How to Win at Consultative Selling: 30 Sales Pros Reveal Their Expert Tips
When it comes to sales, most people don’t need to have been in a technical or formal business environment to know what it feels like to have had a bad sales experience. Whether it’s due to poor listening skills, lack of product knowledge, aggressiveness (or lack thereof), negativity, disorganization, or otherwise, there are many ways a salesperson might drop the ball on a sale.
And while no two salespeople will (or should) have the same exact process, most sales experts will agree that in almost every situation, in order to have the best chance at success sales professionals should employ a consultative selling approach.
As a company that specializes in equipping companies and consultants with the best tools to optimize their sales processes, we here at Docurated wanted to find some expert advice on how sales leaders can improve their selling skills, and more specifically, the top tips from experienced sales experts on how to effectively develop a consultative sales approach. To do this we reached out to 30 consultative sales experts to answer this question:
“What’s the #1 way to develop a winning consultative sales approach?”
We’ve collected and compiled their expert advice into this comprehensive guide on how to effectively develop a consultative sales approach. See what our experts said below:
Meet Our Panel of Sales Experts:
Dan Seidman is an author, a globally recognized speaker, international sales trainer leader and sales consultant. Dan is the author of five books including “The Ultimate Guide to Sales Training” (Pfeiffer, 2012), “The Secret Language of Influence” (AMACOM, 2012), and #1 business best-seller “SALES AUTOPSY”, where Dan reveals the top seven traits that distinguish world class sales professionals from the rest of the selling world. He has keynoted and trained at globally-recognized organizations like Million Dollar Roundtable, Amway’s International Sales Trainers conference and Sales & Marketing Executives International events. Learn more about Dan at Got Influence?
Sales pros need to have their 5 Power Questions asked and answered, in order
to identify how (or if) they can help the buyer buy, and to create the foundation for a consultative sales approach:
Some examples of Power Questions include;
“How long has this been going on, and what has it cost you?“
Help the buyer quantify the decision – that is, put a number to dollars being lost/wasted
until a solution is in place, or dollars gained/attained when the solution is in place
“Please tell me more about that.”
An all-purpose request for deeper detail. This can be asked several times throughout the conversation, and is good when the buyer is being vague or hasn’t thought through what’s really going on – as you’re going to help them understand the true consequences of the whole decision.
“What have you done in the past and how has that worked out?”
This should get you into some interesting dialogues about buyer’s decisions in the past and possible competitors.
“How is this decision affecting you personally, how does this make you feel?”
All decisions have professional/corporate implications as well as personal. Consultative sales pros recognize that understanding how that prospect has some of their own skin in the game makes for a better connection with that buyer.
“What if you did nothing and just left things as they are?”
A great question to get the buyer to begin to defend their right to purchase some solution. So here, they often get emotional and emotions are huge drivers toward a decision.
These questions lead to a conversation where buyer and seller are sitting on the same side of the table, trying to figure out what’s best for the buyer. That embodies a consultative selling experience.
David Richman is the Author of “Winning in the Middle of the Pack“, an inspiring book that teaches people to live their lives and accomplish things for themselves. He is also a motivational speaker and personal coach, believing that “middle-of-the-packers” need direction and empowerment in order to become all that they can become. Previously, David spent nearly 17 years at Morgan Stanley, and demonstrated himself to be a consistent leader at the company in retention of top talent, driving sales, innovative practice management.
The #1 way to develop a winning consultative selling approach is…
To actually act as a consultant.
What is a consultant? A consultant is someone who exhibits three qualities at all times:
1. Has expertise in the relevant subject matters.
2. Fully understands the client’s values and needs – especially as it relates to the circumstances they are being asked to consult on.
3. Always maintains an approach in giving advice that puts the client’s interests first.
Traditional sales attempt to provide solutions prior to discovering needs. When acting as a consultant, though, that equation gets turned around; the process used to establish a consultative selling approach becomes a matter of discovery and then implementation of solutions. A consultant asks questions then provides answers.
If you can be qualified as a consultant, then your sales approach should follow a simple 4-step process:
1. Discovery – asking a logical progression of questions that delve deeply into the client’s situation in order to uncover their desires, their needs, their values and to understand all of the influencing factors involved in their decision-making.
2. Deliberation – taking time to ponder what you found out in discovery so that you can formulate a series of solutions that can help the clients achieve their goals, fulfill their needs and benefit them in the most holistic manner possible.
3. Discussion – once you have used your expertise to come up with appropriate and beneficial solutions, you need to discuss things with your client so that they clearly understand your intended advice.
4. Determination – together, you and your client determine the exact course of action that needs to be taken – regardless of any other factors except what is in their best interest. Act as a consultant and have a process, and you’ll soon find that your client relationships are unbreakable.
