The What, Why and Benefits of Consultative Selling
How do you sell? Whether you know it or not, you have a sales methodology of some kind. For most sellers, they have their own preferred way of selling and typically it centers around the activities they are most comfortable with, not what is most effective. But it doesn’t matter if you’re an entrepreneur, a sales rep on a sales team of one or, part of a large enterprise sales team, every seller and every sales team has their own way of selling. So, how do you sell?Most sellers say they apply a consultative sales approach. But what does consultative selling really mean? Heck, the term consultative selling has become cliché, much like Kleenex. Why is consultative selling such a big deal? In this blog post I answer those very two questions.
What is Consultative Selling?
With consultative selling the customer's needs are the focal point of the conversation, not the salesperson’s personal goal or agenda or his or her service offerings or their candidate. With consultative selling the goal is to understand the customer's goals including the problems they're trying to solve and the goals they’re trying to achieve and then co-creating a solution. Most importantly, consultative selling requires the salesperson to share ideas and insights that are relevant and of high value to the customer within the context of the discussion. This is what makes it "consultative." Applying a consultative sales approach requires the salesperson to constantly ask and check for customer feedback to ensure both parties are communicating and understanding each-other effectively so that the seller stays in alignment with the buyer.
Understanding this, believing this and truly adopting a consultative sales approach can and does make all the difference in the world.
Consultative Selling, Creating a Memorable Customer Experience
Adopting and applying a consultative sales approach is all about the experience the seller creates for the buyer. Why do so many people spend so much time in Whole Foods? Starbucks? Apple store? Why do so many people spend twice the amount of money in those stores and on those products vs. the alternative? Because of the customer experience. Just like Apple, Whole Foods and Starbucks create an amazing customer experience for consumers, sellers who follow a consultative sales approach can create also create a memorable and engaging customer experience that is of high value. This is how top performers differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Sellers who take a consultative sales approach find ways to provide their prospects with value and make the discussion all about the customer and not about their candidates or their service offerings. Rather than just promoting an existing candidate or service offering, the salesperson focuses on the customer's goals and challenges and addresses each through consultative sales dialogue.
Example of Consultative Selling, Creating Engaging Customer Experience
Below is an example of a consultative sales conversation and how to create an engaging customer experience.
A consultative sales conversation with a prospect may start like this:
I have been doing some research on you and your organization and I understand one of the goals you’re trying to achieve is to accelerate time to market with your new mobile application, is that correct? (sales rep is checking for understanding)
In addition to our lessons learned from helping ABC Software company reduce their time to market with their mobile application by 18%, I have gathered some data and best practices from Gartner Research that I thought you might find useful. What do you say we grab a coffee and I share with you the report and the key take away’s. I can also share with you the details of how ABC software shaved 18% off their product development time, ideas that could help you accelerate your time to market.
Notice that the focal point of the conversation is on the customer including their goals and what they find of high value, not on what the sales person wants. Notice the objective of the conversation is not for the salesperson to learn about the customers business, culture, technical environment or staffing needs, but instead focuses on how the seller’s ideas and research might impact the customers goal.
You might be wondering, how does the salesperson know what research data to share with the prospect? Doing this requires sellers to understand buyer personas. Once sellers have a basic understanding of buyer personas they can and should get started with consultative selling by building buyer personas.
Transactional sellers engage their prospects using questions and comments like you see below
- “Tell me about your team”
- “What types of contractors do you to hire?”
- “What is important to you in an IT staffing vendor?
- “How can I earn your business?”
- “Do you have any needs today?”
See the difference?
Now let’s talk about the benefits of adopting a consultative selling approach.
The Benefits of Adopting Consultative Selling
Perhaps the biggest benefit of following and applying a consultative sales approach is that it benefits both the customer and the seller.
In the consultative selling example I provided above, the seller provides the client with an opportunity to learn from best practices and how another like-minded customer achieved the same goal. The seller provided a second opportunity for the customer to learn by sharing relevant data from an analyst report (Gartner Research). As a result of the seller applying a consultative sales approach, the customer is experiencing a more engaging buying experience and receiving value from the seller.
If you review the example of the transactional seller or the “order taker” you must ask yourself, how is this approach providing customer value? It’s not and that of course is the point.
So, how do you sell? Are you transactional or consultative? Maybe a little of both?
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.