Consultative selling approach is characterized by a sales strategy hyper-focused on customers. It gives the salesperson more details about the prospect’s purchasing power, their preferences, and their emotions behind making the purchase. This information helps the salesperson build their offering on and position it in compelling ways for the prospect.
According to respondents in a study, the three most important factors contributing to a positive sales experience are:
- The salesperson not being pushy.
- The salesperson listening to the prospect’s need.
- Relevant information provided by the salesperson.
A salesperson who practices consultative selling will come across as a partner or adviser who is truly trying to help the prospect. This process helps salespeople develop a more cooperative approach to selling by understanding the prospect’s needs and pain points.
When they apply the consultative selling process, salespeople can move away from being forceful or pushy.
Steps to apply consultative selling to your business
To apply consultative selling to your business, you need a specific set of skills and techniques. Having a strong foundation of these skills and techniques helps ensure that your success is repeatable and your results are predictable.
1. Research every possible aspect affecting the sale
Just like you need to research the product offerings by various companies before buying anything, you must also research before selling anything.
This research includes knowing about the following points:
- Prospect’s company.
- The industry of the company.
- The people at the client’s company who you would directly deal with. This will help you qualify if the lead has decision-making power in his/her company.
- Competing contractors who may be vying for the same client.
This process will help you anticipate the questions that may be asked by the customer. You can prepare answers to these questions beforehand so the client can relate better to your conversation. It will also help you provide tailored solutions to the client, which is at the heart of consultative selling.
For example, let’s assume that the prospect is new to the commercial kitchen appliance industry but they are managing their inventory in Excel sheets. The salesperson is selling a fully customizable inventory software which helps them get rid of these sheets and adds more efficiency to the process.
The prospect may or may not fully realize the need for buying inventory software if their Excel sheets take care of everything. The salesperson knows that it’s not an immediate need.
Research into industry standards will help the salesperson understand how the commercial kitchen appliance industry manages its inventory. Based on this research, the salesperson knows that the prospect would want to invest in inventory software when the business grows.
The salesperson can then make a convincing argument that inventory software is a norm among commercial kitchen appliance makers.
2. Anticipate and answer the objections
This is also a preparatory step that includes the salesperson anticipating the questions of the client and preparing the answers for it. This allows you to preempt any issues that may hinder the progress of the sale. After finding potential objections, the salesperson can address them in the same meeting.
3. Have a structured conversation with the prospect
Consider the state of the client’s organization as a puzzle. To complete this puzzle, you need several bits of information. You can get some of the missing information by doing research. For the rest of the pieces, you need to ask questions and listen to the client.
Being a consultative salesperson means letting the client speak more about themselves in the initial stages. This is the opposite of what transaction selling does.
This is where you can apply the SPIN questions. This type of selling was proposed by Neil Rackham, an expert in sales effectiveness, in his book titled “SPIN Selling”. Neil has delivered seminars for over 200 sales organizations, including IBM and Xerox.
The word SPIN here is an acronym for different types of questions a salesperson should ask:
Situation questions help the salesperson understand the client’s current situation or engagement with a partner in the selling company’s niche. respect to the products/services offered. Based on the client’s answer, the salesperson can structure his next set of questions and can position his own company favorably.
Problem questions are geared towards understanding the depth of the client’s current problems and uncover the emotion which would be used to justify the purchase after it is made.
Implication questions are directed toward helping the client realize the negative consequences of maintaining the status quo. This triggers the minute emotional pain in the client’s life pushing them towards urgency for seeking a solution.
Need-payoff questions help drive the client’s mind towards solving these problems. The salesperson would ask them about a post-solution scenario where the problem has been taken care of. These questions trigger the client’s pleasurable emotions pushing towards the solution.
It’s important to understand while the aforementioned SPIN questions help provide the maximum information to the salesperson, they may not be asked immediately.
At any stage, avoid asking closed-ended questions that lead to yes/no answers.
In a great example, David Brock shares his personal experience of shopping for beef alongside his wife. In his example, he got to observe how the butcher is consulting with his wife (the customer) to understand her needs better. The butcher starts by asking his wife “How do you intend to use this meat”. This is followed by a detailed discussion about the different dishes she is planning and how she would like to cut the meat.