Brad Harker is an Author, Professional Keynote Speaker, Sales Coach, and real estate Entrepreneur. He has built an impressive resume that includes the creation of several companies and more than a quarter-billion dollars in sales. Inspired by a creative mind and a passion for problem solving, Brad has bolstered his success as a proven “closer,” mentor, and captivating speaker. Learn more about Brad’s work at Founders Inc.
I have found that the best way to develop a consultative sales approach is to…
Consider a sales call as an exchange of value rather than a product pitch.
The common tendency for inexperienced sales professionals is to lead with their product in hopes that it will do all the selling for them. The flaw in this strategy is that their product or service is worthless to a customer who has no perceived use for it.
An effective sales approach begins with the question, “How can I create value for the client?” This simple question diverts the focus of the conversation to the customer instead of the product. Consequently, the executive gains insight into the client’s needs while building a much stronger level of rapport. Each question the executive asks facilitates a conversational flow that clarifies the need or void that must be addressed.
Once the client’s needs are evident, the executive can tailor their presentation to meet the specific needs and preferences of the client. This strategy will leave the client feeling acknowledged while enabling the executive to present their product or service in context of its most valuable use.
Ariana Amplo has been in consultative sales roles for the last 10 years and is currently the Co-Founder of InHub, a FinTech start-up based in Chicago. InHub helps fiduciaries of retirement plans and foundations evaluate and hire their investment advisor. InHub offers virtual consulting and a proprietary web-based Request for Proposal solution, eRFP, which streamlines the archaic RFP process.
By far the #1 way to develop a successful consultative selling approach is by…
Start off by asking a very general question like “tell me about xyz”. Be sure to listen for what they tell you and listen for what they don’t tell you. Ask them to expand on certain answers, and ask about the past, present and future. Don’t ask leading questions; listen to where they lead their answer.
Find out about their challenges and goals…if you ‘listen’ carefully you’ll probably learn the most important is not the first one they tell you, it’s the second or third. If they aren’t talking 80% of the time at the beginning, you are doing it wrong. You will not receive enough information to consult on. Period. From there, it’s easy.
Just think, does a Doctor prescribe you medicine before they have fully listened to your story and symptoms? Listen, then questions, then solution.
George Athan is Chief Strategist at MindStorm Strategic Consulting, and is an expert sales trainer, and keynote speaker. George’s primary work is as a business strategy consultant helping companies, business owners, and executives aggressively grow their organizations through four key performance areas of Strategy, Innovation, Marketing, & Sales.
To develop a consultative sales approach, business leaders must focus most on…
Quantity and quality of proper training.
In consulting for many organizations and training sales teams, it is alarming that most sales people are not taught how to effectively sell. The organizations that do training, often times it is not done effectively, and / or not consistently. This rings especially true when it comes to consultative selling.
With this approach, the prospect must be willing to share a great deal of information about their current situation. The salesperson in turn diagnoses the problem and leads the prospect to the right solution. So if the prospect doesn’t have confidence in the salesperson as the expert or authority, the prospect will not be comfortable sharing information, never mind trusting their recommendation of action.
In order to develop a consultative sales approach properly, there must be a tremendous amount of role playing where the salesperson can immediately identify the underlying needs, wants, and fears of prospects. Effective salespeople have a mental list of questions that will conjure strong emotions in their prospects. These emotions create the motivation to take action. Without proper and repetitive sales training, no one strategy on the list matters.
Patrick Malone a Leadership Expert & Senior Partner with The PAR Group, has more than 35 years of experience in operations, customer service, and sales management. He is on the Board of the Blairsville-Union County Chamber of Commerce, serves on the Government Affairs Committee and leads the Business Roundtable. Patrick is a co-founder of the Conservative Business Alliance and has also served as the National Board President of The Compassionate Friends, Inc. an international support group for bereaved parents and is a former Trustee of the TCF Foundation. He is the President of LMMA Inc a non-profit motorcycle awareness organization, the Co-author of the new book “Cracking the Code to Leadership”, and also hosts a weekly radio show “This Week in Blairsville” on WJRB 95.1.
The #1 way to develop a consultative sales approach, and to really excel at consultative selling is…
Understanding sales leadership.
Sales leadership is merely getting wholehearted customers for a given course of action. Unfortunately, too many sales people ignore followership and focus instead on being more engaging, more convincing, or more interesting. Successful sales leaders, on the other hand, are interested.
Whole-hearted customers imply leaders have engaged their customers emotionally and intellectually – both in the heart and in the head. Whole-hearted also implies that the customer makes the decision and gives his or her commitment not simply an agreement.
