Every company has its own way of selling. Your salesperson has probably adopted some methodology, whether they know about it or not.

Although consultative selling has now become a very familiar concept to most professionals in sales, this method is still often listed as one of the changes that most managers would like to see in their teams' routines.

The term "consultative selling" was adopted in the 1970s in the United States and marked a transition from the traditional salesperson to a professional with a more collaborative dialogue, where the very customer's needs, not the product, become the central point of the conversation.

This means that the focus is no longer on the product or service your company sell, but on the needs of the potential customer.

With this approach, the sales team tends to:

• Study more about the client's scenario and market;
• Ask more questions;
• Provide more customized solutions;
• Have more interactive conversations;
• Study and show an understanding of the world of prospects, their needs and challenges;
• Show a desire to solve these customers' problems;
• And more.

In this article you will understand the principles that govern a good consultative sales methodology!

What is consultative selling and what are the steps to adopt?

The Consultative Selling process is a method that requires the salesperson to ask a series of targeted discovery questions that allow the prospect to discover for themselves the reasons why they should buy your product or service. Consultative selling is very different from traditional selling because the conversation is focused on the customer and on diagnosing problems in the prospect's routine, and not just trying to sell your business to him.

A good example to understand these points is a medical appointment. When you have an appointment with your doctor, 95% of the time is spent diagnosing the problems and only 5% of the time is to solve them. Consultative selling is the same scenario. The same 95% of the time of the sales meeting should be spent on questioning and do a critical thinking to accurately diagnose potential business problems. This is the opposite of traditional sales techniques, where the sales executive spends 95% of his time discussing his products and services, in an attempt to convince and not with solid reasons based on the customer's pain.

Modern shoppers are smarter and better informed than ever, and the approach to present product´s features and benefits is not only outdated, but also very discouraging. The prospect already has a lot of problems in their routine, and needs someone who really help them to solve them, and don't waste any more time.

Furthermore, old-school sales closing techniques have become too obvious to this modern buyer, and they have developed well-defined barriers and objections to combat them, leaving traditional salespeople with largely ineffective speeches.

In modern selling, the more you try to sell something to anyone, the more unsuccessful you will be. The key to success then is not "going out to sell", but having the right type of conversation, with the right people, in a structured way and with a real interest in helping your client.

Below are the six principles that are applied in the consultative selling process:

1. Research the prospect

As with any negotiation, the first step is to do some research using the intelligence you've acquired in the lead generation and management process.

If your team is using an organized and automated CRM, you will already have a lot of information at hand, such as: name, which company he works for, pages visited on your website, email address, number of employees and even a possible budget (depending on how your lead capture form was structured). Most importantly, with all this automated information you can have a huge amount of knowledge about the content your lead is most interested in and you can use this as leverage when starting the conversation. This will give you an indication of the questions they are trying to answer or the needs they are trying to address on a day-to-day basis.

If the lead is a referral or from another source, you may need to start the research phase from scratch.

Spend time looking at your prospect's website, company news section, LinkedIn profile, other social networks, and anything else you have available about them.

Don't forget to do some research on this customer's market, the highs and lows on the national scene, the economic moment that this market is going through, the competitors, etc.

Once you've done your research deeply, you're ready to take the next step.

2. Ask the right questions

After the research phase, you need to start forming a mental picture of what the prospect is looking for. Be very careful about making these kinds of assumptions, or at least don't give the prospect the impression that you've already reached some conclusions.

Now is the time to ask open-ended questions. Doing so, your prospect can provide the important information throughout the conversation. This will help build the level of trust necessary to secure the prospect's interest in the dialogue, while also giving you the answers you need.

The objective is to gradually discover their goals and plans, and challenges in executing those plans, as well as establish a schedule together to achieve the goals.

You will also need to find out what their budget and whether there will be other people involved in the final decision. Is he a decision maker? It is necessary to understand whether this customer is able to pay the value of the proposal, as who will give the final "yes" to the proposal.

3. Active listening

It seems obvious, but many salespeople have a predetermined script and believe that this old sales pitch will bring results sooner or later. So, they insist until it works with some prospect tha doesn´t pay much attetion.

It's not that you shouldn't have important questions written down for the meeting time, but with the consultative selling method the salesperson should listen more closely and consider the prospects' exact needs before offering any advice (and before trying to offer a product or service).

The goal is to ensure that both parties understand what the other is trying to communicate, and for that, the active listening is completely necessary.

Documenting all the information the prospect is conveying while absorbing their needs is a fundamental skill in customer service. Having this information on hand after meetings tells them you've heard them and understand their scenario, and this adds value to the customer experience.

Focus on the person and respond to what they said with another relevant question or simply repeating what they communicated in another way. Nothing is better (in sales or in life) than knowing that there is a real interest in what has been shared.

