A consultative selling approach is key to running a well-oiled sales team. To me, the difference between a traditional sales process and a consultative one looks a bit like the difference between a doctor and a therapist.
What Is Consultative Selling?
Rather than telling your prospects what they need, consultative selling is an investigative approach by which prospects are engaged with thought-provoking questions that help them identify their own pain points.
Ultimately, with a consultative selling approach, prospects will steer themselves into making their own decision. The role of the salesperson is to be empathetic and helpful; you should enable the prospect by providing them with the information they need to make an educated buying decision.
The #1 Trait of Effective Consultative Selling
Curiosity is at the heart of a consultative sales process, and I think the new generation of salespeople has forgotten the art of asking questions that dig up quality responses.
In a time when selfies, likes, and online follower counts take precedence over human connection, sales leadership needs to reinforce the importance of thoughtful questions and how they can open up the sales process.
Consultative selling techniques are rooted in the selflessness of the salesperson. It’s not about proving that your product or service is the best, it’s about finding the solution that’s right for the customer.
This isn’t always the easiest path for sales leaders and their teams, but the results can be remarkable. If your sales team wants to be more consultative, these are a few best practices you can start working on today.
1) Practice Asking Questions
If this first takeaway sounds too simple to be true, that’s because it is. The simple act of asking better questions undoubtedly leads to a better bottom line.
The moment this hit home for me was when Lessonly interviewed a prospective employee named Katie for a sales position. In her presentation to our team, she challenged us to a simple game called “The Question Game.”
It may sound familiar to anyone who enjoys improv comedy; we had to see how long we could go back and forth with another person by only asking questions.
This opened our eyes. You can pull a ton of information out of a person with the correctly worded question. I think the winner of Katie’s game asked nearly 15 questions in a row. Needless to say, the game had an impact on our team, and Katie is now Lessonly’s Director of Enterprise Sales.
Soon after we hired Katie, our sales leaders sat down to create sales enablement lessons within Lessonly on asking better questions. We now assign that training to every account executive. Taking this often-overlooked skill and turning it into a training focus has done wonders for our sales team.
2) Understand Your Buyer
Of course, the first step of any sales process to understand who you’re selling to. However, there’s a deeper dive to be had here when focusing on a consultative sales approach. Gathering copious information about your buyer before a conversation is essential to understand what they need and why they’re talking to you.
I have always been struck by Hubspot’s now-legendary sales training program and how the two things they promise is that you’ll learn to prioritize the right buyers and understand your prospects’ real challenges.
In order to do this, they ask new reps to create a website and try to drive inbound traffic to it. This requires reps get into the world of the customer. That’s at the core of a consultative sales approach.
These ideas frame also the buyer persona/buyer journey matrix of Mark Roberge’s book, The Sales Acceleration Formula.
You don’t know exactly where in the buyer journey your prospect is if you don’t ask. Similarly, if you ask the same questions on every call, what resonates with small businesses most definitely won’t catch the attention of an enterprise-sized account.
Progressive sales leaders should be constantly updating their sales enablement documents as they learn more about their buyer personas. These lessons become extremely important consultative sales training templates that sales reps can fill with their first-hand accounts and information.
3) Add Variety To Your Sales Process
In the early days of Lessonly, we sold plenty of small deals because our product had promise, but was still young.
In my experience since then, those deals with lower ACV tended to be simple and easy to sell with a formulaic mentality.
We could crank out low ACV and simple deal cycles like we were on a conveyor belt, but that’s not a healthy way to grow a company.
Training sales reps to add variety into their sales process is a great way to help them be more consultative in selling.
Here at Lessonly, we often issue a “word of the week” to keep our sales team on their toes.
In these challenges, our sales leadership team gets together and picks a random word that our AEs and SDRs need to try and use in every one of their prospect interactions.
Then at the end of the week, we go back through emails, calls, and other touchpoints to see how the team did.
We don’t pick winners and losers during this challenge, but we often pull everyone together to highlight a few of the best interactions involving that word and review what made it great.
The point of this tactic is to add variety back into your sales process. If you don’t know where to start, then it might be time for a sales process audit.
If you’ve ever heard something to the effect of “I know I’m on a good sales call if I say these two things a lot…” that rep is probably not asking enough of the right questions.
Asking the same two questions in every single call is formulaic, not consultative. Your sales team can’t be consultative sales therapists if they’re giving every single person the exact same prescription.
The only thing that applies to every one of your customers is that they have a problem. How you go about solving that problem will almost always be different.
4) Training – Zero In On The Qualifiers
The Lessonly sales leadership team & I were recently listening to recorded sales calls, and we realized that most of our customer interactions that ended in closed deals had a larger number of qualifiers sprinkled throughout the conversation. This includes little phrases like:
- So you mentioned…
- I’m curious why….
- The reason I’m asking this next question is…
When looking to build a consultative selling process into your sales cycle, these qualifiers are subtle, yet invaluable to the overall conversation. They prove that you’re really listening and engaging with the prospect, and provide clarity for that allows a question to have maximum impact.
The best way to actively change this is to listen to your team’s sales calls with an ear for consultative qualifiers.
How are your reps asking for context?
Are they listening more than telling?
What exact words are they using?
Keep in mind, a consultative sales model shouldn’t sound like an interrogation.
Reps should be weaving in questions and context throughout their sales pitch.
These are the points that you should train your team on. Software tools like Chorus.ai can be invaluable for exploring how your team is working so you can equip them with the training they need.
As a salesperson, it can be tough to ask consultative selling questions in every interaction, particularly when you’re fairly sure that your product solves the prospect’s pain point.
But, adding these best practices to your sales process will ensure the healthy growth of your team, and company, by making sure you are solving the right problem for the right people.
These four steps should get your sales team on the consultative path—acting less like doctors and more like therapists.
- Practice asking better questions
- Better understand your buyer and their needs
- Add variety into the sales process
- Train your team on conversation qualifiers