Once upon a time, a typical salesperson had their products or services to sell and would aim to persuade their customers and clients how wonderful and useful they could be. They would demonstrate their uses and they relied on people buying them after recognising their necessity. Today, people have moved away from the product-first approach in favour of consultative selling.
As the name suggests, consultative selling involves acting as a consultant for the prospective buyer. The process begins by talking to them and finding out about their needs and problems, and then suggesting ways that their products or services could help. This is a softer approach to sales which can be more effective when a buyer appreciates the overall value and comes to that opinion for themselves.
1. Gain a clear understanding
The first step to being a consultant is finding out about your prospective buyer’s current situation. At this stage, you don’t want to push anything or make any product or service suggestions to them, you just want to talk and listen.
Start by asking open questions about themselves, their priorities and their aims. This will let you start building a picture of what they’ll want and which of your products or services they’ll be most interested in. The better rapport you can build, and the more questions you can ask at this stage, the easier the rest of the process will be. Consider having some questions prepared in advance to guide you, but be flexible and allow the conversation to meander if they’re giving you useful information.
Learning about their current problems will help you solve these individual issues, but learning about their long-term goals, their competition and any other concerns, interests and upcoming opportunities they have will give you much more to discuss and build upon as the conversation progresses.
2. Identify ways you can help
Once your prospect has told you about their situation, and you feel that you sufficiently understand it, the next step is to identify which of your products and services can help.
Don’t just list off everything you have and hope they’ll pick one out. You’re here acting as the knowledgeable consultant, so you should be able to tell them which of your catalogue will best match with their needs and wants.
Think about it from their point of view: let’s say you’re buying a new car and you tell the dealer you want something big enough for your whole family and a lot of shopping, and then they show you a small two-seater sports car, you’re going to assume they either weren’t listening to your needs or that they just don’t care about them. Clearly, they just want to sell this car to anyone they can. Similarly, your prospective buyer has just spent time talking to you about their needs, so only suggest products or services that will directly relate to what they’ve told you.
3. Connect your solution with the customer’s situation
The entire consultative selling process can be summed up as offering someone a way to improve their situation. The steps we’ve discussed so far – asking about their situation and identifying how your solutions can help – are all in service of this key moment. The sale is entirely dependent on you being able to make your prospect understand how your proposed solution can bridge the gap between where they currently are and where they want to be.
This is different from just identifying the right product or service based on their needs, because now you need them to realise it’s the right one.
Remember – you’re acting as a consultant, not as a pushy salesperson. Don’t go immediately for the sale, instead talk them through the potential solutions you can offer. Be specific, discussing exactly how your proposed solution will help solve their problems. There’s time after this to think about the bigger picture and other opportunities, but for now you want to directly address the key points that will impact their decision.
Ideally, you want to give your prospective client enough information that they to come to the conclusion that it’s the right product or service on their own. You’re just there to guide them through the options and offer your professional recommendations, not to decide for them.
4. Focus on providing a tangible value package
After you’ve discussed the specific way your solutions can help them, you should also look at the bigger picture. A product or service’s value comes from more than just one aspect, so talk about the entire package.
Obviously, things like costs and timings are important, but these shouldn’t be your only focus. Once someone has understood the necessity of your solution, then the value comes from far more than just having a low cost. In fact, in many cases, they might be willing to pay for a more expensive service if they feel it better satisfies their needs.
Consider everything they’ve told you. You’ve already addressed their main issues, but what about their longer-term objectives, future projects or other interests? It could be that your product helps with a current project, which is why they particularly need it now, but in a few months they’ll be able to use it for a secondary purpose as well. This is your chance to show them the total value of what you’re selling.
Again, in the best-case scenario, you want them to come to these realisations organically throughout your conversation, but this doesn’t mean you can’t steer the conversation in this direction to help them get to that conclusion.