Jun 10

What does Consultative Selling actually mean?

Posted by Caroline Longstaffe at Tuesday, June 10, 2014

In sales management circles there has been a lot of mention for a while now of concepts such as ‘value selling’ or ‘consultative selling’.  People say things like “We need to position the value of our solution better” or “For this deal we need a consultative approach." Many sales people get confused by this. In workshops I keep getting questions about what consultative selling actually means, so I decided to write a few sentences to clarify the issue.

Defining what Consultative selling is NOT

It isn’t positioning yourself as a technical expert

Consultative selling is not about being technicalConsultative Selling does not mean consulting the client on the technical intricacies of your solution in great painstaking detail. While this can potentially be an important step in the sales cycle, I’d call this presales consulting, or technical presales. I would generally discourage that Account Managers overly engage in this since there is a real danger that they shoot themselves in the foot. By positioning themselves as the technical expert, they run the risk of being labeled as a ‘Techy’, making it more difficult to get time in front of customer business executives who don’t care about – or might be turned off by - too much technical detail.

It isn’t about being a business consultant

On the other hand it also does NOT mean, acting as a business consultant by explaining to customerConsultative selling is not about being business consultant executives how they should be running their business. To start with, most sales people are not trained to do this. Secondly one needs a great deal of manufacturing experience to consult a manufacturer’s CXO on how to improve their business. Third there is the issue of credibility vs. self interest in selling and consulting respectively. So even if you did know the customer’s business well, from a management perspective, caution is in order, you risk irritating the customer and getting the: “ARE YOU TELLING ME HOW TO RUN MY BUSINESS???” response!

What consultative selling means

Now we know what is doesn’t mean, let’s define we at Integratis mean when we say ‘Consultative Selling’.

A consultative sales person:

connecting with customers, questioning, listening, finding customer focused solutions

  • Actively reaches out and seeks discussions with non-technical buyers, who might be the  technical buyer’s internal clients (customer’s customer).
  • Reports on their findings from these non-technical discussion to the technical buyer, to enable them to serve their customers better.
  • Uses consultative questioning techniques and active listening to collect the maximum amount of information, in order to come up with the best possible solution for the customer, technically and financially.
  • Uses good process such as professional meeting planning to make life easier for their own team, also ensuring maximum meeting quality for the customer.
  • Is aware of their specific sources of power / influence and uses these in a planned and professional way, with complete integrity.
  • Moderates compromise between competing interests within the customer.
  • Supports writing the business case/financial justification or writes one their-self.
  • Never loses sight of the solution’s economies and profitability for the customer.
  • Is capable of an intelligent discussion with the financial decision maker (FDM).
  • Is capable of at least a high-level of discussion of financing options for their own solution.
  • Helps the technical buyer to position and defend the economics of their solution.
  • Is connected within the customer and can help technical buyers find budgets for their solution upon request.
  • Doesn’t accept everything a customer says without reflection, but…
  • Instead creates constructive solution-oriented discussion, again using consultative questioning techniques.

So there you have it, the consultative sales person. How many of these strategies do you currently employ? At Integratis it is our experience that engaging in any one or all of these behaviors will make your life in sales significantly easier and much more satisfying. Change is never easy, but rest assured, we meet lots of sales people and have seen incredible gains in effectiveness and success rates, once they’ve started applying some of the above concepts. They are the spirit and gist of the Integratis consultative selling program which we have rolled out to many clients on our customer references list.

How about you? Do you agree with our ‘traits of a consultative sales person’? What would you add? What works for you?

Author: Peter Schmitz

Peter Schmitz is an Integratis consultant representing Integratis in German speaking countries.
Peter is also owner/director of www.schmitzconsulting.com.  

Contact Peter at: pschmitz@integratis.com

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