Almost all organizations follow a strategic approach to sales – whether they have a sales team of 1 or 100. Often, the customer-facing teams are diverse. They comprise inbound sales, outbound sales, demand generation, SDRs, pre-sales, post-sales, customer success, to name some. While the approach to selling may differ in different sales processes, consultative selling is regarded as one of the best strategies for inbound sales. Let us explore why.
In the case of inbound sales, a potential customer reaches out to your organization to inquire about your product/service. Instead of offering the solution directly, the sales rep tries to prioritize the needs, challenges, goals, and interests of individual buyers. Here, the approach is not to push the product but to guide the prospect through his decision-making process.
During this process, you take on the role of consultant, and not just a sales rep, to ensure that your product or service is understood and well received by your prospects.
Let us now look at what the consultative selling approach is, and the steps involved in a typical consultative sales process.
What is Consultative Selling?
Consultative selling is a sales approach focusing on identifying the challenges of customers and providing an appropriate solution. Here, the main aim is to address the needs of the buyer rather than push the product. Sales reps often ask open-ended questions and use their active listening skills to understand the problems.
“By using a consultative sales approach, we help clients achieve their business goals. At times, clients do not have a strategy. But since we’ve been in the industry for a long time, we know the ins and outs, and using this experience, we help them build a strategy and not just sell a product.”Arbaz Jawed, Manager – Inside Sales, LeadSquared.
Consultative selling techniques help salespeople position their solutions more effectively to the customer’s requirements. It is a definitive process, and you can train your sales teams to follow the consultative approach of selling. The following section describes the step-by-step process of consultative selling.
The steps involved in a consultative sales process
Consultative selling follows a specific framework to deliver a consistent experience, often with predictive outcomes. Let us look at this framework in detail.
Before getting on a call with a prospect, prepare your sales pitch. Strengthen your opening conversation by researching about the buyer, company, competitors, market, and so on. Also, identify behavioral information, such as lead activity on your website or ads, social media, pages browsed, etc. to figure out the potential needs and future objections. All this information can help you prepare well for the discussion with the prospect.
A note: CRM software can help you track the buyer’s behavioral information.
The goal of the preparation stage is to increase your credibility, shorten the sales cycle, and prepare yourself for potential questions that can position you as an expert in the matter.
Once you connect with your prospect, either on a call or in-person, open the conversation with a positive note and create a strong first impression. Most likely, the lead would be speaking to you for the first time. So, building trust should be your top priority.
A strong opening statement can create a good impression and make the prospect feel like they have come to the right place for a solution.
Once you have connected with the lead and have opened the conversation, it is time to sit back and listen. At this point, your only job is to learn everything you can about the prospect, including the company, their current and future needs, their pain points and motivations for exploring a solution, and other valuable information that can help you lead them to the right buying decision. Do not just give them time to speak, but also understand what their challenges and requirements are.
Active listening is the heart and soul of consultative sales. By understanding their challenges, you get an opportunity to connect with your prospect on a deeper level, foster open communication, and position yourself as an expert who can help them. When you don’t understand something, ask open-ended questions to get closer to the problem.
Understanding should naturally lead to a recommendation that will satisfy the client’s requirements. By following the consultative selling approach, you are not only recommending a solution to the prevailing problem but a wholesome solution that aligns with their future growth plan and does not disrupt other areas of their business.
For example, let’s say, you sell video conferencing software. The client that has approached you is in the events business who is planning virtual events. In this case, you can explain to him how your software can help them create a great virtual experience. You can also suggest a strategy that can help them in automating their outreach process. For example, by integrating email marketing software or WhatsApp for business, they can automatically send invites, accept registrations, send thank you message and email/recordings to attendees, and so on via text messages or emails.
Often brands sell a range of products/services at different pricing, and sometimes clients want to go for the lower-priced product. But it might not fulfill all their needs. So, you have to be their trusted advisor. You have to tell them what’s best for them. It is not upselling but advising them on the best possible solution.
Keep in mind that the way you frame your answer can either make it extremely easy or extremely difficult for your prospect to get on board with the solution. Overcomplicating things is not the right way to gain their buy-in. So, your recommendation should be easy to understand, even if it addresses a complex problem.
More than 63% of salespeople lose deals simply because they do not ask for the sale. So far, you must have done a lot of hard work understanding the needs and building a rapport with the buyer. However, the deal will remain uncertain unless you have a commitment from the buyer. Think of this step as closing a sale. You would not want to lose a customer after coming this far. Therefore, ask for a commitment. Doing so will indicate that you have arrived at the solution and lower your risk of rejection.
Now, the chances are, the person you are interacting with is not the decision-maker for buying the product or service. In such cases, ask for another meeting with the people involved in the buying process.
Watch the webinar: 2021 Sales Strategy that mentions consultative selling as a strategic approach to win big!
After you gain the commitment and a deal has been closed, you would want to continue building credibility and trust with your new customer. Next, follow up with them shortly after the sale to answer any questions and make them feel confident about their purchase decision.
“In one of our deals, I hand-held the client for an initial couple of months. I would explain the best practices, what they can do better, and more. They used to consult me in their business strategy. They would say – hey Arbaz this is what we are planning to do. Can we achieve this through LeadSquared? So, in a way, by being a trusted advisor to the client, we became integral to their growth plan,” says Arbaz Jawed, Manager – Inside Sales, LeadSquared.
[Also read: Inside sales guide]
Consultative selling techniques help build a long-term relationship with customers. Here, you are not just a salesperson, but also an advisor to their business.
There could be times when you must let the deal go because your offering does not meet the customer’s needs. But it would be for the greater good. What is the point in onboarding a customer who will remain unsatisfied with your solution and even after getting a solution, is constantly looking for alternative solutions with other vendors? On the contrary, you should even try to suggest alternates that fit their needs better.
That is why the consultative sales approach aims to build a rapport and does not believe in hard-selling. Even though the sales cycle can be a bit longer, consultative selling ensures a strong relationship and increases the chances of getting referrals from customers.
What will differentiate a consultant from a sales rep is the investment in the relationship with the customer. Staying engaged with the customer ensures that each side will continue to benefit from the relationship and allow each other to learn and grow in the process.
The top skills that make consultative selling a success are:
1. Active listening
2. Good interpersonal skills
3. Industry and product knowledge
4. Ability to research about the client
6. Ability to match customer requirements with your product/service
With the increasing competition in the market, providing professional advice to prospects/customers during the decision-making process can help build a rapport and position yourself as an expert in the industry. This approach builds trust and long-term relationships with buyers.