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Consultative Selling: How Companies are Shifting into Consultant Roles

Brian Cristiano Jun 9, 2021
Businessman's hands encircling their company's target customers shown on a tablet device.

Consultative selling is increasingly becoming a significant marketing strategy for businesses wanting to gain a competitive edge. As more goods and products become available online from global suppliers, customers appreciate organizations that want to serve them rather than sell to them. 

This is where consultative selling comes in. 85% of buying decisions are emotional. When a business positions consultative sellers to engage with buyers, they influence their emotions and buying decisions. Leading to increased sales, customer satisfaction, and profitability. 

Consultative selling involves more than targeting a customer for a single sales encounter. It calls for thorough research on buyer persona, finding out what the customer wants, creating a rapport, and ensuring the relationship lasts beyond your sales encounter.

Consultative selling calls for businesses to be involved in the entire decision-making process by providing professional advice, actively working on customer-oriented solutions, and reaching a mutually beneficial agreement. This creates an opportunity for businesses to build trust-based, long-term customer relationships that influence the customer's current and future buying decisions,

It shifts the salesperson's role from a vendor to an advisor, winning customers' loyalty and making it easier to close sales. It is an excellent strategy to make conversions and retain clients for repeat sales.

Consultative Selling Framework

One of the misconceptions about consultative selling is that it is a lengthy process. While it may take longer than your usual sales encounter with a client, it is a worthwhile process, but not as lengthy as you may imagine. 

A consultative selling framework may help you execute your sales conversions more effectively as it provides a consistent and repeatable process. Here are the 6 steps of the consultation selling framework:

  • Preparation

Before calling a client to try to sell to them, you must do thorough research. It is more like collecting intelligence on the client to know the best strategy to make a conversion. Find out their business model, what they are involved in, as well as the threats that face their businesses. 

Also, update yourself with their current news and news from their industry so that you can refer to them when having your conversation with them. The company website would be a good source of such information, but it may not be sufficient. Gather more information from their social media pages such as LinkedIn and Facebook.

  • Connect

This step opens meetings, creates impressions, and sets the tone for your engagement. It helps you build credibility and advance your sale. 

  • Ask

When you meet your lead, ask open-ended questions to help you know their role in the buying process, whether they are part of the decision-making or influencers. Do not fall into the trap of letting them know how much you know about them since they may feel like you have been stalking them. 

This may make them stonewall you, making it hard to sustain the conversation. But when you let the client volunteer much of the information, it helps you understand what they need.

  • Understand

This may not be easy for most salespeople that are used to closing deals fast before moving to the next lead. But this could be the stage that distinguishes you as a consultative seller and not a salesperson. This stage helps you develop your trust-based, long-term relationship with your prospective. 

Ensure you capture the customer's pain points. However, do not concentrate too much on writing down the notes to an extent where you miss vital information.

  • Recommend

Most salespeople get it wrong at this stage by marketing themselves or their products. This is your time to inform the customer that you understand their problems and can offer a solution. Recommend your product without sounding pushy and salesy.

The strategy is to capitalize on the customer's pain points to show them you understand their problems and can solve them for them. Present yourself as a solution provider, not a vendor or marketer of a product or a service.

  • Close

At this point, you want to secure the customer and offer them solutions. This is where you introduce your products or services. The best way is to let it happen naturally for you and the customer. 

Avoid closing too soon as it can result in pushback and discomfort, derailing your consultative sales process. Even after closing the deal, make a follow-up to keep the relationship active. 

Lets us explore the benefits of consultative selling to customers and businesses.

Diverse salespeople in an office discussing effective communication with their company's customers.

