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Consultative Selling: 6 Effective Tips & Techniques to Build Deeper Customer Relationships

Sales are the lifeline of every organization. Over the years, we have seen different techniques salespeople use to introduce their products or service to customers, build rapport with their clients and prospects and increase sales.

From word-of-mouth selling to business-to-business sales, business-to-consumer sales, enterprise sales, SaaS sales, direct sales, affiliate sales, online sales, and finally, consultative selling, there have been different approaches that sales reps have used to get clients and sell to them. Sales reps have developed many sales techniques to understand the clients, their needs, and how their product or service can help them solve their problems.

One of these practical sales approaches is consultative selling, where sales reps act more like advisers than salespeople. According to a Salesforce report, 84% of business buyers are likelier to buy from sales reps who understand their goals. This research finding validates the effectiveness of the consultative sales approach that allows sales professionals to build deeper connections with their clients and be helpful to them.

This blog explains what consultative selling entails and some practical techniques to build deeper customer interactions and increase sales.

Table of Contents

  • What is Consultative Selling?
  • What is Needs-based Selling?
  • Why Does Consultative Selling Work?
  • Consultative Selling vs. Solution Selling
  • Consultative Selling vs. Product-Based Selling
  • Benefits of Adopting a Consultative Selling Approach
  • Consultative Sales Process
  • Consultative Selling Tips and Techniques

What is Consultative Selling?

consultative selling definition

Consultative selling is a sales approach that emphasizes creating value and trust with prospects by exploring and understanding every customer’s specific needs. Unlike other sales approaches, consultative selling puts the buyers or customers in charge of identifying their needs and seeking solutions to those problems.

Because of the widespread misconception that sales reps can sometimes be pushy and invasive when pitching their product or service to their clients. The consultative selling process begins with the two essential goals of building a meaningful, sustainable relationship with their prospects and providing the right products to them – thereby giving them more freedom and control of the sales process.

Consultative sales prioritize building customer relationships and encourage open dialogue with the clients to enable them to identify and provide more compelling solutions tailored to their needs. It is highly focused on the customer rather than the product being sold. This way, the clients see the sales rep as interested and committed to their growth rather than just trying to complete their sales quota.

For better context, consultative sellers place the buyers in the driver’s seat while other sellers drive the seller toward making a purchase.

What is Needs-based Selling?

As stated earlier, traditional sales methods involve salespeople pitching products or service benefits and solutions to prospective clients and customers and tailoring these benefits to their pain points, needs, or situations. On the other hand, needs-based selling tailors specific customers’ interests and needs to the product or service solutions.

In line with this approach, consultative selling is a form of needs-based selling built on building successful personal relationships and open dialogue between the buyers and sellers.

Instead of telling the prospects what they can benefit from buying your products or services, under consultative selling, the professional sales studies the clients to understand their situation, needs, and pain points and sets up an intellectual dialogue with them to help them identify their problems and seek an immediate solution to it – which in this case is their product or service.

Why Does Consultative Selling Work?

what is consultative selling

It’s not rocket science; people generally give more time and consideration to people willing and ready to help them and add value to their lives rather than taking from them. However, salesHowever, sales reps can be pushy and too demanding in certain situations, especially when they have a high sales quota.

Consultative sales leverage building trustworthy relationships with the clients to increase chances of making more sales. It is highly regarded among professionals as the number #1 strategy, mainly due to its sales technique. For example, 89% of buyers described the salespeople they mostly do business with as “trusted advisors.” In addition, a study by Gartner discovered that B2B customers are increasingly becoming skeptical of the information sales reps give them, which leads to low buying confidence.

The perceived gap in this sales problem is that most customers don’t feel confident or assured that the product or service the sales rep is trying to sell would fix their problem. Fortunately, this is a critical issue that sales reps combat using their consultative selling skills to ask the clients probing, open-ended questions that give room for more in-depth responses.

Depending on the responses they get from the clients in addition to the results they get from their research, they can also put their persuasion skills into action to position their product or service as the ultimate solution to the client’s problem (although they will frame the dialogue in a way that the client realizes this by themselves and genuinely seek solutions using your products or solutions).

Consultative Selling vs. Solution Selling

consultative selling examples

Solution selling is a branch of sales where a salesperson focuses more of their time on tailoring products or services as a solution that can help solve a customer’s pain points or situations. Instead of describing the product features and what each can do for you, solution selling emphasizes how the product or service can change the customer’s circumstances.

Due to the similarity between solution and consultative selling, people use the terms interchangeably to mean the same thing. However, one difference between these two sales methods is that consultative selling offers a value proposition from the product angle. In contrast, solutions telling provides a value proposition from the point of solutions.

Additionally, consultative selling focuses more on relationship building, while solutions selling is more concerned with showing how the product or service solves the prospect’s pain points. Solutions selling stresses the customer’s pain points and how their product or service can solve this. To create more impact, the sales rep sets up a sales conversation to discuss the value proposition of their product and how it can positively impact the return on investment(ROI).