The butcher asked the relevant details and guided the prospect through various possibilities. He demonstrated consultative selling perfectly.
There is a slight caveat to this:
A salesperson should not try to quicken the process by trying to ask all questions in the same meeting. Often in B2B sales, it’s important to not hurry the prospect lest you come across as pushy.
4. Engage in active listening
The goal of active listening is to pay attention to details that are not immediately apparent. When talking to prospects, salespeople can pay attention to finer aspects such as
- level of enthusiasm
- body language (if meeting the client in person)
- other verbal and nonverbal cues
Unfortunately, many salespeople are used to passive listening where they simply wait to let the client finish before speaking whatever they have to say.
Here are some simple tips to shift from passive listening to active listening:
- Focus on the call (or the meeting) and don’t do anything else while talking to the client
- Take notes for all the important information that they reveal in their answers. This includes information that is, directly and indirectly, related to the questions you ask.
- Offer periodic acknowledgment with fillers like ‘Uh-huh’, ‘okay’, or ‘I understand’. You can also use other similar words that make the client feel that they are talking to a human being and not a robot.
- Never interrupt the client’s talk when they are explaining something. Wait for them to finish and then ask more questions.
- Ask questions to find details when some things are not clear.
When done correctly, active listening can give you very important information that will help you tailor your proposal to them.
Paraphrasing is a great example of an active listening technique. It helps verify your understanding and summarize the prospect’s concern at the same time.
The prospect may end up sharing a long story of how they realized their current solution doesn’t fulfill their needs. The salesperson can then say something on the lines of “So you are saying that your current system is not suitable to your business anymore because it is very slow.”
5. Demonstrate the value you provide
“Show rather than tell” may seem like a catchphrase used by dramatics arts directors. It can also be used to showcase the strengths of the selling company and for showcasing social proof in their favor.
Some examples of demonstrating the value include:
- “We have helped our last client save over 50% of their budget. On average, our clients save anywhere between 40% and 60% by doing business with us”
- “We have continued to get direct positive feedback from our clients. The average service rating on our company page on Facebook has never dropped below 4.5. This is after over 5000 reviews and ratings”
To help exceed the client’s expectations, you must provide value beyond what is expected of you and your company. This includes some times consulting on matters outside the scope of your company’s business. When a salesperson goes above and beyond the job description, he/she appears more valuable as the client knows him/her as a person too.
An interesting example would be a car salesperson guiding a prospect about the routes in the city. If the prospect is new to the city and doesn’t already have a car, he/she might be buying their first car. By talking about the routes in the city and traffic situation on them, the salesperson injects empathy to demonstrate his/her value.
This plants the seed of trust in the buyer-seller relationship. It lets the prospect know that the salesperson is a human who can also be his friend in matters related to his/her car after its purchase.
6. Focus on prospects who are ready to take action
Consultative selling, by definition, is about helping the client first. However, it is still a part of the business for salespeople.
Salespeople have limited time to help all the leads in their bucket. To get the maximum out of the limited resources. focus more on prospects with defined business goals, timelines, and budgets. Avoid focusing on cold leads.
7. Close with certainty
Closing the deal may take a few weeks as it can involve more than one decision-maker. The person you talked to will share your proposal with the rest of the team and try to get them on the same page. You may even get invited to present the proposal and answer the concerns of everyone in the team of executive decision-makers.
The closing process can be smoothened by using the words and tone you heard the prospect use during the previous calls. You must frame the benefits using the most important decision drivers for the prospect.
For example, the client has indicated that their engagement with the current partner is proving to be more expensive than what they initially anticipated. This presents an opportunity for the salespeople to talk to them about how his/her solution will help overcome their financial woes.
Asking the right questions in the early stages also allows the salesperson to go beyond savings from the deal and highlight the extended benefits to the prospect.
Managing your consultative selling process
Consultative selling does take time to close the prospect but it also ensures long-term benefits for the selling company. It ensures there is sufficient trust before the sale can proceed. In the long run, it also ensures higher chances of repeat business and business by referrals.
When managing multiple deals through consultative selling, it’s important to have an accurate view of all your deals at a glance. With Benchpoint’s decluttered dashboard design, you get all the essential details in a snapshot view of every deal.
Our intuitive approach to deal management lets you locate bottlenecks in the pipeline so you can quickly resolve them.
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