Buyers prefer to purchase without feeling pressured. What if we told you there’s a way to guide them towards a purchase without the pressure?
That’s where consultative selling comes in. It’s a customer-focused sales strategy that aims to establish positive relationships with buyers by helping them solve their problems.
Did you know 84% of business buyers are more likely to buy from sales reps who understand their goals?
Build trust and establish positive relationships by developing a holistic and nuanced understanding of the buyer’s needs.
With a consultative selling approach, you’re not just trying to make a quick sale; you’re genuinely trying to help the buyer find the best solution for their problem.
In this consultative selling guide, we’ll explore what consultative selling is and some tactics you can apply to your business. You’ll also learn how to build trust, guide your prospects, and ultimately increase your sales success.
Consultative Selling: An Overview
What is Need-Based Selling?
Salespeople sometimes make the mistake of stating the benefits of their products or services without considering the customer’s needs. That’s where “need-based selling”
With a need-based approach, the focus is on each customer and their own individual needs/interests.
Consultative selling is needs-based selling. It develops personal relationships and open dialogue between buyers and sellers.
The salesperson actively takes time to understand the customer’s needs and concerns.
What is Consultative Selling?
Consultative selling is an approach to the sales process that focuses on building long-term relationships with customers by solving their specific problems.
A consultative salesperson is an expert in their field. They spend most of their time actively listening to their prospects before prescribing a solution based on what they say.
With a consultative selling approach, you need to learn to turn down business. If you’re pitching your solution to every single person you get on the phone with, that’s not consultative selling. Your solution can’t be a great fit for everyone; not everyone has the problem your product solves.
Consultative Selling Example
At Scaling With Systems, we turn down 68% of the people who’ve applied to speak with us. A significant percentage of these prospects were ready to buy from us.
The reason for turning them down is that we listened to them actively and came to the understanding that they weren’t a good fit for us. Our client acquisition strategy wouldn’t solve the problems that they had.
That way, we could focus more on the prospects who are a great fit for our solution, increasing customer retention and loyalty.
You could only achieve that if your organization’s goals are centered around customer satisfaction, not how much revenue you’ll bring in this month. Think long-term!
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Benefits of Consultative Selling
Building Trust & Rapport with Clients
In today’s hyper-competitive business environment, salespeople need to go above and beyond to establish a relationship of trust with their clients.
One of the key ways to do this is by truly understanding the client’s needs and pain points.
Higher Customer Loyalty
A consultative selling approach involves taking the time to truly understand the client’s unique needs and pain points rather than just trying to sell a generic product or service. Salespeople can then provide tailored solutions that address those specific needs. This helps close the sale and ensures customer satisfaction and a high customer lifetime value (LTV).
Increase Your Revenue by Turning Down New Business
This might seem daunting. But in our experience, when you turn down business with your prospect’s best interest at heart, they’ll refer you to their social connections.
With a consultative selling approach, they’ll better understand what problems your product solves. When they see someone in their social circle with a similar problem, they’ll instantly recommend your business to them.
Consultative Selling vs. Transactional Selling
Consultative selling is well suited for complex or high-involvement products and services, such as enterprise software or consulting services. In these situations, the customer needs to be educated on the product or service, and the decision is not taken lightly.
Transactional selling is more appropriate for low-involvement products and services, such as consumer goods. These products and services don’t need much explanation and have lower prices.
It’s important to note that in today’s dynamic market, it’s not always one or the other; some clients may prefer a mix of both. The salesperson needs to be versatile and able to adapt to the client’s needs.
Plus, the selling style may also change based on the stage of the sales process.
For example, you may use a consultative selling approach at the beginning of the sales process. The goal would be to identify the customer’s needs and build trust. At the same time, you can use a transactional approach at the end to close the deal.
For you to understand what selling style you fall into, we’ll further break down both below:
- All about your product’s features: Transactional selling focuses more on the features and benefits of the product or service being sold than on the customer’s needs. The salesperson aims to make a quick sale by highlighting the product’s features that appeal to the customer.