Despite these differences, consultative approach and solution selling are two essential sales techniques to increase sales success and build on your competitive advantage.

Consultative Selling vs. Product-Based Selling

Unlike solutions selling, product-based selling is when a sales team emphasizes the product’s features rather than its solutions when trying to sell it. This approach focuses primarily on what the product does, its unique features, and its price.

For example, if a sales rep wants to sell the latest iPhone – iPhone 14 pro max, using the product-selling methods, they would emphasize the functionality and sleekness of the iPhone, its features such as iOS 16 software, 1290 x 2796 pixels resolution, super retina, etc., and price instead of talking about how the speed and high resolution can help them create better content at a much faster rate.

Unlike consultative selling, where the sales reps emphasize how the product or service can solve the customer’s problem by putting them in charge of the sales process, however, in product selling, the sales reps are usually looking to close deals quickly and move on to the next client.

The sales rep in product selling is primarily concerned with selling the product fast and moving on to the next person. In contrast, consultative seller devotes their time to understanding their prospect’s pain point and putting them at the driver’s wheel and is more committed to the growth and success of the clients rather than just selling to them.

Benefits of Adopting a Consultative Selling Approach

Here are the seven important reasons why you should adopt consultative selling methods for your sales team:

1. It makes selling a mutual-value activity

Consultative selling is a distinctive sales method that gives the prospect or client control over the sales process.

Unlike other selling methods, where the sales reps identify the prospect’s pain points or needs and introduce their product or service as the solution to these problems, the consultative seller builds a rapport with the client, asks them though-provoking questions about their current situation to help them identify their needs and frames the sales conversation in a way that the prospect seeks the solution voluntarily.

Research suggested that fifty-five percent of buyers report that a seller’s ability to educate them during the sales process influenced their purchase decision. In line with this, a consultative seller engages more with the buyers and makes the selling process mutual- taking out force or information overload in other sales processes.

2. It builds long-lasting, beneficial buyer-seller relationships

consultative selling approach

Like earlier, every successful consultative selling is built on solid relationships. Usually, before sales are achieved, the sales reps make a solid rapport and relationship with the buyer. They go over the client’s pain points and identify the solutions together. This way, the seller earns the buyer’s trust and gives room for bigger and better opportunities in the future.

3. It provides buyers with a perspective

An exciting benefit of consultative selling is the value of perspective. In this situation, unlike just asking the buyer question about their current situation, a consultative seller provides new knowledge about the buyer that helps them see their problem differently to fulfill their dreams.

The seller’s new perspectives build their credibility and professionalism, enabling the buyer to trust and feel more confident about the product or services. Additionally, giving a view solidifies the buyer’s trust in the seller and shows that the sales rep is passionate about offering value. Importantly, consultative selling provides room for more sales opportunities.

4. It gives a higher Competitive advantage

consultative selling techniques

Consultative selling increases a seller or business’s competitive advantage since it is tightly aligned to market needs. Showing you understand the buyer’s pain points and current situation, providing them with more in-depth information and explaining their growth potential.

5. It gives you access to new and more enormous sales opportunities within current accounts by identifying unrecognized needs.

6. It increases your revenue by improving close ratios for new customers and expanding business with existing customers.

7. It shortens sales cycle length by putting the buyers in the driver’s seat and building buyer confidence to commit to sales.

Consultative Sales Process

Here are the five consultative sales processes to adopt the consultative sales technique.

1. Research

consultative selling tips

A thorough consultative selling process begins with in-depth research. Remember that the critical difference between consultative selling and solution selling is that it brings in new knowledge that serves as an eye-opener to the client compared to just emphasizing how the product can solve their problem.

This shows that consultative sellers even have to go the extra mile to provide value to the buyer. Hence the seller must have a solid baseline understanding of buyers, their pain points, their current situation, and how your product or service can help them solve a need. The sales rep will have to research the buyer’s industry, their competition, the solutions they are currently using, and who has the decision authority at the company.

After compiling all these documents, you need to sit back and determine how you want to present them in a way that helps them see the need they were previously unaware of and motivates them to solve the problem.

2. Ask questions

consultative selling process

The next important step after research is to meet with the clients and ask them open-ended questions about their current situations and pain points using your researched information.

By asking open-ended questions, you give in the room for the clients to open up about their pain points and help them realize what they could be missing out on and how they need to solve that problem with your product or services.

Remember that consultative selling gives more power and control to the clients, allowing them to take charge of their needs, to convince them to solve the needs for their progress.

3. Active listening

consultative selling questions

One of the most superior consultative sales skills is active listening. After asking them open-ended questions about their pain points, current situations, and goals, you must be willing and ready to listen to them when they answer those questions.

Showcase your listening skills by demonstrating that you hear them and understand what they are saying by staying engaged, paraphrasing their answers, and reflecting on what they say during the sales conversations.

Active listening gives you a better insight to inform better-targeted solutions and communication to position yourself as a trustworthy advisor that can help them build a productive relationship with the prospects.