Most successful sales people start their leadership interactions by establishing a common goal. Leaders understand the difference between goals and strategies. Goals are always outcome-oriented, starting with the end in mind, the benefit to the customer. Strategies are plans a leader has for reaching the desired outcome.
Once a common goal has been established, successful sales leaders follow their potential followers in order to understand the best way to position their product or service for maximum receptivity. Once connected, they take the lead and inspire higher, more motivated points of view ending with co-owners of the goal and a commitment to optimal business results. If there are objections along the way they repeat the process – follow, connect, lead – until all the obstacles are removed and the customer is able to make the biggest decision they can handle today.
So consultative selling is Sales Leadership.
Andy LaPointe is an Author, Lifestyle Entrepeneur, and Founder of Traverse Bay Farms, a #1 award winning super fruit company. Prior to starting his own business, Andy spent 15 years as a Series 7 stockbroker, Registered Investment Advisor and mutual fund wholesaler, working for notable companies such as Bank of New York, Citigroup and ING Mutual Funds. At age 31, he was a regional vice president with a subsidiary of a Fortune 10 company. He is the author of several books including “How to Start a Food Business for Fun and Profit in a Single Weekend” and “Five Day Weekend – How to Leverage Your Time and Your Income to Achieve the Ultimate Lifestyle”.
The most effective way to win at consultative selling is to…
Approach the customer/client with the mindset of increase.
Everyone is looking for an increase. An increase of health, an increase of money, an increase of customers, etc. The best way to create the mindset of increase is to first create the ideal customer in your mind.
Once created, write it down in great detail. What is the age, sex, location, interest, desires, etc. In other words, create the ideal avatar of your ideal customer. Once created, write down how your products/services will help create an increase for these ideal customers.
For example, if you are investment advisor and you specialize in creating retirement portfolios that yield 3.5% with little risk your ideal avatar are individuals interested in sleeping at night, not interested in stock trading or high risk strategies, etc. This provides and outline for your presentation when you present to your customer. Best of all you have the answers to the questions when your customers ask or your can lead them through your “system” since you understand their needs even before they do.
Tom McVey is an Entrepreneur and Co-Founder of re:think, a web design & consulting company headquartered in New Jersey. In 2014, with his re:think business partner, Marc Ensign, Tom launched, Selling Your Ass Off, a 12 week Sales Program designed to take entry level salespeople from zero to hero and helping seasoned veterans to recapture an edge and sell at a whole new level.
The number one way to develop a consultative sales approach is…
To completely throw out the old model of sales/closing.
The goal of the first meeting is to go on a listening tour and allow the prospect to put into their own words exactly what the challenges are and the outcomes they seek and document the key points and get them to agree that the list is comprehensive and then make an appointment to return and present your solutions to the challenges, the one’s they list, not the one’s you believe are most important.
This approach allows you to be a true consultant, one that doesn’t try to fit everyone into a box. I’ve heard it said that when you sell a pre solution it is tantamount to having a toolbox that only has a hammer in it. If you only have a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail; this approach is the old way.
The new way is to listen and respond with a custom solution. If done correctly, you’re not closing a sale, you’re opening consultative relationship.
Brandon Rigoli is a consultative sales expert that has been working at the confluence of education & technology for the past 7 years. He is currently the Director of Higher Education Accounts at Kognito. Kognito drives positive change in health behaviors through the use of immersive learning experiences with virtual humans.
The #1 way to become a consultative selling rock star is to…
– Open ended Questions
– Reflections (Reflective Listening)
For those interested in honing their consultative sales approach I highly recommend exploring Motivational Interviewing techniques. Originally derived from Dr. William Miller’s work in clinical settings these conversational techniques are highly applicable to consultative sales.
Reshma Nigam CEO & President of aMarketforce. Reshma has over 26 years of experience in consulting, sales and business management and even after all those years, she enjoys selling like any other enthusiastic sales person. As a company leader, she is forever focused on developing and executing business strategy and processes that deliver superior services to customers, employees, and shareholders.
The #1 way to develop consultative sales approach is to…
Focus on the sales relationship; consultative selling is more about relationship selling.
In my mind, the five key fundamentals of building a successful long-term relationship are communication, common link, trust, mutual reciprocity and a warm nurture. The same basics apply to consultative sales. While I mostly deal with B2B companies, I am sure you can implement the same for B2C with a few changes. Implementation of this approach is easier when it is part of your company mission and values.
Listening is an art. Start by getting to know your clients better. Your introduction is important, but asking them questions about themselves is even more so. Once the ice is broken, start by asking open-ended questions to better understand your client’s business, requirements, problems, concerns, budget restraints, etc. Thoroughly educate them by sending personalized sales collaterals – like presentations, case studies relevant to their industry/problem. Never send a proposal until you have built a strong rapport with the prospect.The key is to sound more like a consultant than a sales person.
