For those who haven’t heard of the term before, consultative selling is when a salesperson acts as a consultant to prospects, asking questions about their wants and needs, then using this information to select the best product or service possible.
This mutually beneficial approach enables the salesperson to increase their chances of converting, because they will know exactly what the prospect requires. At the same time, customers will feel respected and valued, which could result in brand loyalty and further sales.
Since Mack Hanan first wrote about this technique in the book Consultative Selling in the 1970s, it has been widely adopted by a number of businesses. However, this doesn’t mean to say execution is easy, as any organisation will face a few implementation hurdles to overcome.
First of all, prospects will need to be thoroughly qualified before the salesperson enters into a consultation, as they may not have a genuine interest in making a purchase. Secondly, the business needs to be sure that it actually possesses the right product or service, which will also require in-depth research.
Finally, but perhaps most significantly, consultative selling throws up countless challenges when it comes to training members of staff. A lot of the time, sales teams won’t respond well to the teaching methods being used and may struggle to find solutions for the prospect.
Consequently, it is imperative you know how to teach consultative selling effectively.
Why consultative selling doesn’t always work
As opposed to persuading or pressurising a prospect into buying, consultative selling requires a much more measured and reasoned approach, which is backed up by product knowledge and inherent wisdom. Unfortunately, some staff simply do not have the right type of personality for consultative selling.
If so, organisations will need to profile members of staff and identify the most promising candidates before delving into a consultative selling training program.
When teaching staff about consultative selling, you are not asking them to adopt a new and novel technique, you are asking them to embrace a completely different way of thinking. For some salespeople, this is too much of a commitment or simply too difficult.
Consultative selling needs to be a two-way street, where the organisation and employee are on the same page. Both parties must recognise that a change in behaviour and attitude is required, which might not be warmly welcomed by everyone.
Overwhelming sales staff with a profusion of information about consultative selling simply won’t work. This is not an effective way of getting training to stick and won’t do anything for putting consultative principles into practice either.
For employees to understand how consultative selling works, training will need to be almost spoon-fed over a prolonged period of time. This teaching should also be interactive and engaging, which reflects the conversations staff will have with prospects during a real-life consultation.
Although sales staff should be asking their prospect plenty of questions, this needs to be reciprocated. Consultative selling is all about conversation, which requires strong and suitable communication.
The same goes for the senior staff and sales managers that should be reinforcing, developing, and improving consultative skills during the training process. Employees want to receive recognition, praise, and encouragement, which should be coming from the top-tier.
While avoiding these pitfalls is essential for consultative selling success, organisations wanting to adopt this technique will also need to be proactive in their implementation approach. With this in mind, here is how to make it work.
How to make consultative selling work
Despite the fact sales staff will already posses a decent amount of knowledge about the business’s product portfolio, they should also be experts in their field too. This means knowing about current trends, competitor products, and customer concerns.
There is a good chance that prospects will be comparing your offering to others in the market, but if your staff can demonstrate proficiency about the alternatives, your customers are more likely to buy from you.
When searching for a particular product or specific service, customers will be appreciative of some assistance and relevant knowledge. However, they will only accept help from a trusted and reliable source, which means forming strong and assured relationships.
If your employees can prove your organisation can meet the customer’s needs, a positive relationship should blossom. Again, communication is the key, but your members of staff must also demonstrate enthusiasm, honesty, and transparency.
Seeing as your workforce would prefer to be on the sales floor rather than in a classroom, there is no point pursuing traditional training techniques. These will be perceived as boring by sales staff and won’t lead long-lasting retention of key consultative principles.
Therefore, take training to your employees and make it engaging. For example, spaced repetition learning can be carried on desktop and mobile during periods of inactivity, but involves tactics such as gamification, which keeps staff motivated through competition with fellow colleagues.
Sounds obvious and is clearly the fundamental foundation of consultative selling, but this point cannot be stressed enough. Sales teams must put the customer first and understand their distinctive desires in order to make this approach work.
This can be achieved by teaching employees about competitor products and industry trends, building strong relationships with the customer, and adopting the right training techniques, such as spaced repetition.
Another way of looking at consultative selling is to think of it in three stages - learn, teach, sell.
Initially, your workforce must learn something about the prospect to be in a position to help out and identify their needs. Then, sales staff must teach the customer about the various options available, which may well include competitor products or services.
But in the end, employees must try and sell the organisation’s offering, which should be much easier if customers have been educated and enlightened by an effective consultation.