The How Tos of Consultative Selling
I’ve had thousands of sales training conversations and many of them 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 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?”
To some degree, even simply asking, “Do you want fries with that?” is consultative.
No one can argue that consultative is a better way to sell than anything else. The problem is that very few people really agree on what it is or what they need to do to add consulting to their sales process.
You are not really a consultative seller unless you are doing the following 4 things:
1. Understand how your customer makes money.
Hint: 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 help in a way that they would agree would be helpful?
If you are selling a service or product to a hospital, are they simply in the business of filling every bed? Or are they looking to increase their room turnover, profit per patient, or more likely, recruit better doctors so that more patients will consider that hospital which is like a hotel with a $2,000 a night rather than a $200 a night “rack” rate on rooms?
2. Understand the actual job your customer has, not simply their stated need for a service like yours.
Hint: Don’t tell me the 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 (or you probe to find that need. Ouch). Apart from your contact’s day-to-day task(s), are they expected to complete some extra assignment or address an issue, which if they do successfully gets them a raise and/or promotion, but if they fail they look bad/get fired?
What is their task, goal, or metrics? What is their timeline? Did someone else come up with that timeline? Did they also establish a budget? Have they ever tried this before? If not, how did they determine the timeline and budget?
Why is this project prioritized now and not something that they addressed last year or can wait until next year? How will success be measured?
If you didn’t come in to sell them your service what were they planning to do to accomplish this goal?
3. Understand the job role, as well as, the mission of the other people relevant to your sale that are impacted by your contact.
Hint: 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, suppose our contact is the head of HR who wants to buy a healthcare plan for her employees. In that case, the employees are the “internal customers” to the head of HR. If we don’t ever meet any of them, how do we know we are truly helping and providing value to our contact?
If we are selling information to the head of research, our main contact, who in turn shares research with other departments, don’t we need to meet the other departments too so we can help our main contact? But what if the head of research won’t let us meet anyone else?
The consultative seller selects a strategy to get around their contact—while including that person. The non-consultative seller simply accepts their limitations and decides to put together the best proposal ---without all the right people’s ideas informing that proposal.
4. Withhold sending the proposal until you know #1-3.
Hint: Don’t tell me you always meet total strangers for a first meeting, which is sometimes an hour in-person or other times a phone or email exchange, and almost always send a proposal following that first meeting.
Even if you do a demo following the first conversation and then send a proposal, you don’t get a pass---the demo merely completes the first conversation by finally revealing how your service really works, looks, and functions. In a demo meeting, the seller does most of the talking, while the customer does most of the learning. So if the proposal typically follows the demo, the seller is not really any more consultative than a non-consultative seller.
Describe the top 5, 10, or 20 sales in your pipeline.
Is this the story: “We met/talked and then I got them a proposal…” or “After the demo, we got them a proposal.” or even worse… “Even though I always tell people we have a long sales cycle, the fact is I get the prospect a proposal right away and then spend the next few months trying to negotiate a deal we can both live with.”
The thing about consultative selling from the customer’s perspective is that it’s refreshing, since so few sellers actually do it. It’s a lot more helpful while being a lot less annoying.
Real consultative selling: try it.
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.