Quick Primer (and reminder) on Consultative Sales Approach
A consultative sales approach is one in which identifying and discussing the needs of the customer including their challenges and issues are the focal point of the conversation and basis for the sale. Adopting a consultative sales approach is critical for today’s sales professional because competing in today’s competitive IT staffing industry requires one to understand the changing world of IT hiring managers including the challenges they face and adapting their sales approach accordingly to drive meaningful value.
There are different variations and definitions for consultative selling. Menemsha Group’s Consultative Selling Training Program focuses on teaching sales professionals that the customer’s needs come first. Needs are identified through a combination of preparation including research and call planning and effectively sequencing discovery and probing questions. The consultative sales approach focuses on using strategic questioning skills to engage in a dialogue with a client or prospect and requires the salesperson to consistently ask for feedback and use that feedback to ask the right follow up or clarifying questions to fully uncover the customer’s needs. This ensures both parties are communicating and clearly understanding each other which helps keep the seller in alignment with their buyer.
History of Consultative Selling
The term Consultative Selling was first applied to sales in the 1970’s and was considered revolutionary because it marked a major transformation from the salesperson as the provider of information and the customer as the recipient to a much more collaborative interaction — one in which the customer’s goals and objectives, not the product or service — was the focal point of the discussion.
However, by the early 1980’s, the term Consultative Selling began to be misunderstood and getting a bad rap because many viewed it as a long, over-complicated and tedious sales process. The reality though is that applying a consultative sales approach is more effective because the customer’s goals and objectives and needs are clearly defined and agreed upon by the seller and buyer, making recommendations far more likely to be on target and agreed to. For that reason, following a consultative sales methodology accelerates the sales cycle.
Consultative Sales Approach vs. Selling Features & Benefits (Transactional) Selling
The transition from product-focused selling to need-focused selling was the direct result of changes in the market place. Increased competition and customers’ having greater access to information to educate and self-diagnose their issues and potential solutions shifted the focus and power from the seller to buyer. This shift occurred because modern buyers became more informed and more educated. As a result, the sales cycle has elongated. This dynamic stems from the seller’s challenge of trying to navigate and overcome the customer’s misconceptions (of the seller’s solution) based on their research.
Consultative Sales Techniques & Skills to Engage the Modern Buyer
Below are a few of the core characteristics that mark a consultative salesperson:
- They ask more questions
- They ask thought provoking questions
- They provide personalized, tailored solutions vs. generic "cookie cutter" solutions
- Their calls are more interactive in which the customer talks 80% of the time
- They're naturally and genuinely curious about their customer's business
- They share fresh ideas and insights and focus on educating the buyer rather than pitching a candidate or their service offering
Consultative selling is all about the quality of the dialogue between the salesperson and the customer. Speaking of dialogue, the Greek meaning of the word means “to learn.” Learning about the customers business, goals, objectives, wants, needs and desires is the heart and soul of consultative selling.
Product or service knowledge, or for us in the staffing industry, candidate knowledge, is transformed into a tailored solution when it’s is delivered and positioned within the context of the customer’s needs, goals and objectives. The ability to effectively engage in a consultative dialogue is a skill that is easily taught and can easily be adopted with consistent practice.
I can’t speak to other sales methodologies, but Menemsha Group’s consultative sales methodology offers sellers with a consistent, repeatable, scalable framework for engaging in more productive sales conversations. Sellers learn to leverage every piece of information, behavior and skill available to open more doors, better understand client needs at a deeper level, and more intelligently position their offering and persuasively articulate their value. The result is accelerated sales cycles, improved sales win rates and delighted customers. Now who doesn’t want that?
About Dan Fisher
Dan Fisher is founder and owner of Menemsha Group, a provider of sales enablement solutions dedicated to helping IT staffing firms improve win rates, shorten their sales cycle, and increase revenue per sales rep. Since launching Menemsha Group in 2008, Dan has consulted with over 200 IT staffing firms and has invested over 5000 hours coaching IT staffing sales reps. He’s authored is his own proprietary sales methodology and has previously spoken at Staffing World, TechServe Alliance and Bullhorn Live 2012. Prior to launching Menemsha Group, Dan spent 16 years in the IT industry running local, regional and national sales teams. Dan worked for Kelly Services, Oracle Corporation and Alliance Consulting. Dan currently resides in Boston, Ma.