Consumers are naturally inclined to buy, but not be sold to. In other words, nobody enjoys feeling pressured or compelled to make a purchase.
This perception might explain why it’s so uncomfortable talking to a pushy telemarketer or an in-your-face cosmetics salesperson at the mall.
There’s just something about being sold to that consumers dislike.
That’s why it’s so important that you master the art of the consultative sale. Whereas transactional selling focuses on the product and its merits, the consultative sales process centers on the solution and the customer’s needs.
Consultative sales foster strong seller-buyer relationships based on trust and mutual understanding. The consultative sales approach feels more like advising than selling from the perspective of the buyer.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the process of consultative selling. Below, we’ll explain the value of solution selling, and touch on the theoretical framework that sets consultative sales apart from regular transactions.
Consultative Sales 101
Gone are the days when salespeople could micromanage the customer conversation. With information readily available at the customer’s fingertips, they can easily look out the benefits of the product or service on their own time.
The shift in information availability requires an equal shift on the part of the salesperson to focus on the customer’s needs and wants instead.
Chances are that your customers will have researched your product at length before your sales department even steps in.
It’s your goal, then, as consultative salespeople, to focus immediately on the value of the product or service regarding how it solves your customer’s unique problem.
Embracing Consultative Sales
Make Yourself Available
Nearly two-thirds of customers expect a variety of contact channels to reach a brand for the customer. What this means is that a customer, lead, or prospect should feel empowered to reach out to you, the salesperson, at any point during the consultation-based sales process.
The customer should feel comfortable asking you for advice and strategic guidance at varied points in the sales journey. Therefore, an email or phone number during business hours is not going to suffice. Instead, you should make yourself available for contact across several platforms, including:
- Social media
- Live website chat
- Mobile phone
- Office/meeting hours
- Be Proactive
Don’t wait for your prospect or customer to approach you. Nothing makes a customer need more valued than when they’re reached out to or asked a question unprompted.
If you don’t regularly check in with your customers or prospects, you might end up losing the rapport and trust that you’ve worked so hard to secure.
Instead of reacting to a customer question or concern, take a proactive stance to sales conversations by asking questions yourself. Use a customer relationship management (CRM) tool to ask pointed questions based on their recent activity.
Remember never to make a hard sell—instead, let the customer realize the value of the product on their own.
Do Your Homework
It pays to do your homework on your leads before you move forward with consultative selling techniques. Successful inbound marketing starts with collecting plenty of data on your leads, including their goals, needs, social media activity, and pain points within a CRM software tool.
The more data you have on your leads or prospects, the more pointed your questions will be and the better you will be able to address their questions.
A good consultative seller won’t make a sales pitch without first understanding why their product or service is the right fit for their specific company (i.e., according to its size, growth trajectory, budget, etc.).
A salesperson with consultative sales skills will seek to always listen attentively when a customer or lead is corresponding with them.
Remember that the consultative sales methodology depends on the salesperson serving an advisory role to the lead—without maintaining trust and respect by active listening, you won’t be trusted as an advisor.
After the lead has finished speaking, ask consultative-style questions to gather a more comprehensive understanding of their goals and constraints.
This way, you can relay their situation back to them and delight your leads by proving that you have detailed, intimate knowledge of their company.
Tactfully Weed Out The Unqualified
Pursuing an unqualified lead is a waste of both your time and theirs. Instead, identify leads that aren’t a good demographic fit for your product and service and respectfully move on without fracturing the relationship.
Qualified leads will have defined goals, budgets, objectives, and timelines, all of which are critical information that you need to provide accurate and honest advice.
Keep the door open to a later relationship with unqualified prospects. Years down the road, the lead may come back to you when their business is a better fit for your product or service.
Maintaining trust and rapport when offloading an unqualified lead is important for this reason—if you blow them off, don’t be surprised if they never come back.
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Consultative Sales in Action
Let’s say you’re in the business of selling payroll automation software as a service (SaaS). If your customer is unsatisfied with their current accounting software, they may reach out to you to inquire about upgrading to your alternative product.
In this potential sales scenario, you should assume that your prospect has done extensive research on your software.
Assume that your prospect knows virtually everything about what you’re selling because, in all likelihood, they’ve read independent reviews, trawled web forums, and talked to their colleagues in an effort to learn more about your product.
That’s why it’s so important that you stay attune to what’s being said about your product online. If there are any flaws or defects with your products, your prospect is going to know.
Prepare for your first meeting with the prospect by detailing how your product solves the prospect’s pain points and how the product’s perceived shortcomings are unimportant in light of their needs.
At every point in the consultation process, from the first point of contact to closing the deal, your primary focus should be on the customer and the solution.
If you can successfully center the customer’s needs during every meeting, it’s likely that they will come back to you at a later time when they feel prepared to invest in your product or service.
Key Terms Consultative Sales
To this point, we’ve covered some of the key terms of the consultative approach.
To recap, let’s walk through the various key phases and terms necessary for mastering the consultative selling method.
The terms listed below are taught by consulting firms worldwide to help sales teams refine their consultative methods.
- Preparation: The preparation phase of the consultative process involves extensive call planning to advance each meeting or customer call further down the sales funnel. This phase requires research and customer-related data collection so that solutions can be individualized to the prospect according to their unique needs.
- Connection: The connection phase is the first customer call or meeting in which the line of communication is opened and the all-important first impression is made. This phase is critical for setting the tone of the rest of the relationship and building long-term trust.
- Empathizing: The empathizing phase is also known as the “understanding” phase because it is based on keeping dialogue continually open between the salesperson and the lead. An empathetic salesperson should ask incisive questions to the lead about their needs, and put themselves in the shoes of their prospect to gain deeper insights into what they need to achieve their goals.
- Advising: The advising phase provides strategic advice and product recommendations to the client using clear and concise language. A skilled consultative salesperson will be able to draw connections between the value the service or product provides and the needs of the prospect.
- Committing: Closing the consultative sale shouldn’t be done in one meeting or one phone call. Instead, the closing process should be spread across multiple meetings in order to build rapport, trust, and long-term commitment from the lead.
- Acting: Once the deal is closed, the relationship is still only beginning. Ensure that you are made available to the customer across multiple contact channels throughout the week. Also, be sure to follow-up with the customer within one or two weeks of delivering the product to ensure that they are satisfied.
Putting It All Together
Consultative selling is all about putting the customer before the product. The overarching objective of the consultative sale is to convince the customer or prospect that you aren’t pushing a product, but collaboratively seeking the best possible solution for their needs.
Although a consultative sale might require more patience or restraint on the part of the salesperson, it’s an effective strategy for building lasting relationships that lead to repeat sales and referrals over time.
Since the consultative sales approach generally results in greater customer satisfaction, consultatively-trained salespeople provide greater long-term value for the firms they represent.
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