Are You Consultative Selling?


Consultative selling has been around for quite a while. At least as long as I have been in sales and that’s a long time. I find it a little humorous that current authors, sales gurus, and presidents of sales teams feel they are the originator of this selling style. I also find it a little odd that 70 to 80% of the sales professionals I have come in contact with don’t do it. Why is that? To understand this we need to have a basic understanding of what it is.

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Consultative selling can be broken down into a couple of components easily:

1.) Take the time and fully understand the potential client’s internal processes and company direction. The discovery process should include an analysis of: PEST – political, economic, social, and technological directions and SWOT – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats of the company.

2.) Look for their “pains” (issues) and “repetitions” (costs).

3.) Propose a customized solution using your product and, most importantly, presenting it in simple terms the potential client can understand (solution not parts) and see value (ROI, payback) in.

The idea here is that you’re not selling features blindly. You are tailoring your proposal to real needs and savings (soft or hard dollars). You’re a consultant. Makes sense right? Not for some unfortunately.

Two possible reasons a sales professional might have issues with solution selling.

1.) Time consuming
Sales people are under a lot of pressure to perform and to do so quickly. When presented with a “process” many times they see this as sales prevention.

I had an experienced sales person work for me that really never understood the solutions sale idea. He felt the only way he could sell something was that he needed to know the feature set and blindly present. “We have sixteen features… aren’t we great?” I tried to explain that while knowing the product and features is important they’re not as much as truly understanding the needs of the client. Blindly feature selling leaves you with discounting as your only weapon to win the deal. There’s no buy-off by the client. The investment for discovery and presentation was simply too time consuming for him. Frustrated we parted ways.

“Blindly feature selling leaves you with discounting as your only weapon to win the deal.”

The interesting thing here was that I had helped close a large deal with him that we won on selling a solution. Our competition missed the application needed and I hadn’t. We saved the customer thousands a month.

2.) Not given the opportunity
Consumers, many times, are simply not interested in working with your discovery process.

We’ve all been in front of these customers. After a couple of minutes talking with them they ask “What do you think a ballpark price will be?” The temptation to “low ball” is fairly strong at this stage. I resist, of course, but now have a tremendously difficult time proceeding with the “process” going forward. I win very few of these deals.

Consultative selling can be hard and time consuming. That’s the point. Customers want to know that you have their best interest in mind. As you can see there are some real-time decisions that need to be made as well. If a customer won’t offer the time and energy for you to do your job then quote basic and go on to the next opportunity. Don’t forecast it. If it happens that’s a bonus. If you find yourself not wanting to take the time with a willing client… shame on you. Not only are you possibly going to lose the deal but you will leave money on the table.

Become a solution architect and you’ll not only make more money but you’ll have happier long-term customers.

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