Benefits of Consultative Selling to Customers

  • The customer's needs are listened to, analyzed, and taken into consideration. The customer may get a better understanding of their needs and the available solutions. Before the meeting, they may not have known they have that need. Some may not know there is a solution to what they are struggling with.
  • They have access to professional advice to inform their current and future buying decisions. Once they establish a trust-based relationship with the consultant, they will be willing to ask for advice, helping them make better buying decisions.
  • The customer may ask about the product and influence its design if they share ideas that help improve the product. Some businesses may offer personalized solutions once they understand what the customer needs.
  • The customer is not rushed to make a buying decision. Instead, they are guided through the buying process and are in charge of the timelines.
  • They remain in touch with the consultant to get information about new products. 
  • They may reap from the long-term relationship through discounts and other privileges.

Benefits of Consultative Selling to Businesses

1. Increased Revenue

Consultative selling is effective in identifying leads and making conversions. Your business will benefit from repeat customers once your customers begin to view you as an advisor. They will be more open to buying from you whenever you have new products. You can also use this model to earn more leads and conversions.

2. Competitive Advantage

Consultative selling is tightly aligned to market needs. It is responsive to customer needs. Modern-day customers want to build long-term relationships with businesses as opposed to dealing with one-off vendors. Consultative selling gives you a competitive edge as it helps you leverage these relationships to earn and retain customers.

3. Better Customer Care Services 

Your customers will stick with you as long as they feel you are treating them right. They may occasionally overlook the quality of your services or products, but the day they feel you have not treated them right, they will shout about it on rooftops.

When talking with customers, the consultant can note their concerns, solve them or escalate them to the relevant people. Besides, the customers will be happy that they have a dedicated expert they can call at any time to express their concerns.

Considering how businesses are getting into awkward PR crises when customers complain about them on social media, you can use consultative selling to manage your customer services and PR. This will be more meaningful if your consultative sellers engage constantly with clients.

The Emergence of New Opportunities

When consulting with a customer, unrecognized needs may emerge, creating new opportunities for you to do business with them. Consultation sessions help customers to see perspectives they may not have considered before. This may create new opportunities to market new products like training services and webinars you may not have intended to market.

4. Shortened Sales Cycle

The first deal may take longer to close as you take time to build trust and establish a relationship. However, this will work to your advantage since the subsequent sales cycles will be shorter. You will have information about the customer's needs and pain points. With this information, it will be easy for you to design a solution and a sales strategy.

On the other hand, the customer will trust your products and services. They may be more willing to buy from you if they feel they contributed to designing the product since may feel the product addresses their needs.

Even with all these benefits, some misconceptions prevent businesses from embracing consultative selling. Here are some of these misconceptions:

  • Selling 101 is Similar to Consultative Selling

Selling 101 uses value-based and solution-based selling approaches aimed at maximizing the chances of closing a deal fast. These approaches require fundamental skills and are not keen on the engagement between the customer and the salesperson once the sale is closed. 

This differs from consultative selling that is hinged on the cooperation between suppliers and customers to ensure a competitive advantage that profits both parties. In consultative selling, the consultant studies the customer's business model, financial goals, and growth projections. 

The customer also understands the consultant is a representative of a business with financial goals and growth projections. With this understanding, both parties share joint profit improvement proposals that help them develop a mutually beneficial partnership.

  • Customers are Either Transactional or Consultative

This misconception misleads people to think making sales exclusively depends on the nature of a customer or the mode they are in during a sales encounter. This is not entirely correct. You can influence your prospect's perceptions. 

A transactional customer can be educated on the benefits of consultative selling. If they understand its profitability to their business, they will embrace it. A customer may seem transactional occasionally if they are under pressure to meet their KPI. But that does not mean you cannot change their perception, or they can't engage in consultative selling.

  • Consultants Have no Accountability

Customers want a person who will take responsibility for crucial business processes and not an advisor or consultant. They think this is purely the responsibility of an account manager. 

This is a misconception since a consultant seller doubles up as an account manager. Customers who deal with consultant sellers have more advantages. Their accounts are managed by an expert willing and available to collaborate with them to maximize the profitability of their ventures.

Group of diverse business professionals in an office brainstorming about their company's consultative selling strategies.

