Consultative Selling: A Complete Guide

Traditional sales techniques often come across as pushy and impersonal. In fact, only 13% of customers believe a salesperson can understand their needs. 

With so many solutions available to customers, there is one factor that will eventually make the difference between closing the deal or missing out on a valuable opportunity - the trust you build with your prospects.

What is Consultative Selling?

The consultative selling approach centers on guiding your prospect to the solution that works best for them. You act as a consultant and encourage your prospect to make their own decision. Ultimately, your goal is to still make the sale, but you want to accomplish this through problem solving and not product pushing. 

The consultative selling process requires listening, understanding, and trust building, which makes it a very human technique compared to the stereotypical annoying salesperson.

Consultative vs. Traditional Sales

The key difference between the consultative sales approach and the traditional sales approach is the objective. 

In traditional sales, the goal is to sell a product. As a result, the entire process is product-focused and impersonal.  In consultative sales, the objective is to find the best solution, even if it’s not your solution. If your prospect ends up not choosing your product, it may seem like a waste of time, but you will gain more than you lose.

Advantages of Consultative Selling

Adopting a consultative sales approach comes with a domino effect of benefits. By virtue of building trusting client-salesperson relationships, your prospects will speak highly of you and your business, and recommend you to other prospects. 

The consultative sales process creates a win-win situation. On the prospect’s side, they receive improved customer service, wider knowledge of the product or service, and greater confidence that their salesperson has their best interest in mind. 

Consultative selling results in closing a higher percentage of high priced sales. This makes sense when you take into account that 50% of every buying decision is driven by emotion.

In general, those who use a consultative sales technique see increased customer retention rates, increased loyalty, and increased sales numbers.

Top Consultative Selling Skills

Curiosity

If you are naturally curious, you’re already on the right track, but even if you aren’t, there are ways to act curious. 

Start with asking yourself these basic questions: 

  • Who?: Who are you going to talk to? Who are the decision makers?
  • What?: What does their business do? What might they need from you?
  • Why?: Why do they need your solution?
  • How?: How do they make decisions? How can you help them?

By getting answers to these questions, you will get a much better understanding of who your prospect is and what you are able to do for them. Overall, you want to come off as unscripted and genuinely curious about the issues they are facing.

Active Listening

If you’re not actively listening, then being (or acting) curious, will be virtually impossible.

As a salesperson, you may be naturally inclined to take hold of the conversation. However, in consultative selling, active listening is just as important as talking. You need to listen in order to truly connect with your prospects and understand their pain points.

The difference between active listening and passive listening is that when you listen actively, you are taking in what your prospect is saying and truly trying to understand them to offer the best solution possible.

For example, if you ask the question, “What do you want to achieve?” give them time to respond. Listen to their goals, and answer in a way that is helpful to their situation, even if the solution does not involve your product or service. 

Balancing Questions

Though consultative selling will involve asking your prospect a lot of questions, you want to make sure to balance the questions you ask with the insight you provide. If you only ask questions, it will make the conversation feel more like an interrogation.  

When discussing your solution with your prospect, you want to put it in the context of how it helped customers with similar pain points. This way, you show that you are not just offering your product as a solution because it will benefit you, but because it has benefited people in their same situation.

The Consultative Sales Process

1. Research

Before you make contact with your prospect, you want to do some research. This is really important because you need to go into the conversation knowing why they should want to talk to you.

In your research, you should find out the general goals and possible problem points your prospect may be facing. It’s during this phase that you want to answer the who? what? why? and how? of your prospect. By fully understanding their business, it’ll be easier for you to customize your conversation to their needs. 

You can start your research by looking at their business website, seeing what comes up when you Google them, and through their social media accounts (such as LinkedIn and Facebook) of the decision maker. Also, look for relevant recent news about the company - anything that stands out that you can use in your favor?