Rapport building with a common link
I generally start with social networking. This helps me to know my prospect better. I love hiking, so if any of my prospects is into it, I bring it up as small talk. Sharing interesting news about their industry, talking about their press mention/featured video, admiring their attire in face-to-face meeting etc., can help.The idea is to connect through available information as well as common values, compassions or connections.
Earn your prospect’s trust by giving them significant proof- share customer references/quotes, case studies, company achievements/awards. Make sure that any information you share is genuine and relevant.
Help your prospects by giving them free reports, whitepapers or invitations to an informative events. Give and take is a very old human gesture and sales should undoubtedly harness its benefits.
Do not stop if your prospect isn’t ready for sales. Keep nurturing your prospect by adopting a proper scoring and nurturing method. There are several Marketing Automation solutions that make this a breeze.
Paul A. Dillon
Paul A. Dillon is the President and CEO of Dillon Consulting Services LLC, a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs certified Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business. He has more than 37 years of project management and business development experience in the professional services industry.
The best way to develop a consultative selling approach for a professional service is to…
Give before you get.
You need to work along with the prospective client for a while, at no charge, to demonstrate that you have the expertise necessary to be able to help them solve their problem, or problems. The prospective client needs to have CONFIDENCE to your COMPETENCE to help them with their business issues.
I touched upon some of these points in a presentation that I made last November to the Sales Association Midwest Fall Conference in Chicago, which you can find here.
Owen Hemsath is a Speaker, Trainer, and online marketing consultant. He is the President of Videospot, a video marketing firm in San Diego Ca.
In this age of online resumes and instant access, a consultative sales approach all but requires a strong focus on…
Content creation and audience building; you’ve got to think of yourself as a brand.
As the premiere content producer for your brand, your job is to demonstrate your skills and abilities by regularly contributing to a personal blog or (even better!) a video presence on YouTube where you’re able to grow a following.
Granted, your clients will most likely come from personal referrals rather than from a Google search but when you are referred, imagine the credibility you’ve earned when your prospect hears what you can do and sees your worldwide audience of subscribers commenting on your content and approach. This is an authoritative approach and one on which I’ve built my entire reputation.
Jeff Thomas is the Vice President of Sales at SEMrush, a competitive analysis tool that allows merchants to compare digital marketing strategies employed by their competitors. He has worked in SAAS, Startup and Technology companies for 20 years.
Developing a consultative sales approach in one step is doomed to fail. Like exercising one muscle does not get you into shape, building the skills and habits needed to sell consultatively requires a few areas of focus, but those areas are not terribly complicated or difficult to perfect. That said, building a consultative habit can be broken down into three main areas…
Learn, Prepare and Listen
You cannot reasonably expect to consult with someone if you do not know your stuff. Depending on your client base you may never be better at their job than they are, but you need to know how your product and solution will impact them in a positive and meaningful way. You need to be able to ask questions and give answers that relate their expertise to your product.
Consultative selling requires a certain swagger. If you sales funnel is full and you are on your way to hitting your number, you will be able to relax and work with your customers. You can work with them at their pace and take the time to truly consult with them. Do your legwork, fill your pipeline and you will have the ability to take the next step.
Listening is clearly the most important part of consultative selling. Understand what the customer’s pain is. Let them tell you what they expect your product to do and why it is important to them. They are trying to solve a problem, but until you stop talking you cannot find out what that problem is. If you have to speak, ask a question, then listen again.
Peter Foradas is the Owner of BlueGrace Indianapolis Central, one of the most progressive transportation management companies in the business, and is a sales machine in the company’s franchise network of 51 other locations around the United States. He has shown great success due to his secret sales approach and he was just named the Franchise of the Month for September 2014.
To develop a consultative business approach to selling, you have to…
Understand the consumers business, your competitors business, and your own business.
Uncover how and why your consumer buys and sells, and the driving factors that impact their bottom line. Once you’ve established common ground with your prospect, a certain level of trust grows between 2 professionals, and as a result, a business relationship is born.
With an open line of communication, assertiveness and patience, your book of business will grow with sustainable clients, whom will provide the best gift of all, referrals!
Brian Scanlon is currently the Business Development Executive for Eastern Connection where he is responsible for growing the Eastern Connection book of business. In business for over 30 years, Eastern Connection is the largest regional transportation and logistics provider on the East Coast, covering all major zip codes in over 5,000 cities. Prior to Eastern Connection, Brian was the President of Social Mediators, a boutique social marketing company.
The best way to develop a consultative approach is twofold:
Given that you have an expertise on the product/service you are selling, the first way to be consultative is to find out what the customers pain points are. Why are they talking to you? What solution are they looking for?
