The highest-paid and most successful sales professionals are involved in consultative selling.
Today’s modern buyers don’t want to be sold to, they want sales professionals to know their needs and give them tangible, personalized solutions to their problems.
People involved in consultative sales position themselves as friends and consultants to their customers. With this guide, you’ll learn the benefits, skills, and steps of consultative selling so you can start developing strong customer relationships and converting more leads.
What is Consultative Selling?
Consultative sales focus on meeting the needs of customers by getting to know them and building a trusting relationship with them.
A consultative salesperson acts as an expert consultant to their customer, asking questions to identify their needs and choosing the ideal solution that will benefit the customer the most.
Consultative selling requires the experience and insight to help customers with compelling solutions.
This sales strategy is also called “needs-based selling” since it focuses on meeting customer needs wherever they are in their buyer journey. Instead of pushing a product, sales reps use skills like active listening, asking questions, building trust, and finding solutions.
The consultative selling approach will help you move to the very top of your field. It is a valuable tool that is indispensable in dealing with complex sales and accounts where many factors are involved and competition is a key factor.
Consultative Selling vs. Transactional Selling
Transactional selling is the traditional type of selling process in which the buyer purchases a product or service because they already know what they want. Almost all one-time sales fall into this category, and many repeat sales do too.
An example of a transactional sale is a purchase at a grocery store, newspaper stand, or online clothing store. But it also involves sales professionals making a sales pitch and closing a sale.
In the transactional selling process, the sales rep often uses negotiation tactics to make a quick sale, such as limited-time offers, buy one get one free, and deep discounts.
Instead of building a relationship, such as in the consultative sales approach, the focus is more on one-off purchases from potential customers.
In contrast, consultative sales professionals approach company decision-makers and have sales conversations with them to determine how their product or service can best suit the buyer’s needs.
Consultative Selling vs. Solution Selling
Consultative selling and solution selling are similar sales approaches but they have subtle differences. In fact, solution selling is a type of consultative selling.
Both approaches put the customer first and focus on finding solutions to their needs. However, whereas the main purpose of the solution-selling approach is to find solutions for the customer, consultative selling focuses on building long-term relationships with customers before offering solutions.
A solution seller will assume potential customers need to be educated about the solutions available, but a consultative seller finds out what the customer already knows and adds to their knowledge with information relevant to a prospect’s pain point or need.
Solution selling focuses on the benefits existing customers or potential customers will receive from using their solution. Whereas, consultative selling focuses on building trust and developing the best solution to meet the customer’s needs, even if that doesn’t involve making a purchase right now.
Benefits of Using a Consultative Sales Approach
Consultative selling creates lasting relationships with your customers, turning potential customers into long-term returning customers.
This sales approach builds trust between you and your customer and between your customer and your brand.
The consultative sales approach turns your sales team into problem solvers as you strive to give long-term solutions to your customers instead of focusing on immediate buying power.
Today’s buyers do not want to be told what to buy. Instead, they want to work in collaboration with those who can provide solutions to their business needs and help them reach their goals.
Consultative sellers help business owners and other decision-makers gain new perspectives by educating them about things they do not already know but can benefit them.
A consultative seller is seen as a trusted advisor that customers return to on an ongoing basis. As a sales professional, you work hand in hand with the consumer, drawing on their knowledge and yours to create solutions that benefit customer needs. This creates loyalty, which often translates to more business for you.
This sales technique is best when you’re looking for long-term, ongoing future sales as opposed to quick, one-time purchases.
Essential Consultative Selling Skills and Techniques
There are certain skills you must possess when using a consultative sales approach. Consider the following consultative selling techniques you can use to get the best results for your customers.
Know Your Customer
In consultative selling, it’s important you know exactly who your customer is and how to identify their wants and needs. It requires you to think of yourself differently as a salesperson and position yourself as an advisor.
Your focus should be to get your customer’s financial results rather than the performance or price relationship. This is the difference between the perception of being a sales advisor vs a salesperson who is just trying to sell a product or service.
To gain a thorough understanding of your customer’s needs, you must conduct in-depth research. The most successful sales professionals spend at least six hours a week researching their prospective clients.
Learn your prospect’s pain points, business challenges, mission statement, and company goals so you and your sales team can help them find the best solution to each issue.
One of the key variables in consultative sales is your knowledge of your customer’s business process. You must learn everything you can about the customer’s business before you even suggest a solution or course of action.
When selling to businesses, learn how sales are generated through conducting research. What are the primary products or services sold by the customer’s company? How much are they sold for? What is the total sales volume? What kind of sales results are they enjoying? How are the profits generated?
Once you know the customer—whether they’re a potential customer or an existing customer—one of the most important consultative selling skills is to have an intense focus on their needs, rather than your financial goals as a sales rep.