2. Listen & Build Trust

Start the conversation by asking some questions. Some examples of questions to start off with are:

  • What would make this call/meeting beneficial for you?
  • How are you currently managing your processes?
  • What’s working well with your current process?
  • What’s not working with your current process?
  • What are your goals?

Open-ended questions such as these will give your prospect the opportunity to do the talking right off the bat. 

You want them to present their own issues. You shouldn’t go and point them out to them, because it may come across as you trying to speed up and guide the conversation. The point is to let them speak and listen to them. You can let them know you are listening by taking notes and giving verbal and nonverbal cues. 

As the trust grows, your prospect  will reveal more information about business goals, current and past issues, and so on. And you will use this information to close the deal.

3. Ask More Questions

Once you have established trust, you can ask more specific questions about the kind of solution your prospects need.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions you may think you have the answers to. For example, even though you may be able to pinpoint an issue they are facing through your research, it’s important to ask them directly about their pain points because they will provide you with detailed information.

Some questions you can ask to get a better understanding of their business struggles are:

  • What are some of the specific things stopping you from reaching your objectives?
  • What worked best with your previous/current solutions?
  • How would changing this process make your job easier?
  • What are your concerns about making a change?

Let feedback guide the process. Throughout your conversation continue to ask relevant questions and build on questions you have already asked.

4. Give Advice

After hearing your prospect out and understanding their business needs, it’s time for you to advise them on how to move forward. 

At this point, you can present your product as a solution. When bringing up your product, position it in terms of the needs they discussed with you. They’ll likely ask a lot of questions at this point, so continue to listen and answer any questions that arise.

If they have objections to your product, be prepared to disarm them. Some common objections include: price objections, requests to “just send over information,” and being told, “I’ll think about it.” 

None of these objections are deal breakers. Just make sure you are one step ahead of them, and equipped with the skills to counter these objections

If your product is not a good fit for them, suggest another solution. And remember: If the deal doesn’t end with a close, it doesn’t mean you wasted time. In the process, you gained a good reputation and have a high likelihood of being recommended by your prospect to people who need your product.

5. Close

To close, you want to keep the same tone you used throughout the conversation. Remember, the point of consultative selling is to build a relationship. Closing is the added benefit, and it comes easy once you have established trust between you and your prospect.

If you start acting pushy at this point in the conversation, your prospect will lose trust in you, and you may miss out on the deal. 

Closing is a process, so don’t worry if it doesn’t happen all at once. Most deals take a number of follow-ups to close.

6. Follow-up

Following-up with your clients is incredibly important, especially in consultative sales.

For one, 80% of deals require at least 5 follow-ups to close. Secondly, consultative selling is a collaborative process. It’s important that you stay in contact with your prospect, and not ghost them after your conversation. 

Immediately after your meeting, you should send your first follow-up via email. This way, you can provide them with any additional information they asked for and they have another way to contact you. In this email you can also ask what their preferred method of contact is. 

If they don’t respond to your follow-up, contact them again in a few days, and again the next week. Make sure that in your follow-up communication you contact them for a specific reason beyond just “checking-in.”

If you did close the deal, you should call to see how the solution is working for them, and if there is anything else they need. That’s how long-lasting sales relationships are built.

Who Can Benefit from this Technique?

People who work in outside sales can benefit the most from using the consultative selling technique. Building trust is far easier to do in person than over the phone. 

When a field salesperson goes into a meeting, they are equipped to build trust based on in-person interactions and their sales knowledge.

Regardless of the industry you work in, all salespeople can benefit immensely from consultative sales. Some examples of companies that can benefit the most include:

  • Companies that sell tech and are typically thought of as trying to push as many people through the sales pipeline. These industries can gain a better reputation by focusing more on relationship building with prospects.
  • Companies that are selling products that are value focused and not feature focused.
  • Companies in a highly competitive market where one of the only distinguishing factors between their competitors is the level of service
  • B2B companies

Whether you decide to fully adopt consultative selling, or just bring some of the components into your mix, there are countless benefits to building trusting relationships in sales.

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