For dyed-in-the-wool, traditional sales reps, consultative selling can sometimes seem intimidating at first.
This should come as no surprise, especially when you consider consultative selling takes the “normal” sales process and turns it on its head. Instead of wielding power over the entire selling process, the consultative seller must hand the reins over to the buyer and simply guide the process along. They must relinquish control, which can be difficult for anyone – let alone a seasoned seller who’s used to holding all the cards.
Though a consultative sales process isn’t always easy to adopt, it most often leads to a better bottom line. Why? Because consultative selling provides the exact kind of personalized experience modern buyers have come to expect: an experience that requires intense focus, active listening, and – perhaps most importantly – a solid foundation of mutual respect and trust. As a result, consultative selling can help your team build deeper, more individualized relationships with each prospect while working to solve customer needs through compassionate insight.
And these kinds of relationships can generate a lot of customer loyalty down the road.
Intrigued but slightly dubious? Read on to uncover four best-practice consultative selling techniques along with a few consultative selling examples to help strengthen your sales team processes.
WHAT IS CONSULTATIVE SELLING?
First things first. Here are some basics:
Consultative selling is a sales technique that emphasizes offering the very best solution for each customer’s specific needs. Where some sales reps might be content to identify their prospect’s pain points, serve up a catch-all solution, and then call it a day, consultative salespeople empower their buyers by providing them with the time and space they need to choose the solution that suits them best.
Put another way: Sellers drive a buyer toward a sale, but consultative sellers place the buyer squarely in the driver’s seat.
For a consultative selling approach to succeed, sales reps have to stay curious. They must perfect the art of asking probing, open-ended questions, leaving room for in-depth responses. They must also put their skills of persuasion on hold, replacing the “sales-y” instinct with a posture of empathy (that is, a genuine desire to help). So, while sales reps typically focus on pulling decision-makers to a product, consultative sellers are obliged to dole out advice that guides buyers toward a final decision.
And though this method is perhaps more nuanced than the usual cut-and-dried sales practices, some market trends indicate consultative selling skills are 100% worth the extra effort. In fact, as far back as 2016, buyers were already expressing a preference for collaborative sales experiences without the standard “hard sell” tactics. One sales perception survey even cited the three most important elements of a sales experience as:
- Having a rep who listens to buyer needs,
- Working with a rep who isn’t pushy, and
- Engaging with a rep who provides relevant information.
…all of which are essential pillars of the consultative sales approach.
If your sales teams are hoping to meet this experience, you’ve come to the right place.
1. Ask Thoughtful, Open-Ended Questions
A leading question with very little thought behind it often yields a simple, unproductive answer (as in: “So your most pressing issue is your latest decrease in revenue, right?”). Meanwhile, a well-crafted, open-ended question can extrapolate tons of useful information without wasted energy or added stress (à la “What would you say is the most pressing issue facing your company today and why?”).
Still, when it comes to consultative sales, there’s always a balance in play:
Sales professionals must toe the line between leading the conversation (which they have to do if they want to make a sale) and drawing out key intel that points to an optimal solution for the buyer’s needs (which is crucial to the consultative selling method).
To synthesize: Consultative selling is all about asking the right questions at the right time.
Thoughtful, open-ended questions invite potential customers to consider their situation from different angles, which allows them to uncover needs and challenges they may not have thought about before. And once new discoveries occur, better buying decisions can occur as well.
Consultative sales questions should always give customers a chance to be heard in order to help facilitate discovery. Plus, steering clear of “yes or no” questions (that is, aiming for rhetorical questions over simpler ones) can help build rapport with customers. It can also help your reps extract information to formulate the right value proposition for each and every prospect’s pain point.
Examples of good, productive questions to kick off your sales conversations include:
- “What are the biggest goals for your organization this year?”
- “If you were able to accomplish these goals, how would your organization change?”
- “What kinds of obstacles currently stand in the way of achieving these goals?”
- “What criteria do you look for when making a decision about buying a new product or service?”
To incorporate this selling methodology across sales reps use sales training to implement “The Question Game” into onboarding practices. This game – which requires everyone to speak in the form of a question at all times – can put sellers in the habit of asking questions and listening carefully to responses as they go. For even more support in this area, sales enablement teams can offer additional seller resources designed to encourage open-ended questioning, such as role-playing sessions or slideshow prompts.
2. Get to Know Each Buyer’s Needs
Although every sales technique requires that sellers know exactly who they’re selling to and why consultative selling inspires sellers to delve even deeper into customers’ minds. The goal is to uncover detailed information on their buyers before entering into any sales conversation. They do this to better understand each buyer’s specialized needs, which, in turn, provides a clearer picture of how to meet those needs successfully.
Much of this detailed information is already at sellers’ fingertips, available through channels such as popular social media platforms like Instagram, public interfaces like LinkedIn, and company-wide CRM solutions. Still, sellers can’t fall back on a one-size-fits-all approach to buyer intel. Instead, reps must constantly remind themselves that each buyer is unique and should therefore be researched and dealt with uniquely.
Consequently, sellers should enter each sales meeting fully armed with the right knowledge and the right questions relating to the buyer in front of them… and no one else. In other words: Sellers should take things one buyer at a time. They should also remember no two buyers are alike. This customized approach lies at the heart of consultative selling, and its consumer-focused ideology can help leave a lasting impression.
