Consultative sales is a discovery-based approach that puts the sales professional in the enviable role of partner or adviser versus the stereotypical pushy rep looking to close a deal at any cost.
The selling philosophy was born in the 1970s and was ahead of its time. In fact, its principles couldn't be more relevant today, explaining its growing acceptance as the preferred sales methodology over the last couple of decades.
At its core, consultative sales is based on the premise that you must first seek to understand before you can truly be understood. This knowledge of the prospect begins with thorough research conducted prior to the first sales meeting and continues through the lifecycle of that customer relationship through the use of high-impact questions.
The official steps begin with the ever-critical need to establish a relationship with your prospect. The conversation then moves into a needs assessment where a series of research-based customized questions are asked, allowing the sales rep to learn about the prospect's pain and challenges. Armed with that understanding, the consultative sales professional formulates and shares solutions that address the prospect's needs before closing the sale.
Sometimes that sales person's products and services are the solution, but that's often not the case. At the heart of consultative sales is the belief that you have a unique privilege to serve your prospect's needs, whatever those may be. If the better solution for a particular prospect's situation is your lower-priced competitor, then that's what you should recommend. That candor and selflessness can create lifelong advocates for the sales professional and brand.
While these basic tenets are still spot-on today, like any strategy, the consultative sales model must evolve to keep pace. Here are two ways this nearly 50-year-old strategy is evolving.
First, the Information Age has allowed prospective buyers to gain a better understanding of the problems they face and the possible solutions before ever speaking with a sales rep. As such, buyers don't rely as heavily on salespeople to diagnose their problems and map out a course of action. Sure, some buyers with complex problems seek just that, but many simply seek to be understood.
In fact, in the 2015 "What Sales Winners Do Differently" study by the Rain Group, this development became clear. Of the 42 characteristics of a sales rep that drive prospects to buy, "deepened my understanding of my needs" ranked a surprisingly low 40th in importance. In contrast, "understood my needs" was fifth.
Secondly, today's most skilled in sales don't stop with identifying prospect pain. They are also having rich conversations about the prospect's aspirations and dreams, helping prospects visualize what's possible in a partnership. After all, a lack of pain doesn't equate to a lack of potential. Modern consultative sales reps effectively paint a picture of what could be.
Lori Turner-Wilson can be reached at www.redrovercompany.com.