Understand that your customers want to save or gain time or money, and your consultative selling approach should look to solve these things. Modern buyers want to achieve this goal in a cost-effective way, which means your value propositions must be customer-focused by offering tailored solutions to their needs.
In consultative sales, when you demonstrate to a customer that your product will pay for itself quickly and dependably and then generate a net profit for a considerable time after it has paid for itself, the sale will almost take care of itself.
Remember that with the consultative selling approach, the relationship is the most important part of selling. It creates both customer loyalty and customer satisfaction.
Practice Questioning and Active Listening
Two vital consultative sales skills you need include asking questions and practicing active listening. This habit will always put you at a competitive advantage.
Sales calls and visits with consultative selling are far more interactive than traditional selling. When interacting with a client, top sales professionals spend 46% of their time talking and 54% listening.
As you go through the consultative sales process, you provide insights to your prospects and customers as you actively listen to their answers to your questions.
You ask, “Have you ever thought of doing it this way?” or “What if we were to approach it from this point of view?” or “Did you realize that it’s now possible to achieve your goals using this method or this technology?”
In other words, you don’t tell people what to do, you provide insights to demonstrate your expertise and open the customer to the possibility that working with you can make a big difference.
Lead the Conversation
A consultant is a problem detective. What you’re doing is asking questions to find out if a potential customer has a problem or need that your special expertise can help solve.
Compare this to when you go to a doctor. The first thing a doctor does is conduct a complete examination and health inventory.
The doctor doesn’t recommend a prescription or a course of treatment when they first see you. Instead, they ask you a lot of questions and do a lot of tests. Only then do they come back with a diagnosis and say, “This is what I think your situation is, and these are the alternatives that we have to deal with your situation.”
Take the lead in every conversation you have with your client by asking open-ended questions. Not everyone will offer meaningful answers right away, but with the consultative approach, it is your job to keep the conversation going.
Draw on your research about the client and your knowledge about the prospect’s industry to know which targeted questions to ask. You will find your customer interactions result in essential information that can help you find solutions that lead to more deals.
Foster a genuine interest in your clients.
One of the things that consultants do is think about their clients in terms of the long term. They see their clients as friends. They see their clients as people that they will work with for months and even years in order to help them improve their lives and work with their special qualifications.
I often have sales reps ask me how to overcome the fear of rejection when making cold calls or meeting with prospective clients. The consultative selling process eliminates the fear of rejection because your primary purpose is to build a genuine relationship, not to make an immediate sale.
Be authentic by constantly focusing on helping the client find solutions throughout the consultative sales process. Have genuine conversations and personalize prospect interactions by seeing things from their point of view.
You will also need to know your product or service thoroughly so you can naturally weave into the conversation ways you can help them, and then tweak your offerings to meet their unique needs.
Through these genuine, customer-centric conversations and interactions, consultative salespeople build trust, a key component of both relationship building and the sales process.
A consultative sales professional sees themself as a consultant, and a consultant has certain special qualities that make them different. One is consultants are professionals. They are people who are looking for people who have problems they can solve with their product or service.
If you suddenly swoop in and start making a hard sell or being aggressive in pushing your products, trust will diminish and you will lose clients.
Regardless of what part of the sales cycle your prospect is in, continue to focus on developing genuine long-lasting relationships that are mutually beneficial. You may not see immediate sales, but building trust often leads to future sales as well as referrals.
Focus on Solutions
Consultants provide customized solutions versus generic ones.
A customized solution in successful consultative selling is what we call a co-generated solution. The solution is generated in cooperation with a customer.
We don’t go in with a solution. Instead, once you understand the needs, problems, and difficulties of your client, you’ll be able to start making suggestions.
After a while, the solution that you and the client collaboratively come up with is completely privatized and completely personalized to that particular company.
Consultants are very focused on results, especially financial results.
When I built my network of professional training facilitators worldwide, I taught them that their job was profit improvement.
Their primary job was to go into a company and talk to the decision-makers and find out how they can use their service to help their company achieve or improve their financial results.
So we say you are a financial improvement specialist when you use the consultative approach.
Consultative Sales Process
Now that you know the consultative sales skills required to be a successful account executive in the needs-based selling arena, you are ready to learn the steps you must take in the consultative sales process.
I will explain how to take your first steps in conducting initial research to having effective conversations, committing to sales, and following through with your contacts for long-lasting relationships.
1. Prepare & Do Your Research
In consultative sales, you must earn the trust of your customer by doing thorough preparation.
Study your prospect’s company in advance of your first meeting.
Take a bird’s eye view approach first, and then narrow your focus. Start by reviewing your potential customer’s website, from the About page to the products and services and blog articles to press releases and financial reports.