It’s a more straightforward approach that depends on the quality of the product and its features to make the sale. It’s a one-time transaction. You’ll explain how your product has better features than anything on the market rather than listening to your customer’s needs.
- Buyers are price sensitive: Transactional selling is often used for low-involvement products and services with a lower price point, such as consumer goods. As the customer is less invested in the product or service, they may be more likely to compare prices and choose the lowest one.
The salesperson may use price as a key selling point and be more willing to negotiate or offer discounts to close the deal. The salesperson is more focused on the immediate sale than on building long-term customer relationships, so price sensitivity is more prevalent.
- Rarely need a salesperson: The product can be easily understood and purchased by the customer alone, without needing a salesperson to persuade the customer. This is why many businesses that use transactional selling utilize self-service or automation (online retail, vending machines, or self-service checkouts, for example).
- Less customer loyalty: Even a small price change can make your customers jump ship. Your main competitive advantage is a product feature or a lower price point. If you lose any of these edges, your customers will flock to your competitor. With a transactional sales approach, you work harder for less customer loyalty and less money.
- About the value or benefit: The salesperson will converse with the customer instead of just talking about the product’s features. This conversation serves to understand their unique needs and challenges. The consultative seller will then present a solution that addresses those specific needs and provides a clear benefit to the customer.
Say you are a business that offers CRM to its clients. Rather than saying you provide CRM with fast load times, you’re selling a technique for your prospects to get more appointments.
- Less concern about price: There’s less price sensitivity because you sell on value and benefits. Think about it: If someone offered you a customized solution that you knew would solve your problem, wouldn’t you be willing to pay more for that?
- The salesperson’s job is pivotal: The salesperson plays a pivotal role in consultative selling by being the main point of contact between the customer and the company.
It’s important for the salesperson to be skilled in active listening, asking open-ended questions, and having a conversation with the customer. This way, they can understand the customer’s challenges, goals, and pain points. The consultative seller must build a relationship with the customer based on trust.
To do this, you must be honest and transparent in your communications. Acting as a trusted advisor or consultant is crucial in a consultative sales approach.
- More customer loyalty: With a consultative selling approach, you foster a relationship based on trust and mutual understanding. You actively listen to the customer and understand their unique needs and challenges.
This creates trust, as the customer feels that the salesperson truly understands their needs and provides a solution that will benefit them.
A consultative seller does not just try to make a one-time sale but rather works to establish a relationship that will last for the long term. This means the customer is more likely to return to the business for future purchases and recommend you to others. The customer is less likely to find a better fit for their needs, which also increases customer loyalty.
Tips for Effective Consultative Selling
The Perfect Balance: The Power of Questions & Insights
The journey toward a successful sale begins with a thorough understanding of the customer’s needs. You can achieve this by asking thoughtful and strategic questions.
Remember that this process should not be rushed. Also, asking too many questions can make the customer feel uncomfortable. A solution to this is to provide valuable insights along the way.
Say you are selling an all-in-one CRM software to a prospect primarily interested in sales automation. But the conversation shifts to customer service.
It wouldn’t be effective to bombard them with questions about their support infrastructure. Instead, it would be helpful to provide examples of how similar businesses have benefited from using your solution before moving on.
By providing insights, you are not only giving rationale for your questions but also building credibility with your customer. This will ultimately earn you the right to ask more in-depth questions and help you to understand their needs better. As a result, this will lead to a more successful sale and a satisfied customer.
Forge Knowledge-Based Trust
In today’s business landscape, remote customer engagement has become the norm. However, building trust without in-person interactions can be a challenge for sellers.
One way to overcome this hurdle is by utilizing a knowledge-based trust. That involves building trust through actions that align with spoken words.
Sellers can demonstrate this by following up with customers after initial interactions. This can be as simple as calling to thank the customer for their time. You could also reference specific topics discussed during the conversation, reminding them that you can answer further questions.
