By Steve Bookbinder
I talk to thousands of sales managers and their teams every year who bring up consultative selling, usually in this context: “Our sale is a little unusual. We do consultative selling.”
I nod knowingly even though I want to challenge them by asking: “Really? You do consultative selling? As opposed to what, non-consultative selling?” What would that be? What sales team believes they are doing non-consultative selling?
I say this jokingly because consultative selling is the only way to sell.
The problem is that very few people really agree on what it is or what they need to do to incorporate consultative selling into their approach and sales process.
What is Consultative Selling?
Consultative selling is an approach that focuses on creating value and trust with the 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.
Sales professionals who understand this act more like consultants. They build relationships with prospects and work to find a solution that fits each prospect’s needs, instead of pushing the solution that’s most profitable, or the easiest to sell.
To help you enhance your consultative selling approach, consider these three strategies:
1. Do your due diligence
To be an effective consultative sales professional, you need to arm yourself with the right information before you reach out to a prospect. That means you need a basic understanding of the following things:
Understand how they make money. Don’t tell me, “They sell stuff.” Tell me how they generate profit that you can help optimize or scale through your service.
Understand the actual job your prospect has, not simply their stated need for a service like yours. Don’t tell me your contact’s title. Tell me what their boss would say is their real role and mission. You may not have all of this information walking into the meeting, but consider what you don’t know and prepare your questions accordingly.
Understand how your product, service, or solution will impact the organization as a whole, not just your contact’s department or division. Don’t merely report the organizational chart. For example, if you’re selling information to the head of research, your main contact, who in turn shares research with other departments, shouldn’t we also meet the other departments so we can help our main contact communicate the overall value of our offering?
Understand the competitive landscape. Don’t just know the names of the prospect’s competitors, be prepared to share a competitive insight that demonstrates you’ve gone above and beyond to understand their business and how you can help them.
2. Lead the conversation with confidence
Dialogue is the key to a consultative sales style. However, you still need to guide the conversation. Taking ownership of and leading the conversation will demonstrate your credibility. The customer needs to be reassured they would be partnering with someone who can guide them through the complexities of their business challenges.
Ask the difficult questions. Don’t be afraid to go beyond surface level questions and dive deeper into motivations, challenges, concerns, goals, etc. “What’s stopping your company from hitting its goals?” and “What is it about the current solution that isn’t working for you right now?”
Seek feedback. While it might be hard to hear, there’s really no such thing as bad feedback. Throughout your conversation, you should regularly stop and check-in with your prospect to make sure they understand your ideas and propositions by asking them what they think.
3. Practice patience
After a great conversation with a prospect, it can be tempting to accelerate your sales process because you “have a good feeling about this one.” However, that can work against you and I’ve seen it happen time and time again.
Instead of putting the pedal to the metal, consider slowing things down in order to speed the sale up. In other words, you took the time and effort to prepare and do your due diligence. Don’t rush things by sending a proposal too soon.
Don’t send the proposal too early. It’s an all too common mistake: Send a proposal following the first meeting. However, this is a surefire way to sabotage your momentum. Why? Because now all you have going for yourself is a perpetual “just checking in” message every other day to see if they received the proposal, read the proposal, have any questions about the proposal…you see where I’m going with this. Don’t do it. Instead, create and share a discussion document with your working ideas. That gives your prospect something to react to and allows them to provide valuable feedback in case you need to make changes before sending the proposal. This will help you keep the dialogue going and fosters collaboration.
Create a consistent follow-up plan. Let’s face it. Very few sales, especially B2B sales, are closed after just one or two conversations. You need to be patient and understanding that it typically takes time for prospects to come to a decision. This is due to the changing decision-making process that involves being influenced by online research and reviews, as well as the need for multiple stakeholders and departments to be included in the decision. On top of all of that, data shows it takes an average of five follow-ups to close a sale — and this is just an average. Yet, 70 percent of salespeople give up if they don’t receive a reply to their first email. Creating a schedule and consistent follow up plan will help you track your prospects and feel more inspired to keep trying even if you don’t get a response after that first attempt. Use your CRM to create reminders of when to follow up.
Be a great consultative seller
To be a great consultative seller, you must genuinely care about doing the very best for your prospects and customers.
The best consultative sellers take an investigative approach that demonstrates curiosity and engages the prospect with thought-provoking questions to help them identify their own challenges and pain points. Your job is to simply provide the best, most valuable information that enables your prospects to make an educated buying decision.
Ultimately, with the right consultative sales approach your prospects will end up persuading themselves.
Steve Bookbinder is the CEO and sales expert at DMTraining.