4. Analyze your prospect’s issues and identify solutions

solution selling vs consultative selling

After asking all the essential questions, actively listening to all your prospect’s answers, and building a rapport with the prospects, the next stage of the sales process is determining the best way to solve the identified solutions.

An excellent way to start this is by determining their main concerns, issues, and priorities and the ones they repeatedly mentioned in their answers. This way, you can identify the most important ones to them to shape your value proposition and sales pitch.

Depending on the situation, you can pitch the solution and product features of your product or services to show them your product can alleviate their current situation. But, importantly, you must convince them you understand their most pressing problems and how your solution will help them.

5. Educate the prospects on the available solutions

consultative selling steps

Now that you have identified the possible solutions to your prospect’s problems, the next important step is to relay those solutions and information effectively and confidently.

Leverage consultative selling pitches, presentations, and conversations to show your high level of understanding and communication skills as well as the existing relationships, to successfully convey the value proposition in a way that will convince them enough to make a purchase decision.

Keep in mind that with consultative selling, you must clearly show that your solution can alleviate their current situation. Consider using other social proofs and case studies to solidify your claims.

Consultative Selling Tips and Techniques

Here are some of the effective consultative selling tips and techniques to increase your success rates:

1. Develop knowledge-based trust

define consultative selling

The core principle of the consultative sales approach is in-depth research and communication. The first step to customer interaction is getting detailed information about the prospects – their pain points, goals, current situations, and employment details.

After this, you reach the prospect using all this information to build rapport with them and show that you have value to offer them. Remember that trust is critical to your relationship with your prospects. So ensure that you have proof with statistics for every point or statement you make to build more solid, trustworthy relationships.

The key ingredient for consultative sales success is to show without any doubt that you are a reliable source.

2. Ask Insightful Questions

Aside from research and effective communication, another critical element in the consultative sales approach is backing up your research with careful questioning. Asking insight-complete questions gives your clients or prospects more room to outline their priorities, concerns, situations, and what they need to get them to a better situation.

As crucial as the question is to this sales approach, you also need to ensure that you ask helpful questions that won’t make them feel that they are being interrogated.

For example, suppose you are selling sales automation software to a client, and they mentioned that their company is understaffed instead of discussing how to recruit more people. In that case, you should highlight ways your automation software can reduce work stress by automating most sales tasks.

3. Build genuine rapport and communication with the prospect

Relationships are essential to the success of a consultative sales approach. So it would be best to keep every sales interaction conversational by showing genuine interest in your audience’s growth.

Remember that it is not enough to establish rapport with the knowledge or research you have done; you need to show that you are approachable and genuinely interested in what you are selling and who you are selling it to. Don’t fake information or appear unreal. Instead, speak with clients every time with genuine enthusiasm and be true to everything you say while still keeping the communication meaningful and helpful.

Above all, always keep your conversation short, straight to the point, helpful, casually compelling, and authentic with your sales pitch.

4. Own your conversation

Consultative sales give the prospect power by allowing them to talk more about their problem, current situations, and goals. Unlike other sales approaches, the sales professionals stay in charge of the conversation by telling them about their pain points and pitching the solutions.

However, in the case of consultative selling, the sales professional asks intuitive questions from the prospects by adding valuable knowledge that can help the prospect be more convinced that your product or service can solve their problems and help them get better in their career.

5. Make good use of the feedback you get from the prospect

Needs-based Selling

Research is essential to a consultative selling approach, but it is not self-sufficient to help you achieve your sales goals. You need your client’s feedback and personal experience to gain deeper insights into their problems, what they need, and how solving them can get them closer to their goals.

In light of this, ensure that you take your convictions to heart when speaking with the prospects and consider all their feedback when pitching the value proposition. For example, you might research that your prospect is struggling with sales and feel your sales automation software can help them.

However, from the conversation, you could discover that the key cause of declining sales performance is the steep reduction in their sales workforce or working with inexperienced sales reps. This way, you have a better understanding of what their problem and current priorities are for pitching your value propositions.

6. Always listen to your prospect, don’t assume for them, and show that you care.

The consultative sales approach requires you to actively listen to your prospect to understand their goals, pain points, and priorities. If you will make assumptions or think for your prospects, you are better off using another sales approach that handles this much faster to move on to the following clients.

However, suppose you wish to use the consultative sales approach. In that case, you must be ready to listen to them to understand their expectations and experiences better and needs to position your product as a solution to their problem.

The Conclusion

Consultative selling is a personalized form of sales where the sales professionals give the clients more freedom and authority over the sales process.

Instead of identifying the prospect’s needs and problems and pitching the product or service as the solution to those problems, a consultative seller doesn’t assume for the prospect; they ask thought-provoking questions that will enable them to open up on the deeper areas that influence their pain to points and current situations.

A consultative approach is practical. However, it would be best to do it right to get the desired results. So please do your research, ask insightful questions, be an active listener, and identify and educate your prospects on the solutions and emphasize how that solution can put them in a better situation.