Consultative selling is a sales approach that shifts the emphasis from pushing products to being a trusted partner. In many ways, it is the opposite of how many people view sales—certainly how selling is depicted in movies and pop culture. In place of “Always Be Closing,” salespeople should think “How Can I be Helpful?” However, research cited in mailshake.com shows sellers often have some misconceptions about their success. For example, 50 percent of sales reps think they avoid being pushy, yet 84 percent of buyers disagree. Also, while 74 percent of reps say they do enough research, only 45 percent of buyers agree. This disconnect is at the heart of consultative selling. Clearly, sellers are not doing a good enough job showing buyers they understand their needs and build the trust that forms long-lasting relationships. Here are a few tips to help sellers do more to be consultative partners:
Building relationships is the basis of consultative selling, and all productive relationships are built on trust. Like a sales process, forming trust is a process in and of itself. Trust takes time, and for many sales professionals, it goes against their desire to get in, close deals, and move on the next one. This begins with the approach. Rather than calling a prospect to sell them a product, you’re calling to see how you can help. Present yourself not as someone who sells wares but as a professional problem solver. Of course, this sounds like a euphonism for a hitman in a movie, so it’s important your desire to help is sincere and illustrated in all that you do. Another key to building trust is showing clients you value them by easily adapting to their changing needs. No matter how far along your discussions, course corrections are to be expected. Your client should see that you view these as opportunities, not impediments.
Rather than approaching a prospect as a know-it-all who has unlocked the secret to all their needs—which is a trope of salespeople in pop culture—take the time to listen without speaking. Give them your undivided attention, until it’s your turn. Asking open-ended questions helps sellers probe for their prospects’ needs and, just as important, shows that they care. Asking the right questions, the ones a prospect or client has not thought to ask themselves, is something done by a trusted partner who truly has a client’s needs at heart.
While asking the right questions is key to being a consultative partner, just as important is active listening. Pay close attention to what the client shares verbally and nonverbally and try to put it into context by reading between the lines. A consultative partner can assess body language for movements that may indicate the true weight on their shoulders. A consultative partner may also pick up on a change in pace or tone that may indicate distress. Address any suspicions with tact and present yourself as someone who wants to help. Lead with empathy, such as, “I’m sensing you have not been satisfied with previous solutions. Can you talk about these experiences?” All customers and clients want to deal with sellers who “get” them, and active listening lets sellers prove themselves to be understanding and empathetic partners who will work with them to find the solution the client needs.
As the data cited in mailshake.com indicates, though most sellers think they are adequately prepared, their buyers disagree. This often comes down to research. Though it can be tedious, and in movies it is usually depicted in a montage of late nights and empty takeout boxes, doing the necessary research signals commitment to the client and is another way a consultative partner shows they care.
The content you and your organization provide illustrates to buyers that you are thought leaders, those at the forefront of your respective verticals. Your organization has conducted research and compiled the data that influences others and demonstrates leadership others can trust. Sales professionals must understand this content, from informative blogs to research-oriented white papers, and strategically share it to educate clients and bring them into your selling process. Like an architect sharing their designs with a client, the right content helps them see your vision and invites their participation in bringing it to life.
While all sellers know their products and often have off-the-shelf solutions ready for immediate distribution, a consultative partner has the foresight and the means to come up with unique and tailored solutions to meet the needs of a specific client. It’s one thing to sell a product, but it’s another to say, “We did this with a previous client in your industry, and I think a version modified to suit your specific needs will be more effective for the issues you face….” This is the personal touch that makes a consultative partner more than a mere seller.
Keeping the focus on offering value, not the sale, is another hallmark of a consultative seller. They know long-term solutions are worth more than quick fixes. Of course, price is often a primary concern, and sellers should be prepared to address and overcome such issues, but a consultative partner demonstrates how a solution saves money, eliminates a problem, and pays for itself. They know which additional products and services they can add or subtract to create the greatest value packages. They know great customer service is a value in and of itself, and they provide the personalized attention that shows the client’s satisfaction is paramount. After all, while value is often seen in relation to price, products that work well and last, combined with the comfort of personal support, provide a peace of mind that isn’t always qualitative.
While consultative selling isn’t nearly as exciting as the amped up, high-octane selling depicted in movies, it is a process that is far more beneficial for both buyers and sellers. It is founded in the belief that selling doesn’t have to be adversarial, where one party tries to take advantage of another and get away with as much as they can. Instead, a consultative partner is more like a wise, well-informed advisor. In film, they are often a trusted attorney, who has served the same family for decades, calls everyone by their first name, and has earned a seat at the dinner table. While you may or may not spend the holidays with your clients, you can do more as a consultative partner to benefit your clients, reap the personal rewards of lasting relationships, and rest in the knowledge that your career is so much more than job.