Unraveling the Art of Consultative Selling

Explore how embracing consultative selling cultivates deeper, personalized sales relationships, helping you meet diverse buyer needs and excel in a competitive market.

Rory Sadler
September 7, 2023
February 24, 2024
Explore how embracing consultative selling cultivates deeper, personalized sales relationships, helping you meet diverse buyer needs and excel in a competitive market.
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Are you struggling to strike a balance between sealing deals and not appearing overly pushy? Are you grappling with the perplexing reality that customers adore buying but loathe being sold to? If so, you are not alone. In the wise words of Jeffrey Gitomer, "People don't like to be sold--but they love to buy."

The paradox leaves salespeople in a conundrum. However, it's vital to remember that your potential customers are likely to appreciate your product or service, and you yearn to communicate this to them.

But, here's the rub – if you're too pushy, you risk appearing more focused on your commission than on helping the customer. So, what's the solution to this puzzle? Well, it's consultative selling.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll delve into the world of consultative selling.

We'll explore what it is, why it works, and how it compares with other selling approaches. We'll also unravel the principles of consultative selling, offering a real-world example to bring the concept to life. Let's dive in, shall we?

Consultative Selling Decoded

In essence, consultative selling (also known as needs-based selling) is a sales strategy where reps morph into advisers rather than just salespeople. Instead of hard-selling a specific product, they recommend various solutions to potential customers based on their needs and pain points.

However, it's crucial to note that the consultative sales approach doesn't fit all scenarios. It's most effective when your potential customer has done some basic research on products but is unsure which one to choose.

In such cases, the first interaction with a customer typically takes place somewhere in the middle of a traditional sales pipeline, not at the start. While this might seem like an unlikely scenario, it's increasingly common given today's digital landscape. With product details, reviews, and resources readily available online, consumers are doing their own research. As a result, traditional sales approaches are struggling to manage customer conversations, making consultative sales increasingly popular.

Consultative Selling Versus Solution Selling

At first glance, consultative selling and solution selling may appear similar. After all, both approaches focus on the customer's needs instead of the product and involve guiding prospects towards solutions that can meet their needs. However, there's a critical difference between the two.

In solution selling, sales reps recommend solutions for their prospect, but they often push offerings from their company to meet the prospect's needs, making it more transactional in nature. On the other hand, consultative selling is all about empowering prospects with the resources they need to comprehend their problems and find a solution, making the sales reps appear more trustworthy.

The Four Pillars of Consultative Selling

If you're keen on building more trust through consultative sales, here are four strategies rooted in sales psychology that can help you set a consultative sales process in motion:

1. Ask the Right Questions

The primary goal of consultative selling is to guide your prospects towards finding a solution to their problems. The key to achieving this is asking questions. So how do you ensure you're asking the right questions?

Be Curious and Lead the Conversation

Start by doing your homework. Visit your prospective customer's LinkedIn page, learn about their company, product or service, and target audience. Then, focus on the customer – review their work history, social media accounts, personal blog, and specific mentions in company news.

During initial conversations, find out the customer's budget for the solution and what resources they might have for implementation. This information will help you recommend a solution that's feasible and fitting for the customer's specific needs.

Remember, your prospects aren't always skilled conversationalists, and it's not their job to keep a sales conversation going. As a consultative seller, you need to learn as much as you can. That means you must keep your prospect talking through targeted, open-ended questions.

2. Practice Active Listening

Being an active listener is key to consultative selling. When you meet a prospect, give them your full attention and listen carefully to what they're saying. Not only will you gain a better understanding of the buyer's needs, but you'll also show them that you care, which is crucial for building trust.

Let Your Prospect's Answers Guide You

While sales scripts can be handy, don't rely on them too heavily when you're consultative selling. Sticking strictly to a script can cause you to miss vital conversation points and potential pitch openings.

You must be able to think on your feet when you're speaking with potential customers. If a prospect mentions an important detail during your conversation, pivot toward it. Ask how that particular problem has affected them, see how they've tried to fix it in the past, and apply that information to your next set of questions.

Customize Your Consultation

Every customer's needs are different. Listen to what the potential buyer says they want, but also bear in mind that those desires may differ from what they truly need.

3. Educate Your Potential Customer

You possess the expertise – use it. You're there to teach prospective customers how to make informed decisions. Here are a few ways to leverage your expertise to educate potential customers.

Do Your Research and Offer Insights as You Go

To provide value for your prospects, you need to deeply understand their business. Research their industry, the important decision-makers at the company, and who they're competing with.

As a salesperson, you have access to information that could help your prospective buyer. You also have experience solving problems for others just like them. Share this type of information in webinars, videos, and reports.

Be the Authority

For prospects to trust your suggestions, you need to prove that you're an authority on the subject. Give your prospect examples of how you've helped clients in the past, such as testimonials, case studies, and other types of social proof.

4. Be Authentic

Consultative sales are only successful when you're actively seeking out a solution and focusing on helping the prospect. If you suddenly start to push a sale aggressively, your prospects will be taken by surprise and more hesitant to follow your advice.

Have a Genuine Conversation and Don’t Play Defense

As you get closer to winning a sale, personalize the prospect's experience. You don't want to pressure that potential customer into purchasing your product or service. Instead, naturally suggest how certain features might meet their needs.

The guiding principle is to be genuine and authentic with every prospect. Remember, consultative sales isn't about making a one-sided transaction--it's about building a positive, mutually beneficial, and long-lasting customer relationship.

A Real-World Example of Consultative Selling

Imagine a business wants to invest in a CRM system to assist with data storage. They find your software online and reach out to you.

They understand what constitutes an efficient and effective CRM but aren't exactly sure if incorporating one makes sense for their overall company strategy. That's where you come in.

You start by asking specific questions to learn more about how they plan to use CRM software. You watch their webinars and read their company blog and news articles to understand everything you can about their business and their needs. Then, you gather details about their existing tech stack.

With all that information in hand, you use your expertise to create a plan and offer suggestions on how to successfully incorporate a CRM. They push back at first, but you're prepared to show them examples of how a CRM has helped other companies in the past--and they warm up to the idea.

Soon, you and your prospective customer discover that your company's CRM isn't the best choice for their business. Now that they fully understand their company's problems, they begin to seek out more direct solutions and wind up implementing a cloud storage system that helps organize their files.

They don't buy your company's software.

And that's okay.

Remember: Consultative sales is about selling a solution, not a product. At the end of the day, the goal is to provide value and develop a strong relationship with the customer.

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