What is consultative selling?
Consultative selling is an approach that focuses on creating value and trust with the prospect and exploring their needs before offering a solution. The salesperson’s first objective is building a relationship; their second is providing the right product.
Advancements in sales and marketing automation are making inside selling more effective than ever before. In some industries, 55% of sales now come from inside sales teams.
At the same time, Gallup reports less than half of customers believe sellers adequately address their problems. This problem stems from mismatched solutions (the seller) and needs (the customer). Salespeople need a framework for making the best use of limited time across numerous interactions. The answer is a consultative approach.
Consultative selling fits the inside sales model hand in glove. It equips sellers to uncover customer needs faster and therefore position solutions that are more compelling.
Putting this strategy into action requires five key techniques:
1) Balance Questions With Insights
The path to the sale starts by understanding the customer’s needs with careful questioning. Developing this detailed picture is beneficial to the seller because it’s beneficial to the customer.
“From the customer’s point of view, the greatest need for improvement is in salespeople’s knowledge of the customer’s business and industry,” reports Harvard Business Review, after interviewing more than 300 professionals. Too often, sellers position solutions that aren’t a fit for the customer.
However, asking questions takes time, and asking too many can make a customer feel like they’re being interrogated.
The solution: Offer insights along the way, which earns you the right to ask questions. Insights provide the rationale for the questions and build credibility. They also keep the customer engaged, which is important because it’s easy to disengage over the phone.
2) Build Knowledge-Based Trust
While it’s true that more customers today are willing to engage sellers remotely, it’s also true that earning trust without in-person interactions is a challenge. Sellers can overcome this obstacle by developing knowledge-based trust, which builds from actions that are consistent with words. Sellers should try to deliver on at least one follow-up after the call. The nature of the follow-up is not as important as the opportunity to show the customer they are reliable.
The point is simple: Prove you’re a person of your word. This legitimizes your solution’s value. A survey of more than 1,200 companies worldwide shows sellers who “build a trusted relationship with customers” can improve results.
3) Take Ownership of the Conversation
Dialogue is the key to the consultative style. However, sellers still need to guide the conversation. The customer needs to understand they’re partnering with someone who can guide them through the complexities of business challenges. Sellers should be prepared to reference examples of relevant work in the customer’s arena. In addition, the seller’s messaging must be concise — assertiveness will underscore their capability.
Taking ownership demonstrates credibility. The seller’s control of the conversation is a way to shape perceptions. But control doesn’t mean dominance; sellers must also be comfortable with using silence to emphasize key points and let their customers have a turn.
4) Let Feedback Guide the Process
There’s no such thing as bad feedback. Even the strongest customer objections offer an invaluable benefit to the seller. When a customer articulates a concern or disagreement, they’re clarifying their needs and indicating what they want to see to move forward. Therefore, it’s important for the seller to carefully consider every piece of feedback. Take notes. During conversation, many people succumb to the habit of waiting to talk rather than truly listening. Don’t be afraid to check with the customer that the solutions discussed meet their challenges.
Asking for the customer’s perspective demonstrates the seller’s commitment to a collaborative, consultative process. In some cases, gaining feedback will even offer an opportunity to expand the solution.
5) Research Customer Needs and Offer Relevant Findings
A phone conversation is likely to be shorter than an in-person one. Therefore, the seller needs to research the business and industry in advance. Doing so equips the seller with the requisite base knowledge, allowing them to start with the most incisive questions first. By researching potential gaps and needs in advance, sellers can identify opportunities to create differentiated value. Once these differentiators are understood, sellers can map their capabilities to customer needs. Ultimately, customers are receptive because the information is relatable.
The key: Limit your ideas to the most relevant, cogent ideas. The urge to demonstrate the value of one’s research is strong. Push back against this compulsion. Create a bigger impact with just a few concise insights.
A consultative approach helps sellers apply a consistent methodology to an ever-changing audience, achieve excellence in telephone selling, and ultimately drive more sales.