In order to find this you must ask pointed questions to which you deliver valuable answers. Answers of generic nature are without value. Provide information that you cannot find on Google.
Secondly a consultative approach is conversational approach. You learn more when your customer becomes comfortable speaking with you. A conversation leads to answers to the questions you need answered, along with the questions your customer needs answered. To summarize, strategically leading your customer through the conversation will result in a consultative sales approach.
Jason Kanigan is a worldwide Consultative Sales Trainer, continuous improvement expert, and Founder of SalesTactics.org. Jason has been quoted in Inc. Magazine and the Huffington Post, and he also shares his sales knowledge on his blog, which is a goldmine of free, ethical, effective selling tips.
The best way to develop the consultative selling approach is like every other skill, to practice it. But before that can be done, there is a critical step that needs to be taken by the salesperson…
They must stop being a product pusher and instead commit to discovering Fit or lack thereof.
I appreciate that we hear a lot about “Fit”. Few people are really looking for it, however, and merely pay lip service to the idea by bleating the words when trying to get a prospect on the phone. What we are talking about here is and being totally willing to say, “No, I’m sorry, we’re Not A Fit. What you need is not what I offer—or the best solution I’m aware of for your problem.” The salesperson must become completely willing to walk away.
Instead of pushing products or services, the consultative professional acts like a doctor. They diagnose before prescribing. If the ‘patient’ does not have a broken arm, we do not prescribe a cast…even if putting casts on people’s arms is what we get paid for.
As contrary as it sounds, to be good at consultative selling we must stop trying to get the order. Instead, filtering is what is required: separating those prospects that are a good Fit for what we offer from those who are not. Selling is much easier and produces far less wear and tear on the salesperson this way. The key is to find Fit or lack thereof as quickly as possible.
To do this, we must understand the typical situations our clients find themselves in that cause them to realize they need help from someone like us. Questioning skills. Listening skills. The ability to find out what the prospect already believes—not what we believe—and filtering based on that.
Jeremy Durant is Co-Founder & Business Principal at Bop Design, a San Diego web design and marketing agency that works with B2B firms across North America. Founded in 2008, Bop Design helps B2B firms with brand strategy, web design and content marketing to help generate and nurture ideal client leads.
The #1 way to develop a consultative sales approach is by having…
The right content that addresses both the customer’s specific need and advances the sales process.
The B2B sales process inherent nature (a longer sales cycle, smaller potential client pool, higher priced purchases and multiple decision makers) requires multiple touch points with a prospective client. The traditional B2B “sales funnel” is evolving from a predictable linear model to a much more diverse and jumbled path—requiring marketers to consistently remind prospective clients of a B2B brand through relevant, new content on an infinite number of platforms. Here is the right content to address the customer need at each stage:
These customers are conducting a web search, gathering preliminary information and sourcing referrals from trusted sources. Most importantly, they’re trying to find a business they can trust.
- Tip lists
- Curated articles relevant to the industry
- Free downloads such as guides and white papers
- Portfolio gallery
- Customer testimonials
Customers are most likely comparing a firm to competitors and have a clearer picture of their project needs.
- Case studies about similar B2B firms
- Long-form content such as eBooks
- Demo videos
- Service guides
- Competition comparison and analysis reports
Even if a lead is ready to buy, a B2B firm should build a case of credibility through content before moving to a proposal.
- Phone call with a representative
- Special offers
- In person events
- Comparison to competition (experience, process, pricing, etc.)
- In-depth how-to and service delivery articles
- Pricing information
B2B content should be providing repeat value to a current client, reaffirming the quality of a brand and its brand promise: its service delivery.
- Feedback surveys
- Contests and giveaways
- Specialized newsletters
- Product podcasts
- Ongoing in-depth training
- Special offers for current clients
Jeff Bogensberger is the Director of Global Sales at IntelligenceBank, where he oversees revenue growth, sales strategy and training. Prior, Jeff was an executive team member at a SaaS startup in North America, and has held senior IT consulting positions in Asia Pacific.
The #1 way to develop a consultative sales approach is…
Quite simply, shut up.
I learned this when I moved into a technology space I was unfamiliar with. I was so afraid to say something stupid that I just let the prospect talk. Very quickly I found myself building better relationships, delivering better solutions and ultimately closing more opportunities.
Lou Diamond is the President & CEO of FOBIA, a unique Sales Person Development firm serving leading companies in the US and abroad. FOBIA actively coaches your sales team to face the fears that hold them back from achieving their dreams. Through our Workshops, Coaching & Consulting engagements we push their boundaries in a fun, safe and unique way to get them out of their comfort zones and expand their range. As a result, they will Sell More, Sell Better and Sell Faster than ever before.
