Over the years, sales professionals have developed a wide variety of techniques, styles, approaches and strategies for winning new business and retaining key customers.
So, what is consultative selling? And what types of consulting must salespeople engage in to make this an effective sales strategy?
Like certain other sales techniques (insight selling, for example), consultative selling involves developing a deeper understanding of the customer’s needs, challenges and pain points, rather than simply pushing products and services.
Of course, there’s much more to the story. Read on to explore consultative selling tips, skills and best practices, as well as examples and more details about the benefits.
What Is Consultative Selling?
Let’s start by taking a look at several definitions of consultative selling.
Sales Hacker describes consultative selling as an investigative approach to sales. “Rather than telling prospects what they need, you ask prospects thought-provoking questions that help them identify their own pain points. Ultimately, with a consultative sales approach, prospects will steer themselves into making their best decision.”
Pipedrive simplifies things with its assertion that: “Consultative selling is defined as putting your relationship with your customer first, worrying about selling them your product afterward.”
HubSpot defines it as follows: “Consultative selling is an approach that focuses on creating value and trust with a prospect and exploring their needs before offering a solution. The salesperson’s first objective is building a relationship; their second is providing the right product.”
Why is this important? Well, for one thing, survey statistics compiled by Salesforce reveal that:
- 84% of business buyers are more likely to buy from reps who understand their goals
- 57% of those buyers believe reps lack adequate knowledge of their business.
Consultative Selling vs. Product-Based Selling
Traditional sales, sometimes described as “product-based sales,” typically involves meeting with clients or prospects to pitch the provider’s products or services. Salespeople highlight the benefits of their organization’s products and services without necessarily paying special attention to the customer’s unique needs and goals.
In consultative selling (described by HubSpot as a form of “needs-based selling”), salespeople take on the role of consultant. And in some cases, these sales professionals act the way a product-agnostic independent consultant would. Whereas traditional sales tends to be more product-focused, consultative selling is more prospect-focused.
In consultative selling, the focus on building a relationship with the customer or prospect is crucial. Across today’s B2B sales landscape, the trend is definitely toward sales strategies, skills and techniques that rely on customer relationship building.
10 Best Practices for Consultative Selling
It all starts with solid research. Your goal is to know your prospects and customers better than the competition does. And when possible, to develop and share value-added insights that may not even be apparent to the client. This is the consultative selling approach in a nutshell, and you will need to develop some additional skills if you haven’t already. Here are some of the best practices for the consultative process:
- Conduct in-depth research
Do your homework. The more knowledge you have, the more likely you are to stand out from the competition.
- Develop customized questions
Research isn’t going to uncover everything you need to find a customized solution that fits their specific needs. Fuel the “discovery” process with engaging inquiries about their business pain points.
- Practice active listening
Chances are, the most informative questions to ask aren’t even on your agenda yet. By asking open questions and truly listening to your customer’s challenges, you can develop solutions they haven’t thought of yet.
- Learn how to lead the conversation
To become a consultative partner to your customers, you have to get creative and offer new ideas that speak definitively to their needs.
- Put yourself in the shoes of the client
If you were short on time or budget, what would you want to hear? And how would you want to hear it? Approach from their perspective, be present in the conversation and respect their schedule and price range.
- Avoid “sales-y” or “sales-centric” behaviors
There’s no need for a traditional sales pitch if you come in with options that are tailored to their needs. Push the solution that will be best for them to avoid buyer’s regret.
- Add personalized variety to your process
Avoid ambiguous language, and weave in anecdotes or other customer success stories as you move the conversation along.
- Stay focused on adding value
Remember, you are positioning yourself as a trusted advisor. Only present solutions that solve a specific need.
- Float and test solutions before finalizing them
Don’t be afraid to show examples so they can see a product or service in action. You can always customize these solutions later so that it is sure to resolve a pressing challenge.
- Follow through and follow up
Always reevaluate and refine your consultative selling techniques based on each specific client or prospect. When possible, customer feedback is invaluable.
Consultative Selling Examples
Let’s say you’re in the market for a house. You probably have a budget, a good idea of what area you want to live in, and maybe a set number of bedrooms you’ll need for the entire family.
Now, in a consultative selling approach, the real estate agent might sit down with you to discuss “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves” such as a big lawn, a pool, or an extra bedroom or home office space. In this example, perhaps the real estate agent suggests some homes that fit almost all your criteria (or “must-haves”) with trade-offs. For example, a house that is a little farther out of town but comes under budget.
By actively listening to your wants and needs, the agent can now show you the best possible options and ultimately empower you to make the right decision. By becoming more of a consultant to your clients, you establish trust, increase the likelihood they’ll recommend you to others, and develop a lasting relationship as a reliable source of information.
Benefits of a Consultative Selling Approach
There are many benefits to the consultative selling approach, but keep these in mind when you are advising your team why it’s the best one for your organization’s long-term growth. It will help you:
- Increase revenue through both new and existing customers
- Shorten sales cycles by leveraging current business relationships
- Create higher-value deals due to trusted advice
- Identify new, larger opportunities for cross- and upselling
- Improve overall customer satisfaction
- Build relationships that endure beyond each sale
- Gain an edge over your competitors
Consultative Sales Training to Transform Your Team
As a proven training provider with a strong track record of collaborating with companies to sharpen their sales strategies and behaviors, Global Partners Training is always available to chat.
To learn more about GPT’s innovative, industry-leading sales and service training, let’s talk!