3 Consultative Sales Strategies You Need in 2020
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 than “traditional” salespeople.
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 3 strategies to accelerate your sales momentum in 2020 and beyond:
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 and/or scale through your service. For example, if selling advertising to an auto dealer, do they make money from selling new cars or do they really make money financing, servicing, and selling used cars? Given that, how can you provide a solution that would help them?
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. For example, you are talking to your contact and they tell you what they need. Apart from your contact’s day-to-day task(s), are they expected to complete some extra assignment or address an issue? Why is this being prioritized now? What’s your contact’s motivation to get this project completed? Will they get a raise and/or promotion? 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 and really don’t tell me that you can’t know because your contact won’t introduce you to others. 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? Again, you may not have all of this information going into the first call or meeting but you can use details from other similar clients you’ve helped as a way to guide you.
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. For example, let’s say your prospect offers a SaaS solution. You could take the time to review one or two of their competitors’ websites to do a quick analysis of how your prospect is different from the others and then share that in your meeting. Or you could even sign up and sit through a demo of the competitor’s product and share what you learned.
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.
To do that, consider incorporating these things three things in your conversation:
- Ask the difficult questions. Don’t be afraid to go beyond surface level questions and dive deeper into motivations, challenges, concerns, goals, etc. “Ask questions that demonstrate genuine curiosity, empathy, and a desire to understand. Try to go deeper than uncovering a list of problems to be solved: ask what the buyer hopes to achieve with your product or service, and why this is a priority now.” Scott K Edinger, HBR Try questions like: “How does XYZ impact you?” “What’s stopping your company from hitting its goals?” and “What is it about [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. This helps prospects stay engaged and gives you the opportunity to address concerns and clarify anything that needs further explanation. It also helps demonstrate that you’re actively listening to what they say.
- Welcome objections and concerns. Even the strongest customer objections offer an invaluable benefit. When a customer articulates a concern or disagreement, they’re clarifying their needs and indicating what they want to see to move forward.
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.
Successful consultative sellers must practice patience in the following ways:
- 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 5 follow-ups to close a sale – and this is just an average. Yet, 70% 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.
Do this by being empathetic and helpful, but never pushy or aggressive.
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.
Looking for more ways to help yourself or help your team improve their consultative selling skills and approach? Check out our manager's guide to identify common problems and how to solve them for your sales team.
*Originally published November 2015. Updated December 2019.
About Steve Bookbinder
Steve Bookbinder is the CEO and sales expert at DMTraining. He has delivered more than 5,000 workshops and speeches to clients all over the world and has trained, coached, and managed more than 50,000 salespeople and managers. Steve continuously refreshes his training content to reflect his latest first-hand observations of salespeople across industries and regions. Through him, participants in his workshops and coaching sessions learn the best practices of today’s most successful sellers and managers across industries. Steve understands that sales is a competitive game. To outperform competitors and our own personal best results, we need to out-prospect, out-qualify, out-present and out-negotiate everyone else, not merely know how to sell. Through his specialty programs in Pipeline Management, Personal Marketing, Great First Meetings, 2nd-level Questioning, Sales Negotiating, and Sales Coaching, Steve trains sales teams to master the skills they need to overcome the challenges they face in today’s world… and keep improving results year over year.