The #1 way to develop a consultative sales approach is…
Very simple: MAKE IT ALL ABOUT THE CLIENT.
Whatever product or service you offer, your message needs to be catered specifically to the target prospect you are selling. Too often, I’ve seen sales professionals discuss their company’s general capabilities and what they’ve done in the past for other clients. While this experience might be relevant and helped get you in front of the decision makers, it’s not what’s going to win the business.
The most effective consultative sales style is one that shifts the focus away from talking about what “YOU” can do to working on what the “CLIENT” needs. The approach MUST display that you understand what the client needs and how TOGETHER you will PARTNER to fix THEIR problem. This sales approach requires LISTENING to what the client needs, TRANSPOSING what you do specifically to what the client needs; and CO-DEVELOPING a solution together. The sooner you display that “it’s NOT all about ME” the faster you’ll start working for your new client.
Michael Bremmer is Founder and CEO of Telecomquotes.com, and has specialized in
telecommunications for medium and large businesses for 23 years.
The #1 way to develop a consultative sales approach is by doing two things…
#1 Develop killer questions THAT NO ONE ELSE is asking. Questions that make the customer THINK and benefit their business. (Ask 1 question at a time and wait for each answer)
#2 Listen to the answers, consider them and help your customer design a real solution. I like to count to 5 before answering; often people will pause, and then continue with even more valuable information if you are a bit patient.
Brian Carter is a Digital Marketer, Internationally Best-selling Author, and Founder of The Brian Carter Group, a boutique marketing agency. Brian has 15 years of professional experience, many of which he spent selling and developing business for his own companies. He is the author of three books, “The Like Economy”, “LinkedIn For Business” and “Facebook Marketing”. Brian has developed programs for and keynoted for companies like NBC, Microsoft, Salesforce Citrix, Dramamine, Superderivatives, PrideStaff and K-Love.
I use a consultative sales approach to sell my digital marketing services and speaking, and the way I learned it was by blogging. Stay with me. The key to
consultative sales is…
Not only questioning your clients about their situations, but also knowing all the different options in your service or product, how they work, and what result they have.
If you can teach that to someone by writing about it, you start to have things to say in your consultative selling. Part of that is reading a ton in your niche, too.
And if you’re in an established company, it’s a good idea to look at customer service issues so that you know what kinds of problems come up for which kinds of clients. I recommend you ask other salespeople questions, especially if your company has no flowchart or triage documentation for client intake.
If possible, get on sales calls with people who’ve already sold the same product and service. Observe at least 10-20 of these before doing your own. If you don’t have access to it, just start doing it and when in doubt, ask a question, or say you’ll check with the appropriate corporate department on anything you can’t answer.
Robert Kinghorn is the VP of Marketing at eWebify, an online marketing firm that specializes in the service industry (getting more phone calls for roofers, electricians, pest control, etc.). Previously, Robert was a Senior Paralegal at LexingtonLaw Firm, the nation’s #1 credit repair firm.
In my experience, the top ways to develop a consultative sales approach are…
#1 Co-Content Creation
As we create content for a site about say, an electrician, we need help: an electrician knows about NEC standard wiring. We don’t. We invite electricians to share information, “What’s the best kind of kitchen lighting?” and then link back to them at the bottom of the article. This helps develop a relationship. Then we can start getting to know their business with the questions below.
#2 The Right Questions
A client should speak 80% or more of the time. Questions should lead them to a naturally and logically conclusion: I need your service! (Or quickly disqualify them in a friendly way.) I highlight their pain, dream, and make the connection. E.g. I’m selling SEO services. I ask the client:
So what are your main goals with marketing? Why now?
Why do you want to do marketing especially now?
What’s holding you back from achieving your goals?
Typically our best clients are looking to aggressively expand their business. Would you say that statement applies to you? Why?
Sincere questions let the client sell themselves.
Marcello (Marc) Medini
Marcello (Marc) Medini is Sales Manager of PNG Logistics, a provider of highly personalized logistics services to help you meet the demands of your freight program. As sales manager, Marc is the point of contact for many new customers at PNG Logistics, and he works closely with these customers to learn their specific needs, and then communicate this information to our operations department to keep things running smoothly. Through his seven years of sales experience, Marc has worked to build and maintain partnerships with PNG’s customers and to train new staff to do the same.
The best way to develop a consultative sales approach is…
For the sales person to focus on their questioning skills.
The power of asking the right questions in the beginning to build rapport is so important. A superstar sales rep will ask questions in the beginning that make the prospect open up. One of my favorite rapport building questions is to ask how the person I am speaking with ended up in their industry, in their role etc. This gets the prospect talking about themself, opens them up and also provides valuable insight as to where the come from. An average sales person will engage in small talk about weather and sports, and while valid isn’t enough to build a relationship
Asking clarifying questions during the sales interview will help further separate the sales person from his competition. From a consultative stand point a sales person really has 4 main skills that all revolve around asking the right questions.