Reasons Why You May Not Succeed at Consultative Selling

If you fail to distinguish yourself from the competitors, you may not succeed in closing the deal. However, most salespersons fail in consultative selling for different reasons. Read on to find out why salespeople may fail as consultative sellers:

  • The consultant seller may be more concerned about impressing and pleasing the client. This influences the questions they ask and the suggestions they give. They may avoid topics that may make the customer uncomfortable, even though they would lead to a conversion.
  • The consultant may not be a good listener. To ask the right questions, the consultant has to listen effectively to the prospect. The consultant may be tempted to interrupt the customer and interfere with their train of thought. Also, the consultant may be quick to pass judgment, causing the prospect to withhold crucial information and become jittery.
  • The consultant may not wait patiently for the opportunity. They may have excellent presentation skills but poor business acumen, failing to identify when a business opportunity presents itself.
  • Most organizations overlook the need to train or coach salespersons before they switch to consultative selling. The consultants are ill-equipped to meet with clients and make conversions. 
  • The consultants may not have sufficient knowledge about the products. Sometimes the clients may have more information since they may have browsed the internet to learn more about the product. 

They may know what the competitors are offering. If the consultant fails to compel them and show a distinction between what your business is offering from what the competitor is offering, you may not convert that prospect.

Skills Required for Successful Consultative Selling

Your consultative sellers will determine if your business will reap the benefits of consultative selling. Here are the skills they should possess to engage effectively in consultative selling.

Active Listening

This entails shutting out everything else to hear the prospect's story in its entirety. You must take notes, ask leading questions, and seek clarifications.

Remember the information the client provides helps you design suitable solutions for them. Failing to listen actively may make you miss the mark when proposing a solution for the client.

Keep checking with the customer to ensure you both understand issues from the same perspective. You can do this by asking for feedback on what the client has said or what you know about their business that may be significant to the consultative selling process. This helps you to work with facts, no assumptions.

Empathy

Empathy entails putting yourself in the shoes of the client to understand how they feel. This is significant since the client will see you understand their problem and begin to trust you. Empathy will help you choose your words carefully to engage with the client, win their trust and not make them feel that you are judging them.

Business Acumen

This refers to how well you understand the interdependent relationships between players in a business. It ensures you have information about how the company operates and how a problem in one section can affect the others.

Your business acumen will position you as an expert, offering constructive advice without needing to call this person or the other to get guidance. It prepares you for diverse situations that may confront you in the field, helping you work effectively. 

You need this skill now more than ever since you may meet more informed clients. With all the information available on the internet, some clients have researched your product, organization, and the options your competitors are offering. 

Be prepared to answer challenging questions. Since you want to win their trust, remain authentic and own up when you cannot supply an answer, other than give a misleading answer.

Presentation Skills

Your clients will see you as a thought leader if you can present your ideas coherently and precisely. They must see you had prepared well to meet them and have mastered the subject matter. Besides, they must find value in your ideas and get insights to help them grow their businesses.

Sales Probing Skills

Your work involves probing prospects to learn their pain points, buyer personas, threats, and risks. You have to ask the right questions to dig out the right information and make the correct diagnosis of a customer's needs.

Ask thought-provoking questions to help prospects think through their problems and probably question their business processes. That way, you help them identify an existing need or create one to help you make a conversion.

Negotiation Skills

Your prospects may not outrightly accept the price you offer them. They will engage you, hoping to get the product and save some money on the purchase. Your negotiation skills will help you sell at your best price and leave the customer feeling like they got the best deal.

Ensure you close the deal in a win-win situation. The client should feel you gave them the best deal, but you should also make your profits. If a client is offering a price below your reserve price, think about other offers that you can give them to agree to your price.   

If you are a business owner or on your way to being a high-performing executive then level up your negotiation and closing skills in our Sales & Growth Bootcamp, Deal Flow Accelerator.

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