May 15, 2024
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What is consultative selling?

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The B2B buying journey has changed a lot lately. It's no longer the linear traditional sales process it once was thanks to a change in consumer behaviour. With more information at hand and an increase in the likelihood of consumers doing their own research. This has forced teams to adopt different sales processes and techniques, such as a consultative sales approach.

In this blog post, we break down what consultative selling process is, the definition of a consultative approach and share some example techniques that your sales teams can start trying out today.

What is consultative selling?

Consultative selling is a selling approach that focuses on understanding your potential buyer needs and challenges, then using that knowledge to recommend relevant products and services. Instead of a product selling approach, the consultative sales methodology requires sales professionals to have a deep understanding of their potential buyers needs.

What is the difference between consultative and solution selling?

While the two sales methodologies sound similar, there are a few key differences between them.

The consultative selling approach requires sales reps to:

  • Build trust and have a good customer relationship with their prospective customer.
  • Create a personalised plan to solve specific customer needs and customer problems.
  • Adopt a long-term approach.

The solution based selling approach requires sales reps to:

  • Adopt an active listening approach to understand specific pain points of each potential customer.
  • Show potential customers why their product or service is the best solution to solve their problem.

What does the consultative sales process involve?

As consultative sellers, sales reps need to take a more advisory or consultant approach. Instead of crafting the perfect sales pitch, the focus needs to be more on understanding the specific needs, challenges and goals of a customer instead of pushing a product. This requires more thought on personalized solutions, a different kind of buying process and a longer sales cycle.

Why is mastering consultative selling important?

With consumer behaviour changing in the B2B market, adopting a consultative sales approach is important in order to meet modern consumers in the middle. Consumers are getting more and more fed up of the transactional selling method the traditional sales strategy adopts, as well as product selling approaches.

On the other hand,  the requirements of consultative selling techniques mean that it comes across as a more personalized solution. By asking the right questions and having a better understanding of your customer problems, it becomes a more thoughtful process that leads to an increase in customer satisfaction. They feel heard and seen because the customer experience started as soon as your sales team starts asking relevant questions.

A successful consultative seller will benefit from:

  • Stronger relationships with your customers: Your sales team will need to ask the right open ended questions to get the information they need to understand whether or not a lead is a good fit. This will go a long way in nurturing a strong business relationship with them, and benefit your retention strategy.
  • Clearer value propositions that are tailored:
  • In depth research: That you can use on your sales calls and to keep your buyer persona up to date for sales enablement content.
  • An increase in customer satisfaction: When you make someone feel seen and heard, it has a positive impact on their customer experience. Especially if your team is making an effort in creating a personalized solution for them.

The 6 consultative sales principles

Effective consultative selling techniques revolve around the customer's needs. There are 6 key principles that this process follows. They are:

  1. Research
  2. Ask
  3. Listen
  4. Teach
  5. Qualify
  6. Close

1. Research

Before the discovery call, start by gathering as much information as possible about the customer’s business, industry, and current challenges. This way, you can have a good indication of your potential customer's goals and pain points. You might use social media platforms such as LinkedIn,

2. Ask

When you get to speak with the lead, use it as an opportunity to ask some high-impact questions. Avoid asking questions that can lead to yes or no responses. The main goal here is to understand their specific needs and the deeper challenges that they are facing. Sometimes, this can also lead them to notice challenges they might not have recognized themselves. If it's not clear, make sure that you also use this chance to confirm who the key decision maker is as well as their budget.

3. Listen

On top of asking the right questions, practicing active listening can help make sure you're focused on the conversation – and makes someone feel seen and heard. Which is a great way to nurture a strong business relationship. Make sure that you take notes during the call. This will help you make an informed decision on whether or not they qualify as a lead.

4. Teach

As some challenges come up during the call, use that opportunity to teach the lead how they might be able to approach and solve that issue. The tricky bit is how much information to share, as you'll want to share this in more detail when you send them a proposal. However, there might be some content that is relevant to their specific pain point that you can send them.

5. Qualify

If a lead has been qualified, it means that you've assessed them thoroughly and have determined they have the potential to become a viable customer based on specific criteria such as your buyer personas. Qualified leads are often segmented and prioritized based on a few things such as potential deal size, strategic value, and urgency.

6. Close

With consultative sales being a slightly longer process than some sales cycles, knowing when to close can be tricky to gauge. However, there could be some buying signals that you can lean on as well as non-verbal cues. Typically, asking for the sale should feel like a natural progression of the conversation rather than a high-pressure moment. Frame it as an agreement to move forward based on the established understanding and the demonstrated value of the solution.

Remember to make this framework your own and build on it.

A 5 step guide on the consultative selling process

Now that you know the basic principles of consultative selling, here is a step by step guide.

1. Research and preparation

This initial step is all about gathering as much information as possible before ever speaking with the customer. This research might include the customer’s business size, industry trends, competitors, previous purchases, and current challenges. The goal is to be well-informed so that the sales conversation can be relevant and insightful, demonstrating a deep understanding of the customer's environment and needs.

2. Build trust and rapport

The step involves nurturing your relationship with the customer. Instead of small talk, it focuses on making sure that the customer feels seen and heard by using techniques such as active listening. This connection is critical as it allows for open and honest communication throughout the sales process.

3. Overcome any objections

Objections are natural in sales. They're also often a sign of interest. Handling objections effectively  involves listening to the customer’s concerns, understanding the root of the objection, and addressing it directly with informed, clear, and empathetic responses. Your goal is to alleviate concerns by reinforcing the value and suitability of the solution.

4. Share a personalized solution

Based on the insights gained from the earlier stages, you can present a personalized solution that directly addresses the identified needs and challenges of the customer. This solution should be detailed, showing how it aligns with the customer’s goals and solves their specific problems. The presentation should be tailored to the customer's language and perspective, focusing on benefits and outcomes rather than just features. You might want to show this during a demo call, and reinforce it through a proposal.

5. Close

The final step is to close the sale, which involves securing the customer’s commitment to proceed with the solution. Effective closing in a consultative approach is not about pressure. It's more about a natural agreement and confirmation that the proposed solution meets the customer’s needs. The close might involve negotiating terms, discussing implementation details, and ensuring that the customer feels supported moving forward.

Throughout these five steps, the emphasis is always on adding value, maintaining customer focus, and fostering a long-term relationship. Ultimately leading to higher retention and increased customer satisfaction.

Use folk to nurture your business relationships and manage your  sales cycle

Using folk to help with your consultative approach can help you create a single source of truth and maintain an overview of your entire sales cycle.

Key features

  • Pipeline management: Close more deals with collaborative pipelines, 1-click contact enrichment and auto-deduplication.
  • Contact sync and management: Supports Gmail and Outlook contact synchronization.
  • Notes and reminders: Take collaborative notes that can be accessed by teammates easily. Avoid creating doubles and assign sales reps to follow-up accordingly.
  • Mail merge: Send emails, schedule personalized bulk campaigns and personalize emails faster with AI support.
  • folk X Chrome extension: Import search lists of new leads from LinkedIn and LinkedIn Sales Navigator straight into your CRM without interrupting your workflow.
Sales database in listicle view, in folk.
Sales cycle in Kanban board view, in folk.

Conclusion

By adopting a consultative selling approach, sales professionals can elevate their interactions from transactional exchanges to meaningful conversations that deliver real value. Leading to customer satisfaction, loyalty and long-term business growth by aligning sales strategies with the genuine needs of the customers.

More resources

Looking for more on business development? These blogs are a great place to start.