The information gathered through active listening will help you summarize and present an opportunity, as well as qualify you contact and lead to a closing step.

4. Educate your prospect

Throughout the process of asking questions and listening, you will have opportunities to educate and inform your interlocutor. It's not about teaching them about your product or service, it's about helping them overcome their daily challenges and build a good and relevant plan.

This may involve your product or service at some point, but again, the focus should be on how you will tangibly help your customer.

But be careful not to reveal too much knowledge. For the sake of demonstrating expertise, many sellers move into the territory of offering too much free consulting, and this is a delicate balance.

5. Qualify

Qualifying or evaluating a good prospect will allow you to focus and allocate the appropriate resources to the customers who are truly worth the effort.

The meetings will give you a chance to help, be friendly, inform and build a greater level of trust. However, if through the Q&A process you identify that the customer is not a good fit for what you have to offer, you can politely go ahead and "abandon" the prospect in the process (no mercy).

Don't make the mistake of wasting too much time trying to educate and sell to an unqualified lead. It will be a waste of resources for both of you.

6. Close the deal!

Closing a sale is a relatively simple phase, as at this point prospects are more advanced in the process and should already have considered factors such as time and budget.

If, however, the customer did not feel confident to close the sale and you believe that your product or service makes sense in their routine, adopt counter-arguments, such as:

“What will happen if you fail to achieve your goal?”

“What will happen if you can't overcome your X and Y challenges?”

But be careful: you don't have to put absurd pressure! Just remind him that with your help he will achieve much better results than without it.

In short, the closing process should be natural and not forced - the client should not be nervous or uncomfortable with the final questions. That's why focusing only on the customers you believe are the right ones for what you're offering will guarantee you a higher conversion rate.

How to adopt consultative selling on your team

As with most sales techniques, consultative selling is a skill that can be taught and learned.

If you are considering consultative sales training for your team, make sure it also reinforces the basics, such as: the skills and qualities of a top sales professional, how to recognize strengths, weaknesses, and also areas that have room for further development.

It's simple: the better your salespeople have listening skills, the better their conversations will be - and the more business they'll win. But understanding the tips to improve listening skills is easy. The hard part is practicing, and applying those skills.

The “people skills” that are vital to building effective sales relationships are often lost in the sales coaching process. It's easy to write answers to customer objections for your salespeople to memorize, but how about teaching them how to develop and maintain relationships with potential customers? Let's get to the tips:

1. Slow down the conversation

Salespeople tend to be talkative with a lot of ideas and opinions, and talk "a mile a minute".

Talking fast and non stop can only hurt your relationship with the prospect. They will lose interest or become stressed. Instead, articulate your thoughts at a digestible speed. Pause if they need clarification, ask questions to guide and help shape what they share, and never interrupt them. Anxiety helps little in the work environment.

Which brings us to our next point.

2. Do not interrupt

Not only is the interruption rude, but it means you might miss something interesting that your prospect would have said if you had given them the chance. They may have had other important factors to share that would help shape the conversation, but they couldn't because there was an intervention.

Lose the fear of silence. You'll find that if you pause when the prospect is done talking, they will often have something to add that you would never have heard if you had started talking right away. Even with the innate willingness to show knowledge, listening is a much more important skill for salespeople today.

Of course, it's okay to interrupt if you didn't hear something or want to clarify. But even so, you might want to write this down to clarify later, when the person has finished speaking, to avoid blocking the other person's flow of thought.

3. Clarify and repeat

A big part of listening carefully to someone is letting them know you're listening carefully. The caller will know you are listening and appreciate it, share more of their story, and find you more enjoyable.

Try to paraphrase their thoughts in your own words to show that you care about what they are saying and also to make sure you understand them. Sometimes, you can withdraw a message that is supposed to mean something else without knowing it - this is especially common with telephone communication. Don't let important information get lost in translation.

4. "Listen to emotions"

Words are not always an accurate representation of what a person feels. It can be difficult to interpret a conversation remotely because you lose the ability to read body language, but it's still possible! Start by feeling the prospect tone of voice and stress levels. Practice during your conversations with co-workers and learn to recognize how the volume, speed and pitch of people's voices can indicate how they are feeling. On each sales call, aim to think about what the person might be thinking behind their words.

Live your customer's world

Most importantly, training should focus on helping salespeople become trusted business advisors to their customers. For example, if your company has a well-narrowed niche, provide all the important information about that market to your salesperson, thus making them an expert in the field. And, of course, always encourage this increase in knowledge.

The objective is to move the sales team away from the old sales arguments to adopt a customer-oriented dialogue (Customer Centric), allowing them to create answers that exactly match the needs, challenges and purchase criteria of the prospect, guaranteeing negotiations that generate even more results, in the present and in the future.