than half the sales managers I talk with include “consultative
selling” on their short list of behavioral changes they’d like to
institute with their sales teams. They believe (and I agree with
them!) that this approach to selling can provide the critical
differentiator they need to outrun their competitor in that race
with the bear. (Caution - see the discussion below
about the possibility that consultative selling really isn't the best
approach for you.)
you define consultative selling? I think what makes this definition
elusive is that the differences between product selling and
a consultative sales process are sometimes very subtle and have a lot to do
with the relationship side of the expertise – relationship continuum.
definition of a consultative sales person
consultative salesperson is one who can resist the temptation to
“pitch” their product or solution until they have laid a solid
foundation for their further selling:
built a high trust and high credibility relationship with the
had sufficient dialogue with the prospect to understand their business
environment, critical business drivers, and existing high priority
thoroughly validated that their value proposition holds water in the
prospect’s specific business environment.
discovered that a compelling business case can be built for their
lot of work and waiting before the “pitch”. Unfortunately, many
salespeople don’t have the patience to tough it out. So they pitch
apologies to James Carville and the ’92 Clinton-Gore campaign, I think
that what distinguishes a consultative sales process from a traditional presentation of
features, advantages and benefits is the relationship that is
established between the prospect and the salesperson in the very earliest
stages of the sales cycle.
Traditional product salespeople rely primarily on their product and
service expertise and may not pay enough attention to the relationship
side of the equation. For an effective consultative sales
conversation to evolve, a prospect must believe that the consultant
has useful and credible expertise and that the consultant is someone
that the client wants to work with. The salesperson’s approach to
asking questions and uncovering information will speak volumes to the
client about the depth of their knowledge and their
interest (or lack of it) in really helping the client solve their
different for the client?
consultative relationship with a salesperson can yield the following
benefits to a client beyond the straightforward features, advantages
and benefits of the offered solution:
and access to deep subject matter expertise that doesn’t exist within
the client’s organization.
Access to an independent outside perspective and the chance to look
at a business problem in a different way.
of tough issues or business realities that would be difficult or dangerous for
the prospect to surface on their own.
really am selling a product…..
really sell a packaged product or service as a consultative sale?
Most salespeople selling a well defined product such as a computer
system or an off the shelf software package find themselves in the
dilemma that they really ARE selling a product. How do they reconcile
that fact with a desire to sell consultatively?
The simplest answer may be that a
consultative approach is not the most effective approach for you.
critical to understand your value proposition and the way your target
market is buying. If your product has already become
mainstream and your target customers are buying it as a commodity, a
sales approach that is more focused on what Geoffrey Moore calls
"offer advantage" may be the better approach. (See Moore's
Living on the Fault Line)
We can help you think through that question.
Most effective consultants have narrowed their practice to a finite list
of business problems where they have meaningful expertise. So the
trick is to have a conversation with the customer that starts out
broadly enough to get general information about the client’s business
and to allow you to convey your sincere interest in helping them
improve their results. The skilled consultant then begins to narrow
the discussion down to address the areas that are relevant to their
value proposition and where they can really help. Probing around the
questions above lets the consultative sales person qualify the
opportunity while still providing consulting value, regardless of the outcome
of the discussion.
it helps to assume at the outset that the sales person will NOT be
prescribing a solution on the first sales call. They will invest the
entire first call building the relationship, understanding the
prospect’s business, presenting their and their company’s
qualifications, and earning the right to have further discussions.
That’s actually a lot to accomplish in one meeting, and it gives the
salesperson a credible reason for the second meeting - to dig in on the
details of the business need, and earn the right to present a solution
to fight another day….
assume for a moment that the discussion does not indicate that the
salesperson’s offering will be valuable for the prospect. It’s now
the moment of truth for the aspiring consultant. It is here that they
will either cement their consulting status or yield it to become a
“peddler” again. Can the would-be consultant hold off the temptation
to “pitch” if there’s no evidence that the solution will really help
no shame in respectfully walking away. If the
consultant has managed the discussion in a way that helps the client
explore viewpoints and approaches that may not have occurred to them,
they have given that prospect real consulting value. I have observed many times
in my own career that prospects love the salesperson or consultant
that has the patience, wisdom and honesty to acknowledge that they
don’t have what the client needs, but still help the client define it
and find it. Maybe today there’s no opportunity. The prospect will
look for others to bring to that salesperson because they valued the interaction and
they want to work
with them again.