Anyone who seeks knowledge about selling has likely heard the term “Consultative Sales” or “Consultative Selling.” I don’t know what the technical definition of the word consultative is, but in essence it means to operate like a consultant. Unfortunately the term gets bantered around a lot and I fear can become a gimmick or a tactic rather than a mindset.
When pretending to be consultative, ineffective salespeople sound scripted, trite and risk being insulting to prospects and clients. To use my newly-coined term, it’s insultative.
Sales managers, if you have a salesperson who you are coaching to be more consultative in their approach, first start with the traits of a true consultative salesperson, as identified by the Objective Management Group (OMG) salesperson evaluation.
A Consultative Salesperson (as per OMG)
• Asks great questions
• Asks enough questions
• Quickly develops relationships
• Presents at appropriate times
• Uncovers issues
• Understands how prospects buy
• Takes nothing for granted
• Able to ask tough questions
• Able to listen/ask with ease
If you look at this list it is easy to see how one could take short cuts. For instance, we could equip our salespeople with a long list of questions designed to uncover how the prospect will buy, but if they are not able to ask tough or difficult questions, it will be just a checklist of lame questions. Likewise, if they cannot listen and ask with ease, the list of questions will seem inauthentic, and the salesperson will be insultative rather than consultative.
The fix is to ensure your salespeople are ready on all fronts. Prepare them to ask the tough questions, and coach them to listen and ask with ease. This may take a lot of repetition, a lot of role-play scenarios to get them comfortable with executing it correctly. Give consultative selling the respect it deserves and attend to each element rather than glossing it over. Your sales team’s effectiveness with this approach is limited by your investment in its practice.
The selling world has been changing at a fast pace, particularly in the last 10-20 years with increasing technological innovations. Buyers are more price sensitive, and they invite salespeople in later in the sales process. People don’t have time to meet and prospects are harder to reach. The ability to sell consultatively is essential to be able to differentiate. And you can’t afford to waste opportunities by insulting rather than consulting.