1) How you gather information
2) How you respond to information
3) How you deliver information
4) How you ask for something (closing)
A consultative sales person will frame his questions to get the most information and will also ask follow up questions. A consultative sales person always looks for clarity in exactly what the customer’s situation is. It’s not enough to know what a customer’s problems are, a sales person today needs to know what the extent of each problem is, they need to know what are the prospects priorities, what their companies priorities are etc.
Rich Kahn is the Founder & CEO of eZanga.com, a search engine specializing in online advertising and services, and has been involved in the ad tech industry since 1993. As the CEO of eZanga.com, he has successfully led the company from a tiny tech startup to a widely known tech company with staying power. In 2010, he joined the Ernst and Young “Entrepreneur of the Year” alumni when he won the award as one of the country’s most innovative business leaders in the technology sector. Rich has been quoted as a source in various publications such as ADOTAS, Search Engine Watch, YFS Entrepreneur, Smart CEO Magazine, DM news, Wired Magazine, Search Engine Land and the CNN TV Network.
The #1 way to develop a consultative sales approach is…
By giving the customer a consistent experience.
Most companies have one person whose job it is to bring in new sales, and then hand them off to a separate account manager. This can be a great business model, but the person who brought the customers in to the company isn’t the person they’re dealing with after that initial sale.
What we’ve found is that combining the account manager and that sales position gives our clients the most consistent experience with our company. This way, the person who sold them on eZanga is the person that manages their campaigns for the time we are working together. It shows that we’re in it for the long haul with our clients, and that their success is our success. They’ve already been sold on our product – and in turn, sold on a specific person. Why not have that same person see them through the entire lifecycle of their account?
Michael Riley is Co-Founder of Boxter, a Philadelphia-based Content Strategy company. He is also the Founder of Simplpost and the Philly Startup Tech organization, and is an active member of Philly Startup Leaders.
The best way we have found to develop a consultative sales approach is by…
Teaching customers something valuable before they become a client.
This technique works well through a number of channels. You can be a thought leader and teach using blogs, videos, slideshows and speaking at events. When done well, it’s an excellent long-term investment that keeps paying off. People that have learned from your work will sell your services for you.
Bob Shirilla is a Senior Engineer and Strategic Planner with over 20 years of experience working with a Fortune 200 consulting company (EDS/HP). He is currently pursuing his lifelong dream as an entrepreneur, working on his latest company Simply Custom Bags.
The #1 way to develop a consultative sales approach is…
By fostering Knowledge and Trust.
A “Valued Consultant” must know the client’s business better than they do. Intimate knowledge of a customer’s strategy and processes will position a sales team as a treasured resource and will be involved early in the decision-making process. Information gained during initial stages will yield clear understanding of requirements and recommendations will be on target, therefore reducing the sales cycle and improving.
In addition to knowledge a consultant must be trusted. Trust is best obtained by past successes.
The degree of knowledge and trust that is needed for one to be considered a “Valued Consultant” is almost impossible to develop internally. Recruit a seasoned veteran that is already considered an industry thought leader with history of trusted successes.
Jonathan Farrington is a keynote speaker, business coach, mentor, author, consultant, and sales strategist, who has guided hundreds of companies and more than one hundred thousand frontline salespeople and sales leaders towards optimum performance levels.
He is the Senior Partner at Jonathan Farrington & Associates, CEO of Top Sales World and the co-editor of Top Sales Magazine.
NOTE: The following information is from “How To Develop A Consultative Sales Approach” via SalesHQ.
“The best way to develop a consultative sales approach is…”
Gone are the days in which a salesperson could simply walk into an office, establish a good rapport with the client, show he/she had thorough knowledge of their products and services and clinch the sale. Nowadays, the emphasis is on establishing long-term, mutually beneficial relationships and in order to achieve this, the salesperson needs to earn the right to continue discussions with his/her client. Before they can proceed to sell their products or services, the salesperson needs to reassure the client of their integrity, reliability and ability to understand and recommend the appropriate solution.
They can do this by demonstrating:
– Up-to-date knowledge of business news and current affairs.
Best practices include – reading newspapers, magazines, journals, trade publications and other sources of business information; maintaining membership of appropriate professional organisations; acknowledging gaps in knowledge and taking steps to fill them; locating or developing databases with information on customers, their industries and their own customers.
– An in-depth understanding of the customer’s industry, company and strategies as well as an appreciation of “the big picture”.