Keep it Genuine
Building trust with customers is not just about being knowledgeable. It’s about being personable and genuine. That means being disarming, approachable, and truly caring about both the product and the customer. When you speak to your prospects, do so with enthusiasm and sincerity.
Avoid coming across as a stereotypical, pushy salesperson. Believe in your product and present it with honesty.
Understand the value of your product and speak to that. Also, find something personally meaningful to your prospect and connect with them on that level.
To summarize, be engaging, genuine, transparent, and authentic in your pitch.
Take Ownership of the Conversation
Having a conversational approach is key in the consultative style of sales. That said, the seller needs to lead the conversation and guide the customer through the complexities of their business challenges.
Showing ownership and control of the conversation can establish credibility. It’s important to note that control doesn’t mean dominance. Sellers should also be comfortable using silence effectively to emphasize key points and give the customer a chance to speak.
For instance, remaining silent after making an offer can pressure the prospect and give them space to consider the offer. As a result, it potentially leads to more favorable negotiation outcomes.
Guide the Process with Feedback
Customer feedback is always something to be learned; even negative ones can offer valuable insights. When a customer expresses a concern or disagreement, they clarify their needs and show what they want moving forward.
Sellers need to take note of every piece of feedback and consider them carefully. Don’t be afraid to ask the customer if the solutions discussed meet their challenges.
Asking for the customer’s perspective shows that the seller is committed to a collaborative and consultative process. In some cases, feedback can even lead to expanding the solution.
Research Their needs & Offer Relevant Findings
Sellers should always research the businesses and industries they’re approaching in advance.
This way, they can come prepared with the most intelligent questions and base knowledge to identify potential gaps and needs. By researching in advance, sellers can identify opportunities to create differentiated value.
For example, suppose you’re selling cybersecurity solutions. In that case, knowing the security regulations specific to your prospect’s industry is important. You’ll have to identify how your product can help them achieve compliance.
Sellers can then map their capabilities to customer needs. Customers will be more receptive to what the sellers say because the information is relatable.
Consultative selling is about putting the customer first; prioritizing listening to what your prospects have to say. Give them space to speak and avoid interrupting them with your solutions.
The focus should be on the customer’s needs and issues. It’s important to take ownership of the conversation but not dominate it. Avoid any tactics that may come off as competitive or combative.
Pay attention to nonverbal cues, such as body language and facial expressions, to gauge how the conversation is going. The most important thing is to empathize with your prospects. Let them know their issues matter to you and that you’re invested in solving them.
Principles of Consultative Selling
Ask the Right Questions
Consultative selling is all about helping your prospects find solutions to their problems. As a consultative seller, it’s your job to ask the right questions and guide them through the process. But how do you know you’re asking the right questions?
Here’s how to make sure you’re on the right track:
Do Your Research
Before you start talking to a prospect, take some time to learn about their company, products or services, and target audience.
You can find a lot of this information on their LinkedIn page. You can also look for their work history, social media accounts, personal blogs, and any mentions of them in company news. Pay attention to specific pages they visit on your website and how long they spend on each one.
Leading the Conversation
During your initial conversations, find out as much as you can about their budget and resources for the solution you’re proposing. This will help you recommend something that is viable and appropriate for their specific needs.
Remember, your prospects may not be skilled at keeping a sales conversation going. It’s up to you to ask open-ended questions and keep the conversation going.
The goal is to learn as much as possible, so make sure every question you ask and every conversation you have delivers you to new information. If they’re not giving you much to work with, try different tactics to get them to open up.
Practice Active Listening
When it comes to consultative selling, the first step is to understand what it is you’re consulting on. One of the best ways to do this is to give your prospects your full attention and actively listen to what they’re saying.
By doing so, you gain a deeper understanding of their needs and show them that you care, which helps to build trust.
Prospects are Your Guiding Lights
While sales scripts can be helpful, it’s important not to rely on them too heavily. Being too rigid in your approach can cause you to miss important conversation points and opportunities to pitch your solution.
