In today’s marketplace, consultative selling is a critical differentiating factor. Competition is fierce and buyers have endless options available at their fingertips. Having a good product or service is no longer enough to stand out
To stay relevant and get ahead of the competition, your salespeople must be capable of selling not only your offering but also of selling themselves as strategic advisors capable of helping solve their prospects’ and customers’ business problems.
Now, instead of focusing on transactional sales, salespeople must be capable of building long-term relationships beyond the initial sale and maintaining their standing as trusted business advisors to your customers.
A consultative sales approach is the skill they need in order to do that.
What Is a Consultative Sales Approach?
Consultative selling is a needs-based selling approach that focuses on building a relationship with a customer or prospect, understanding their problems, and developing solutions to their challenges through open-ended questions and active listening.
Consultative selling puts the buyer’s needs over the needs of the salesperson. Instead of leading with a sales pitch, salespeople conduct conversations and provide insights, advice, and guidance that is helpful and non-manipulative, and that helps potential customers achieve their goals.
Here are the top 7 consultative selling strategies you need to train your sales teams in, so they can win more business, improve customer lifetime value, and increase the share of wallet.
1. Research Prospects Thoroughly Before Engaging
In the fast-paced world of sales, salespeople can get caught up in the hurry of jumping from one call to the next with minimal research. This is a mistake. First impressions matter and you want the customer’s first impression of your sales team to be one of competence, caring, and relationship.
Thorough preliminary research ensures that your salespeople can instantly add value to the conversation and ask deep, probing questions rather than waste the prospect’s time with simple questions that could have been answered on their website.
Train salespeople to conduct a thorough investigation of the contact, their industry or business, and their organization. Have them use social media, company websites, and third-party news and research sites to gather as much information as they can, including the history of the individual and their company, as well as any current events affecting them.
The more the salesperson knows in advance, including recent news, the marketplace, the competition, and the particular problems they may be facing, the more thoroughly they can engage the client at a high level. This helps them to win the respect and trust of the prospect, who then views them as a resource rather than a product specialist only interested in selling them something.
Research should be conducted prior to every contact so that the salesperson stays up to date on current events affecting each prospect.
2. Engage in pre-call planning
Research is critical before each call and contact, but it is not enough by itself. Using the research, coach your team to invest time in the pre-call planning process. This includes identifying where the buyer is in their buying journey and any particular issues that may affect their buying readiness (such as a company or industry events). The process should also identify objectives for the call, and the specific skills and steps necessary to reach that objective.
The plan should include a list of consultative sales probing questions that the salesperson can ask to help uncover the prospect’s needs and wants. Probing questions are usually open-ended questions that build trust, lead the prospect to uncover their own needs and wants and help the salesperson understand how they can help the customer.
3. Build Trust with the Prospect During the Call
Trust is a critical ingredient in consultative selling. A prospect who does not trust the salesperson will be less likely to answer questions, reveal problems, or cooperate with discovery and problem-solving.
The fastest way to lose trust is to treat the prospect like a wallet and focus only on what you can sell them. It’s critical that salespeople be prepared to address the prospect as a person, not just a decision-maker. They should focus on uncovering what makes the buyer tick, and why, so that they can provide effective consultation.
Teach salespeople to express genuine interest, compassion, and commitment to the prospect’s success. Trust also requires salespeople to follow through on promises, from small things like sending material when they say they will, to big things like delivering the solution that was agreed upon. When salespeople can be relied on to follow through on small promises, it teaches the buyer that they can be relied on for the big things too.
Invest in teaching salespeople how to build rapport early in the relationship as well, including identifying and using communication styles and expressing warmth and compassion.
4. Ask great follow-up questions
While it’s important to have a list of questions developed during pre-call planning, it’s also important that your salespeople not simply rattle them off like a script. This can feel like an interrogation to the prospect and does not develop trust or engage them in a consultative sales approach.
Instead, equip your salespeople with the skills to ask good questions, listen actively and thoroughly to the answers, and to follow up with good, probing questions that dig deeper.
