Sales Strategies 101: Consultative Selling

by Corey Philip
September 28, 2019

When it comes to selling, it’s common for a salesperson to just push a product or pitch a service to a customer without checking if they need or want it.

Sometimes this works. They were either successful at convincing them that they needed the solution or coincidentally, the customer wanted it as well.

But wouldn’t it be easier to sell the other way around? Instead of taking a lucky shot, it might be better and more efficient to find out the customer’s needs and then offer the appropriate product or service for it.

This sales technique actually exists, and it’s called consultative selling. 

Consultative selling is an approach where a salesperson builds the trust of a potential customer and determines their needs before recommending a solution.

Why does Consultative Selling work?

If you approach the customer to consult and not to hard sell, you won’t seem pushy. By taking your time and only offering a solution after understanding the situation, they would find it easier to trust you.

Does it work? Just ask a doctor.

When doctors prescribe medicine, do people generally turn it down? No, it’s because they trust them. We don’t usually question their recommendation because they are the experts.

What makes it different from Normal Selling?

In normal selling or transactional selling, you need to look for people who will exchange money for your product. In consultative selling, you have to find people who have needs that can be solved by your product or service. A consultative salesperson can also learn their prospect’s situation then customize the solution to meet their needs.

People who do normal selling also see themselves as a salesperson. Those who do consultative selling see themselves as a consultant. 

As a consultative salesperson, you have to build your prospect’s trust before selling to them. This process takes longer than normal selling where it’s done after the customer gets the product and you received the payment. This also means that you have to interact more with clients in consultative selling.

The Consultative Selling Process

It takes longer to do consultative selling because of its process. Here are four steps to follow when doing a consultative sales approach:

1. Become an expert to build trust

Before doctors can provide a diagnosis, they had to study and get a medical degree. A consultative salesperson must also do the same, not getting a degree, but to learn everything about their product and service, or better yet, the industry they are in. 

As a sales consultant, it will be harder to establish yourself as an expert. One way to do it is to talk about the industry you are in and your product or services. At the same time, you can’t discuss everything so that they won’t be overwhelmed or think that you’re selling. So bottom line, you should know everything there is to know about your industry and solution, share just the right amount of information to prove your credibility, and be able to answer any question they may throw at you.

2. Conduct research and create your goals

Before you’ll find a prospect, you must first conduct research to help you create your target market. Utilize reports and technology to find out who wants to buy your solution or who has problems that will need it. Get information from the internet to profile your competitors and learn about your competitors.

Set your goals so that you can allot time for each one. This is important if you have targets and timeline to follow. After straightening out possible issues, you can finally approach a prospect.

3. Investigate, become a problem detective

The heart or the most vital part of the consultative sales process is asking questions. A consultant doesn’t immediately have the solutions to a problem. Similar to doctors, one must make a diagnosis before prescribing anything. 

By asking intelligent questions, a consultative salesperson can uncover problems or determine the needs of their prospects. Use open-ended questions and do you remember the 5Ws and H? Ask them what, who, why, when, where, and how. If you ask them yes or no questions, then you won’t get enough information to create your recommendation and even miss an opportunity to upsell or cross-sell.

Take note that this is a collaborative step. You don’t do all the talking and you should also listen to their response. This way, you can find out what’s important to them and what they need, which will help you determine if your solution has the capability to fix their problem or help them achieve their goal.

4. Provide recommendations and insights

Here is an example of why you need to use open-ended questions to find the right recommendation and a chance to upsell and cross-sell.

A man went to a business that creates invitations. The saleswoman didn’t ask for details and just started showing designs. She asked the customer if he likes the design for each template, to which he kept saying no. Eventually, he may find a design to say ‘yes’ to, but it was a waste of time and this form of questioning will make it hard for the saleswoman to give better recommendations.

But by using open-ended questions, she was able to offer insights. She asked him what was the occasion, who it is for, when it’s going to happen, and where it’s going to happen. He replied that it was for his wife’s surprise birthday party which will take place at the movie theatre he rented. She can now suggest a better design – which was an invitation with a ticket design to match the theme.

Since she knows all the details, she can also properly upsell. She offered a movie poster design with his wife’s photo so that they can keep or frame it. She was also able to cross-sell and suggested to add a banner to hang in the theatre.

If you know the situation and the customer’s needs, it will be easier to upsell and cross-sell, as long as it offers higher quality and still relates to the need of the client.

Even if you tailored a solution to a prospect’s needs, you still don’t directly sell it or tell them what to do. You should provide suggestions and insights so that you form a collaborated solution. It increases the chances of the customer’s purchase decision to be in your favor since they had a hand in it. 

When providing insight, make sure not to overwhelm your prospect. Discuss certain features of your solution and let them know how it will benefit them. Lastly, don’t rush them – wait for them to be convinced by your recommendations.

What skills will help with Consultative Selling?

  • Curiosity will make it easier for you to listen and understand your prospect’s needs
  • Show credibility to build your prospect’s trust
  • Have the patience to ask and to be asked questions as well as to listen to answers
  • Be insightful so you can provide the best recommendations to your prospect
  • Have the ability to view the bigger picture to help your prospect achieve their goals

Consultative Selling Tips

Find a way to lead the conversation. It’s important to listen to their response, but you should also make sure that your prospect doesn’t get sidetracked. You may not have to do hard selling, but you still have to convince your customer – which can be achieved by following the process. Monitoring the conversation will also help you determine the goals of your buyer.

Get feedback from your customers to see how invested they are based on their understanding of your solutions. If they actively ask questions or provide their own insights, it shows how invested they are in your solution.

About the author

Corey Philip

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

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