Best practices include – gaining an understanding of the issues at all levels of the customer’s organisation including strategic, departmental and individual needs; seeking to understand the customer’s perceptions of market trends, company direction, plus potential product and service needs.
– A readiness to exchange information and ideas between the supplier and client organisation.
Best practices include – familiarising the customer with your own industry and companies; sharing useful business information even if it does not directly impact on the sales effort; demonstrating the cost-cutting or revenue producing benefits of your products and services.
– The ability to listen and absorb information.
Best practices include – refining the way you identify customer’s needs by asking the right questions and listening actively to customer comments; speaking at the listener’s level of knowledge; using stories and analogies effectively; asking for feedback on the clarity of your message.
By demonstrating comprehensive knowledge, outstanding communication skills and the proper attitude, the salesperson earns the right to move beyond the role of supplier to that of a valued business consultant.
Brian Tracy is recognized as the top sales training and personal success authority in the world today. He has authored more than 60 books and has produced more than 500 audio and video learning programs on sales, management, business success and personal development, including worldwide bestseller The Psychology of Achievement. Brian’s goal is to help you achieve your personal and business goals faster and easier than you ever imagined.
NOTE: The following information is excerpted from 5 Step Guide To Consultative Selling: Establishing Your Expertise via Brian Tracy International.
“One of the key components to developing a consultative sales approach is…”
Do your homework.
One of the key variables in consultative sales is your knowledge of the customer’s business process. You must learn everything you can about the customer’s business before you even dare to suggest a solution or course of action.
In selling to businesses, you must learn how sales are generated. What are the primary products or services sold by the customer’s company? How much are they sold for? What is the total sales volume? What kind of sales results are they enjoying? How are the profits generated?
Brian Farrell is sales coach and founder of FIND the CLIENT, a sales coaching organization that helps sales professionals, sales leaders and business owners achieve maximum performance.
NOTE: The following information is excerpted from The 5 Core Steps to Consultative Selling via Search Engine People.
“One of the most important steps in developing a consultative sales approach is…”
Your discussion at this phase must find a problem or pain your client is having.
You’ve already done all the research, prep work and should have an idea of the problems common to the industry you serve to prime the meeting.
Avoid questions that can be answered with a yes or a no. Instead, use open-ended questions (e.g. “Tell me about your current marketing efforts” or “On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being ‘problem solved’, where are you currently?”). Continue to expand with statements like “tell me more.”
Dan Fisher is founder and owner of Menemsha Group, a provider of sales enablement solutions dedicated to helping IT staffing firms improve win rates, shorten their sales cycle, and increase revenue per sales rep. Since launching Menemsha Group in 2008, Dan has consulted with over 200 IT staffing firms and has invested over 5000 hours coaching IT staffing sales reps. He’s authored is his own proprietary sales methodology and has previously spoken at Staffing World, TechServe Alliance and Bullhorn Live 2012. Prior to launching Menemsha Group, Dan spent 16 years in the IT industry running local, regional and national sales teams. Dan worked for Kelly Services, Oracle Corporation and Alliance Consulting. Dan currently resides in Boston, Ma.
NOTE: The following information is excerpted from “Five Tips & Examples For Consultative Selling” via Menemsha Group.
“One of the most important things you can do to develop a consultative sales approach is to…”
Adjust your mindset. The first thing to understand about applying a consultative sales approach is that it is as much (and maybe more) about adjusting your mindset than it is about applying new sales skills. Consultative selling is a TWO-WAY conversation, it’s not a monologue, it’s not scripted, and the sales person certainly shouldn’t be using “tie down” questions such as “do you want to meet on Tuesday or is Wednesday better?” There is no manipulation and there are no “steps” to complete (as you see with traditional sales methodologies). Consultative selling is a real, open, honest and transparent conversation with your client about their challenges and how you and your product or service may be able to solve those challenges. Consultative selling is often counter-intuitive to “traditional” sales approaches and tactics. It’s an old cliché but oh so true-if you truly care about your customer’s business and they know it, good things will happen.
Tom Abbott is a sales and sales leadership thought leader and social selling pioneer of evolving sales through social media. He shares eight rules of consultative selling in his SlideShare, 8 Golden Rules of Consultative Selling.
- The value of complete product knowledge
- The need for a clear understanding and roadmap of your sales process
- The importance of not underestimating your customer’s knowledge
- The need to share solutions instead of list features
Further Reading from the Docurated Blog:
- How to Improve Sales Performance Efficiency
- Best Sales Management Software
- 50 Consultative Selling Process Resources
- Best Mobile Apps for Sales Reps
- Top Sales Funnel Management Software
- Best Business Intelligence Software
- Consultative Sales Approach Tips
- Top Sales Analytics Tools
- Top Sales Enablement Tools
- Top Marketing Plan Software and Apps