A consultative approach uses this more fluid conversational style to uncover pain points and begin identifying where and how you can help. A responsive line of questioning will uncover the challenges the contact is truly facing, which are often different from what the salesperson suspected, and can even be different than what the customer initially indicates in the first line of questioning.
Prospects open up to effective consultative selling because the conversation is authentic and unscripted, and they begin to feel that the conversation itself has value apart from whatever your salespeople are selling.
5. Actively Listen to Prospects
We touched upon this in previous points, but it is important enough to warrant its own section. Many salespeople ask questions as though they’re only doing it because they’re “supposed to.” While the prospect is answering, the salesperson is often more focused on what they will ask next than on what the prospect is currently saying.
This is human nature, and common in daily conversation. But world-class salespeople do better. They shift their focus and make it their main objective to solve the prospect’s problem. And that requires them to really listen to and understand the problem.
This requires salespeople to slow down, talk less, and hone in on the prospect. Active listening also means asking good questions that show you’re paying attention and dig deeper. We recommend a 3-deep question approach that helps salespeople really get to the root of an issue rather than viewing it at the surface level.
Using a 3-deep questioning strategy, the conversation with a prospect might go something like this:
Sales Rep: So, you’re having delivery issues with your current supplier. How does that translate to your business?
Prospect: It’s delaying our delivery to hospitals and ambulance drivers who need and expect the products on time.
Sales Rep: What impact does that have on your efficiencies and bottom line?
Prospect: We spend a lot of time, energy, and money negotiating the returns and tracking down deliveries. It’s cutting into our profit margin substantially, not to mention it creates a ripple that ultimately affects patients.
Sales Rep: What would it mean to you to have guaranteed quality products delivered on time?
Prospect: We really want to partner with a high-quality company that can deliver on time, every time. We spent over $5,000 last year alone on issues relating to returns.
6. Engage in Active Problem-Solving
In the course of an effective consultative selling conversation, your salespeople will either learn that a prospect is not a good match, or that they have problems your offering can solve.
Once trust is established and the conversation is going strong, teach your salespeople to focus in on the problems that your offering can solve. However, they shouldn’t go straight for “the kill,” but instead use those problems to further their questioning and advising.
Teach them to work collaboratively with the prospect to brainstorm solutions and discover deeper needs. Help them uncover just how much those problems cost them and their organization and lead them to understand how your offering can help.
Your salespeople should work collaboratively with the prospect to understand what a successful resolution will look like for them, and should be unafraid to offer business advice. This means they must be trained in business acumen, as well as in sales so that they can provide solid, trustworthy consultation while simultaneously working toward offering a solution that includes your organization.
7. Adapt to Feedback
The most effective salespeople constantly evaluate their consultative selling approach and skills and adapt to feedback in real-time.
This requires salespeople to be sensitive to the verbal and non-verbal cues of each prospect and to change their approach in real-time based on those cues. You can help them learn to do this effectively by introducing them to the concept of conversational styles, as understood through the DiSC profile system.
The DISC system provides a framework for understanding how different people prefer to be communicated with and interacted with. Salespeople who are thoroughly trained in DiSC communication styles can quickly identify which style each prospect prefers, and adapt their own communication and interactions to accommodate those preferences.
This works at a deep level to build and maintain trust and helps prospects be more open to your salesperson’s consultation.
The key to successful consultative selling is keeping a strong customer focus throughout the entire process. That focus creates a win-win situation where the buyer feels supported in having their challenge solved, and the seller gains a loyal, long-term customer.
IMPACT Selling is a 6-step, buyer-focused sales training process used by sales professionals around the world, in hundreds of industries. The sales training program helps sellers connect with buyers and communicate the value of their product and services – solving challenges for the client while increasing sales revenue for the rep.
View the video below to see a client of The Brooks Group discuss her organization’s experience with IMPACT sales training program, and how it enhanced their consultative sales approach.
Want to learn how IMPACT sales training programs can give your sales team an edge over the competition? Request your free consultation today.
A successful sales enablement strategy requires intentional planning and direction from the top levels of an organization. Map out your strategy using this comprehensive training program guide and set your sales effectiveness initiative up for success.