Instead, be prepared to think on your feet.
If a prospect mentions something important during your conversation, pivot towards it. Ask follow-up questions to understand how that particular problem has affected them and how they’ve tried to solve it in the past. Use that information to guide your next set of questions.
As a consultative seller, finding the right balance between gathering information and troubleshooting is the key. If you’re only focused on gathering information, your prospect may never have their problems solved.
Customize Your Consultation
Each customer’s needs are unique, so it’s important to listen to what the prospect says they want and be aware that their true needs may differ. Be mindful of nonverbal cues and read between the lines to truly understand their motivations.
One effective technique is applying the 80/20 Rule of Communication: spend 80% of your time listening and only 20% speaking.
By actively listening and paying attention to verbal and nonverbal cues, you can better understand a prospect’s motives for buying and how you can best assist them.
You shouldn’t just push a product or service as a consultative seller. Make your customer interactions more authentic and effective.
As you get closer to closing a sale, tailor the customer’s experience to their unique needs. Instead of applying pressure, suggest how certain features of your product or service may benefit them.
To do this, you’ll need to be knowledgeable about your product and be able to demonstrate its value to the customer. Consider questions such as, “How can I adjust my offering to meet the customer’s specific needs?” or “Can we offer a special package or promotion?”
Another important aspect of consultative sales is being able to handle objections. Your prospects will likely have questions and concerns, and it’s important to address them openly and honestly.
Sometimes, objections are simply misunderstandings, but other times they may reveal a problem with your process. Embrace these objections and work through them with your prospect to build trust and find the best solution.
Educate Your Potential Customer
As an expert in your field, it’s important to use your knowledge and experience to educate prospective customers on making informed decisions.
Do Your Homework
To provide valuable insights, you need to understand your prospect’s business deeply. Research their industry, key decision-makers at the company, and competitors.
Check out their social media accounts, and look at solutions you’ve offered to previous customers in similar situations. Any information you gather ahead of time will help shape your consultations.
Leverage Your Expertise
As a salesperson, you’ve likely interacted with hundreds of customers throughout your career. That gives you access to information that could be useful to your prospective buyer.
While you may not be an expert in their industry, you can offer a fresh perspective on their problems and provide suggestions based on your experience.
Use examples of customers in similar industries to show prospects how you’ve helped others succeed, or create a plan demonstrating how you can tackle their specific issues.
Consider sharing this information in other formats, such as webinars, videos, and reports. The goal is to be as helpful as possible, acting as a consultant rather than a sales rep.
Demonstrate Your Authority
To gain the trust and respect of your prospects, you need to prove that you’re a credible source of information. Use testimonials, case studies, and other types of social proof to show how you’ve helped clients in the past. This will increase the likelihood that they’ll take your advice seriously.
Consultative Selling Guide: FAQs
What is consultative selling?
Consultative selling is an approach to the sales process that focuses on building long-term relationships with customers by solving their specific problems.
Is consultative selling always the best approach?
Consultative selling isn’t always the best approach. It’s only useful for customers who have researched products or services but are still unsure of the right fit. It helps to provide expert guidance and insights.
What is an example of consultative selling?
Examples of consultative selling can be found in various industries. One such example is the car buying process. In this scenario, the salesperson:
- Asks what kind of car the customer is looking for
- Understands how the customer plans to use the car
- Finds out what’s important to the customer
- Makes suggestions based on the information gathered.
Wrapping Up: Consultative Selling Approach
A consultative sales process is a powerful tool for businesses, but it’s important to remember that it’s not a silver bullet.
It’s not something set in stone and should be able to change as market conditions change. A strong sales process should provide a framework for success.
It’s a flexible map that can be adapted to changing conditions. It’s up to you to use it effectively.
Need help scaling your business by getting better quality leads consistently? At Scaling With Systems, we help businesses create profitable client acquisition strategies and give them guidance and tools to implement them. Book a free consultation call with one of our advisors to learn more.