What is Consultative Selling?

Much has been said and written over the past several years about the advantages of a consultative sales style over a traditional transactional one. Also called "solution selling," consultative sales is a methodology that centers on your customer (including his or her needs, problems, and experience) rather than your product. It takes into account one of the fundamental rules of relationships: you'll make more friends who like you better if you make it a habit to focus on other people rather than yourself.

Here are some of the key differences between consultative selling and transactional selling, and why they matter.

Benefits vs. Features

You'll hear this one a lot. It's basically a variation on the idea of focusing on your customer rather than your product. When you're using transactional selling you have a mental list of all the features of your product or service. Whatever awesome widget or doo-dad you're selling is beautiful, cutting-edge, well-designed, inexpensive, purple, etc. You subject your would-be customer to a rhapsodic ode on the amazing features of your product.

The problem, of course, is that your customer has specific needs and problems, and that list of features is all about your product, and not about those needs and problems. You're basically speaking your own language and forcing your customer to translate in his or her head.

In consultative selling, you speak your customer's language. Rather than presenting a list of awesome facts about your product, you talk about what needs your product can fill for your customer, and which of his or her problems your product can solve. Sure, your product is beautiful, but what you should tell your customer is that it will fit in perfectly with his or her office decor and impress potential clients. And yes, it's cutting-edge, but what you should tell your customer is that it won't go out of date for ages, and will save time and labor over the widget being used now because of its improved performance.

And so on. It's not that you need to scrap your list of features; you simply need to look at those features from the point of view of your customers and figure out what benefits they produce that will be valuable for those customers.

Listening vs. Talking

Most sales professionals are good at talking. Having a ready tongue comes in handy for breaking the ice, explaining difficult concepts, and winning over reluctant souls. However, since consultative selling is all about the customer (and not about you), you need to learn to listen to your customers at least as well as you talk to them.

There are at least two good reasons for listening to your customers. First, really listening and showing interest in what they are saying demonstrates that you respect them, understand them, and care about helping them solve their problems, not just making the sale. Second, finding out your customers' needs gives you the tools and knowledge you need to practice consultative selling; only by listening to your customers can you figure out what their needs and problems actually are. 

Listening helps build a relationship of trust, and enables you to find out which benefits your customers are looking for, so you know how to focus your presentation.

Consultant vs. Salesperson

Most people hate feeling like they're being "sold." We associate sales with awkward, high-pressure situations where we end up spending money we wish we hadn't. That's why consultative selling positions the sales representative as a consultant, whose objective is to inform and advise, not pressure and convince.

As a sales consultant, you should be attuned to the needs and concerns of the customer, and invested in meeting those needs and addressing those concerns, rather than just making the sale. That means sometimes referring customers elsewhere, if you know you can't offer what they want or need. It also means giving them options to choose from, whether it's different colors for the widget or different packages for the service contract. 

On a program level, positioning your sales representatives as consultants often means expanding your product offering to include associated services, or partnering with other companies to offer a flexible toolbox to meet the needs of different customers.

Today's customers are turned off by transactional selling, and expect sales representatives to spend time understanding and educating them on different options and how they will improve their lives and productivity. Setting your sales representatives up for success means teaching them how to be a helpful resource rather than a pushy salesperson. It means teaching them how to listen as much as they talk, and help the customer see the benefits of a product, and not just its features.

If you need help with this type of sales training, Netpique's sales outsourcing experts would be happy to have a free consultation with you to see how we might be able to help your team increase productivity. Call us today!

Chris GinnaneComment