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Consultative Sales Training | How Customers Want to Buy

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Consultative Sales Training – Top question from Google

What is a Consultative Sales Approach?

Consultative selling is very different to more traditional forms of selling, as it doesn’t actually focus on selling. Instead, it focuses on building relationships with customers, listening to their problems and only then, offering them solutions to their problems.

Asking open-ended questions and active listening are key components of any consultative sales approach. This approach works because potential buyers are more motivated to buy products or services that meet their own needs, rather than the needs of the sales professional.

A consultative sales approach truly puts the buyer first. Instead of just selling any old product, or what happens to be on promotion that month, sales professionals using the consultative sales approach will look to sell products and services that match the exact needs of their buyers, which makes for more productive business development results and satisfied customers.

Instead of a scripted sales pitch, sales teams can use conversational skills and listen to their buyers personal and business needs. Only then do they provide advice and guidance, which includes being adaptable to the different challenges buyers may face.

The consultative sales approach is highly effective and can lead to far greater results for your business and better long term customer relations. Using other sales techniques typically results in salespeople chasing leads that are not a good match for the buyer. Whilst they may well win a first order, if the product isn’t right for the buyer and their customers, it is unlikely that they will build long term relationships.

However, using the consultative approach, the sales rep needs to listen to the customer needs and provide meaningful solutions, meaning your new customer can come back time and time again for your product or services.

It has become increasingly popular in recent years as sales reps and sales managers managers have realised that traditional sales techniques have become less effective, because buyers have become wary of sales pitches. Instead of being sold a product, people prefer their salespeople to take a genuine interest in them as a person and their business.

The key components of a consultative sales approach is as follows:

  • Direct route to market
  • Low volume of sales but high profit margins – less popular but still relevant with transactional sales
  • Requires high level of industry knowledge with experienced sales people
  • Higher cost to employers, with lots of training required
  • Medium to long length sales cycles

Consultative selling requires a change in mindset. Instead of going out to sell, salespeople will need to go and have a conversation with potential buyers, in a structured and reputable manner. Building trust first with any potential buyer is a big aspect of consultative selling.

Initially a lot of sales people struggle to adapt to the consultative sales method, as they are almost hard wired to sell products and services via the traditional features and benefits method. However, if you choose to adapt a consultative sales approach, it is important to stick with it, as modern buyers have become more resistant to being sold products.


Steps involved in Consultative Selling

1. Research potential buyers thoroughly before contacting them

Before engaging with potential buyers, it is important that the salesperson researches the potential customer, thoroughly and effectively. If the salesperson is used to a more traditional fast-paced sales environment, taking the time at the onset of the sales process to research may seem like an alien process.

However, first impressions matter, and considering the consultative selling method prides itself on expert knowledge, you need to make sure that you have done enough research. Similarly, consultative selling involves asking probing questions, and without enough research it can be difficult or almost impossible for salespeople to ask probing questions.

2. Define the Symptoms – What are the symptoms of the problem the potential customer is facing?

During this first step the salesperson will try to get an understanding of the issue at hand. Here the salesperson will play a role of expert consultant, where their expertise of the industry can be used to discuss the issues.

It is likely that the buyer may only have a surface-level knowledge of the symptoms, therefore the expertise of a consultative salesperson is vital.

At this stage, it is vitally important that the salesperson doesn’t revert to a more traditional techniques and try to sell products or services. This is because, it is very early in the process, and it is unlikely that the salesperson will have formed a fully rounded understanding of the issues at hand, and could recommend the wrong solution.

3. Root cause analysis – ask the buyer questions to understand and diagnose the underlying causes.

During this stage, the salesperson will need to dig deeper into the problem, and find out what is causing it.

By digging deeper into the problem, the salesperson can use their knowledge to generate powerful questions that will reassure the buyer that they are dealing with an expert in the field, and that they can use their expertise to offer solutions to their problem.

This step can be a really powerful tool to build the buyers confidence in the salesperson.

4. Business impact – Ask how the issue is impacting on the business. Does it impact on morale, performance, profitability or all three?

At this stage, the salesperson and the buyer have agreed on a diagnosis of the issue, and they will now begin to understand how this impacts on the business.

If the issue has very little impact on the business, in terms of profitability or revenue, then it is very unlikely that the buyer will look to make a significant contribution (either financially or with their time) to finding a solution.

If this is the case, or if the salesperson knows that their product or service isn’t the solution to the buyers problems, then the salesperson should cut their losses here.

5. Financial Impact – Find out how much the problem will cost the business if they do not fix it.

Identifying the financial impact of the issue is another major milestone in the consultative sales method. This can be easier to measure in objective measurements, such as monetary values, rather than subjective measurements such as staff morale or culture, which are far more difficult to monitor.

