Consultative Selling vs. Solution Selling: Is There a Difference?

by Corey Philip
February 6, 2020

Consultative selling and solution selling are two among many sales approaches that businesses employ to persuade potential buyers. Both aim to resolve a problem through a product or service, but the motivations behind each are different.

The keyword to remember here is sales approach. Ultimately, the differences between consultative selling and solution selling fall on the approach.

Take a financial advisor and an insurance agent. They both sell similar financial products, but they don’t take the same approach to selling it.

Financial advisors take a consultative approach in that they first try to learn your situation, gauge your problems and needs, then tailor their selling point to what products you specifically need.

Insurance agents, on the other hand, focus on giving you a direct solution to your problem. So first they find a person with a need that their insurance package can solve, then approach that person with the product immediately as the direct solution to it.

From this example, it shows how consultative selling and solution selling might differ. In this post, we’ll get more into the specifics that distinguish one from the other.

Consultative Selling vs. Solution Selling: Differences at a Glance

Consultative Selling

  • Soft sell
  • Customer relationship built on trust
  • Process-driven
  • Focused on the means to achieve an outcome
  • Value

Solution Selling

  • Hard Sell
  • Customer relationship built on authority
  • Product-driven
  • Focused on the outcome
  • Price

What is Consultative Selling?

Consultative selling is the subtle approach towards a potential customer with the angle to help instead of to sell. It’s effective because trust is slowly built up with the customer by first trying to learn more about their situation and respectfully educating them through a variety of options they could take. There are several strategies for consultative selling.

The process of consultative selling looks like this:

  1. Get to know the person’s problems, fears, desires, and if possible, their entire situation
  2. In coordination with them, figure out their specific needs and the outcomes they want to achieve
  3. Offer a solution to their problem by introducing a product or service
  4. Constantly check in with them to see the changes it made and evaluate the results

The fourth step is optional in some cases, but it’s usually involved in consultative selling. It’s an easy but effective strategy to nurture a past customer into becoming a repeat customer.

In our example, financial advisors are likened to employ consultative selling because they angle their approach towards helping people who are lacking in financial literacy.

They don’t immediately sell people to any financial product. Instead, they’re sought out more for the financial advice they could offer to people who are less knowledgeable.

PRO: Long-term customer relationship

Consultative selling happens for a longer period than solution selling. Before a sale happens, a salesperson tries to build a relationship with a customer first. This lays out a foundation of trust that lead people to make repeat transactions with your business.

Likewise, it doesn’t stop when the person buys a product or avails a service. Consultative selling goes deeper into the customer experience and is driven by deeper intentions to helping people solve their problems.

CON: Being taken advantage of

In consultative selling, you run the risk of a greater loss because you’ll have to invest time in a customer, consulting with them before closing a sale. So many times, you’ll come across people who will never actually buy, but will ask a lot of questions to milk the information they need from you.

If you use consultative selling in your business, you also need a strong intuition to know when a person is just taking advantage of the free information. A prolonged conversation and constant rejects to your closing strategies are usually telling signs that they’re not really interested and that you need to move on to the next customer.

What is Solution Selling?

Solution selling is heavily reliant on the knowledge of people’s needs. Salespeople use this to determine who exactly their products or services serve and they target them specifically by offering right away.

This used to be the most effective approach to selling because before the Internet, there was no way for people to be informed about the variety of solutions to their problems. They rely on salespeople to educate them on the available products and services out there.

The process looks more like this:

  1. Gauge people’s specific needs
  2. Find the connection between the product or service and the problem — specifically how the former resolves the latter
  3. Offer the solution to people outright

Going back to our example, if you’ll notice, insurance agents follow a very traditional approach to selling. They come up to people with the product as the lead and attracts them with benefits that an insurance package can give. 

PRO: Focused on the product (price & benefits)

Solution selling is all about the product. How much it costs, what are the features and benefits, what is the outcome that is to be expected. This set of information is what salespeople who use this approach present to people when they sell.

CON: Priority of sale

In both consultative and solution selling, the focus of the salesperson is to solve people’s problems. However, in solution selling, salespeople are more driven by making a sale. This, in turn, leads to shallow connections with customers.

In the long run, you’re setting yourself up for doing this solution selling process over and over again instead of building a solid customer base that keeps coming back to your business for the expert opinion that they also get.

So, Which is Better?

Nowadays, people are making an argument about solution selling as only being a part of consultative selling because it’s not as impactful on its own anymore. Still, from the differences I’ve laid out here, there are some aspects to solution selling that can’t quite merge with the concept of consultative selling.

I think, with the way I explained consultative selling and solution selling and their differences, you can kind of tell which side I’m leaning towards. If you’ll read more about it on the Internet, you’ll find a similar sentiment going toward consultative selling as the more impactful approach.

I would say none is actually better than the other, and this is not just me being lukewarm. In a broader sense, consultative selling works well, but there are specific circumstances that solution selling works best. It’s really up to the business, the salesperson, and the target market. Just a word of advice, pick one and continue adapting it to the trends of your industry and the strategies of your business.

About the author

Corey Philip

Corey Philip is a small business owner / investor with a focus on home service businesses.

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