If this type of in-depth research seems a little daunting – especially when you consider deploying it at scale – don’t worry. Help is out there. Sales enablement tools, for example, can make preparation easier by providing sellers with regularly updated buyer personas as well as resonant sales content that’s been mapped to various buyer situations.
3. Switch Up Your Selling Strategies
Adopting a consultative selling process means you’ll have to ditch the sales script.
Okay, we know that sounds a bit extreme, but hear us out…
Say you’re not ready to let go of these “tried-and-true” scripted templates for conversation. We don’t blame you. They’re tried and true for a reason! Here are a few thoughts that might motivate you to consider a consultative approach instead:
- While consistent, scripted plays can be useful tools, organizations run the risk of delivering less memorable experiences. (Customers can often spot a standardized pitch a mile away.)
- 53% of customer loyalty is measured by the sales experience, which suggests companies should ensure every experience “sticks” with each customer.
- Memorable experiences demand a customer-centric sales strategy, especially as a full 86% of B2B consumers go into service interactions expecting companies to be well-informed about their respective situations.
These points suggest a strategy that tailors solutions directly to prospects (and seeks to deliver real, impactful value) and is one that offers sales teams a true competitive advantage. But bear in mind: customer-centric strategies aren’t stagnant or static. They bend and shift according to each customer.
One way to ensure your sales tactics are able to bend with each prospect? Switch things up.
Each new customer interaction should afford sellers an opportunity to try a new tactic, work with new content variations, and attempt new conversational techniques. Some examples include:
- Taking extra time to diagnose the root cause of your prospect’s problem.
- Framing capabilities and solutions using clear, concise, and compelling messaging that links product value to the prospect’s need without resorting to language that feels tired/rehearsed.
- Sharing need-specific case studies that show how your product was able to resolve similar pain points in the past.
- Brainstorm alongside your prospect to arrive at the best solution possible for their business (and for their collaborating stakeholders).
By switching up your selling methods, you’re more likely to fully engage your prospects and, eventually, increase your sales success. Curious to learn about the rules of prospect engagement? Download our guide on 5 Best Practices to Engage the Modern Buyer and uncover more details about how and when to ditch the script and switch up your sales skills.
4. Build Trust Using Qualifiers
Buyers want to know they’re being heard, so sellers have to prove they’re listening.
Sales reps can demonstrate attentive listening skills by weaving qualifying phrases into buyer conversations. These small phrases can go a long way toward making prospects feel valued and understood – which can go a long way toward securing their business.
Here’s an example of a qualifying phrase in action:
A seller has an idea for a solution they’d like to propose to their prospect. But before launching into a discussion, the seller references a point the buyer brought up in a previous conversation:
“If I recall correctly, you once told me bottlenecked operations were a constant source of stress for your team. Have you considered maybe integrating some of your software solutions or storing materials inside a single-source headquarters?”
This rhetorical technique shows the seller has been paying close attention to the prospect at every turn, which indicates the seller can help bring focus and clarity to the table and is therefore worthy of the buyer’s trust. And a trusted seller is a seller who’s more likely to close a deal.
A few more examples of consultative selling qualifiers your reps might want to keep in their back pockets:
- “You mentioned your company prefers…”
- “Earlier you said your team encountered…”
- “I remember you bringing up this one KPI regarding…”
- “I’m asking this next question because you confided…”
To coach this qualifier skill, sales leaders can refer to recorded sales calls and home in on-seller syntax. Leaders should ask themselves:
- Does the seller listen more than they speak?
- What questions do they employ?
- What vocabulary do they use?
- How responsive is the prospect?
- Does the prospect seem engaged?
- Do they speak as though their concerns/wants/goals have been thoroughly acknowledged?
Leaders can leverage these questions to evaluate how well sellers incorporate qualifiers into their prospect interactions and follow-ups. Once evaluations have been made and assessed, leaders can circle back with reps on which qualifying techniques worked well, and which didn’t, and how to implement qualifiers more efficiently to further enhance buyer relationships.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
The craft of consultative selling relies on sellers’ ability to integrate all four of these practices into every sales pitch without forcing the issue or bombarding the buyer with too much information. It also requires each seller to ask the right questions at the appropriate times while simultaneously listening intently to each buyer, picking up on nonverbal cues as needed.
The consultative process is subtle and complex, which means it’ll take practice. Still, the most difficult thing reps have to do if they hope to become consultative sellers is learning how to hold back. Consultative sellers in training have to rehearse keeping themselves in check and resisting the temptation to go into “sales mode” if they want to utilize their consultative strategies effectively.
The simplest way to gain experience in this area? Listen first. Give each buyer the space to arrive at their own conclusions in their own time and create an atmosphere in which they can feel comfortable making decisions by themselves.
Consultative selling skills will take time to develop, but incorporating its techniques into your processes can help condition teams to remain agile and responsive, better engage customers, and build stronger relationships. And these qualities are critical in today’s market to close more deals at a faster pace.
Looking for tools to help your sales team become more proficient in consultative selling? Highspot unifies content, sales coaching, sales training, and data analysis, allowing you to embed your entire consultative selling process into your sales cycle with ease. Schedule a demo with us today to learn more.