If the financial impact runs into the hundreds of thousands of pounds each year, and the solution only costs £10,000 then this could be a very attractive proposal for the buyer. Alternatively, if the solution costs £100,000, and it would only save the company £10,000 each year, it will be a much less attractive proposition to the buyer.

6. Personal Impact – Find out how the problem affects the buyer personally – how does it affect their day to day job?

Potential buyers are far more likely to be convinced by a solution, if the issue directly impacts upon them. This is why when using the consultative selling skills, it is vitally important to make sure that you are speaking to the right person.

If the salesperson and buyer are involved in a complex sales solution, it is likely that the 6 step process above may need to be repeated. It may also need to be repeated with different departments and stakeholders. Whilst this inevitably adds to the time taken to sell a product or service, patience is an important aspect of consultative sales.

consultative sales training course
Consultative Selling Approach

What do you need to be a good consultative salesperson?

Consultative selling requires some key selling skills which aren’t necessarily associated with more traditional selling methods. This includes:

  • Active Listening – traditionally salespeople aren’t renowned for their listening skills, but under the consultative selling method, using active listening is a key requirement. Not only does it help understand the buyers issues, it also helps you stand out from the crowd. As buyers are being turned off by hard sales pitches, if a buyer needs to choose between two similar products, they may choose for the one with the sales person that genuinely listened to their issues.
  • Emotional intelligence – This covers peoples ability to evaluate, perceive and control emotions. Buying and selling remains an emotional process, and it is important for salespeople to respond to the buyers emotions.
  • Expertise – Because consultative selling requires the salesperson to really delve deep into issues, it is important that sellers are experts in their field. However, no one wants to be overawed with information, so the salesperson will need to communicate their expertise efficiently.
  • Domain knowledge – Similar to expertise, salespeople will need to have a specialised knowledge of the whole domain. Not only do salespeople need to know what their customers want, they need to know what their customers’ customer want.
  • Self-awareness – Consultative salespeople will need to understand and manage our thoughts and the impact that can have on people.
Consultative Sales Training
Consultative Selling Approach

What questions to ask?

Asking the right questions is probably the most important part of consultative selling. Asking aimless questions or having an unstructured conversation with a potential buyer, is unlikely to either build rapport or project confidence. Whilst consultative selling doesn’t involve hard selling, salespeople can still funnel a conversation one way by using structured and well designed questions. Using specialised questioning techniques when combined with active listening and the required expertise can be a winning combination.

There are several types of consultative selling questions. They are:

  • Open ended questions – These are used to gather further information
  • Closed questions – Should be used for confirmation
  • Summary questions – Sales professionals should will summarise or paraphrase the prospective buyers statement and turn it into a question. These are used to confirm the correct understanding of issues.
  • Funnelling questions – These channel the conversation through a particular area.
  • Redirect questions – Sales Professionals should use these questions to control the conversation and move the sales process forward.
  • Opposing redirect – These questions is answering a question with a question back to the buyer.
  • Presumptive questions – Presumptive questions are questions when the salesperson knows or presume the prospective buyer does not know the answer.

Which Products and Services are best suited to Consultative Sales Techniques?

The great thing about Consultative sales techniques are that they can be used in almost any industry, or with any product or service. Our own clients sell a wide range of services from Waste Management through to Aircraft Manufacturing each using a consultative sales approach.

Furthermore, once you have mastered the system it can be as flexible as possible. We have clients using a consultative sales approach and closing deals on one inbound sales call, and we also have clients using the exact same consultative approach to close large enterprise deals through a six month sales cycle.


What is Consultative Sales Training?

Consultative selling requires a change in mindset and as such effective training is vitally important. As a specialist sales provider we offer training in consultative sales, and a range of courses from giving people a solid baseline understanding of the method through to those seeking to master the sales techniques.

As a training provider we believe that sales teams learn better if they are doing the task, rather than reading text books or watching a presentation, and as such part of our training includes role place sessions. Consultative sales training also cover all aspects of the sales process, including social selling techniques.

It is also important to remember that consultative selling requires ongoing reinforcement training, so you should consider booking in several sessions, to ensure that your sales team do not revert to their natural selling habits.

Outside of training, under any sales technique it is important that sales professionals have enough support and encouragement. This is even more important under the consultative selling technique. Sales coaching from a sales manager between training sessions, can be a vitally important resource.

You can check out our course on consultative sales and book online here.


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Iain Swanston Klozers

Author Bio

Iain Swanston has spent over 30 years in B2B sales selling, training and leading teams both domestically and internationally.  In addition he serves as an Associate at Strathclyde University Business School where he has delivered the sales content for the Masters in Entrepreneurship since 2015.

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