client might not check immediately, sending commitments on time is essential.

Offer Exclusive Perks

Show appreciation for their patronage through unique offers or gestures. From discounts to special gifts, making customers feel valued promotes loyalty.

The Verdict

That's your guide to relationship selling vs. consultative selling. So, which is better? In the end, it tends to rely on the salesperson's personality and style. You will prefer consultative selling if you're a fact-based, value-driven person. Whereas a seller who's quick with a joke and has bags of charm will find relationship selling a walk in the park.

Overall, however, consultative selling is the better option. You'll still build an excellent sales relationship, without blurring the professional boundary. And if your product or service does what it says, they won't just be back because they like you.

Eager to master consultative and relationship-selling techniques? Trumpet specialises in elevating your sales approach, enhancing buyer experiences with auto-personalised microsites and real-time customer insights. Schedule a demo today to dive deeper.