Continue by reading the company’s social media pages and paying attention to the frequency and types of posts and interactions they have with clients.
Discover who the leaders and decision-makers are, and read their LinkedIn profiles and social media accounts. Look for work history and personal blogs to get to know these leaders, which will help guide your future customer interaction.
The first meeting is your very best opportunity to demonstrate that you are the kind of person that your customer can have a relationship with.
2. Listen to Your Customer
Your customers expect you to understand their unique needs. Avoid falling into the common sales trap of not actively listening to your prospective clients.
Ask targeted questions and listen intently to your prospect’s answers. Instead of thinking of this as a sales conversation, focus on becoming a trusted friend that genuinely has the person’s best interest in mind.
Learn all you can about their needs by listening. Stay in tune with nonverbal cues as well. A client will let you know what their pain points are when their conversation becomes more exciting or frustrating.
Body language like leaning forward to speak more intently or using hand gestures to express themselves will cue you to what their most important needs are.
Your job as a consultative sales professional is to find solutions for your clients, and you can best do that by asking the right questions, actively listening, and developing solutions together.
3. Solve Their Biggest Problem
Through the listening process, you will understand the potential client’s needs and develop a sense of what their biggest problem is. Your goal is to solve that problem.
Successful sales leaders know their products and services well so they can offer effective solutions. A seller’s ability to match their offerings with a client’s needs results in more deals and greater customer loyalty.
Determine possible solutions and prepare to present them in quantifiable terms so your prospect can see the financial gains they can achieve. Consumers want to know how committing to a purchase will affect their bottom line and advance their business goals. Make it clear by calculating how much they might save or earn by committing to your suggested solution.
Never force a sale. If you cannot solve the client’s problems, continue your role as a trusted consultant. Genuine relationships foster referrals that can lead to additional sales success. Likewise, consultative selling is a continuous process that addresses new challenges your client may face in the future.
4. Present Them With Your Solution
When you know you can genuinely help the prospect meet their goals, educate them about your solution. Your role in this step of the consultative selling process is to be a teacher.
Use your industry knowledge to point out how similar solutions have worked for other companies or clients in the past. Draw on your experience with past or current clients to illustrate how your solution may be able to help them too.
Be sure to continue to present tailored solutions. Show the client how your solution can meet their specific needs and discuss the features and benefits of your solution that specifically apply to them.
5. Commit to the Sale
Once your reach this step in the consultative sales approach, sales conversation almost happens naturally.
Discuss the details of the solution and the timeline of costs, expected ROI, and net profit. Make sure you and your prospect are on the same page and then enter into a contract or agreement.
6. Follow Up & Nurture Your Relationship
Consultative sales is not a one-and-done approach to selling. Successful consultative sellers foster continuous, healthy relationships with clients, focusing on problem-solving and constantly keeping the client’s best interest in mind.
Follow up after each deal and ensure your client is satisfied. Discuss ongoing needs and new challenges that arise. Actively seek out your customer’s feedback and address concerns.
Likewise, the most successful sales organizations conduct ongoing discussions and sales training with their sales team to identify areas that need improvement in the sales process and foster aspects that are going well.
Consultative Selling Example
So how do you become a consultative salesperson?
Many years ago, I learned this from a consultative salesperson. He said the hardest part of becoming a consultant is having the courage to call yourself a consultant.
At the time, I was selling financial services investments, real estate, and other things. So after meeting him, I began to practice these words when I met with a client:
“Mr. Prospect, please relax, I’m not here to sell you anything. I see myself more as a consultant than as a salesperson, and all I would like to do today is ask you some questions and see if we can’t help you achieve your goals in a cost-effective way. Would that be okay?”
What I always found is people accept you at your own evaluation of yourself. If you tell the person you’re a consultant, they accept you as a consultant and then they wait to see if you perform as a consultant.
When you start to ask questions, take notes, ask follow-up questions, and give the client lots of opportunities to talk about their problems and difficulties as they relate to your services, they see you as a consultant and become wide open to accepting your advice.
Master the Consultative Sales Approach
You are now well on your way to mastering the consultative sales approach. As you apply the skills and steps of this sales process, you will be amazed at the success you will have and the satisfaction relationship-building sales bring to your career.
To further help you succeed, download my free Ultimate Sales Presentation Template. It provides you with the simple software solutions you need to create compelling sales presentations that win over your prospects.
About Brian Tracy — Brian is recognized as the top sales training and personal success authority in the world today. He has authored more than 60 books and has produced more than 500 audio and video learning programs on sales, management, business success and personal development, including worldwide bestseller The Psychology of Achievement. Brian’s goal is to help you achieve your personal and business goals faster and easier than you ever imagined. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin and Youtube.