If you boil it down, the value proposition of almost everything a rep will ever sell is basically, “We have just the thing you need.”
In some cases, that may be true. After all, companies without a strong product/market fit will never get very far. For the majority of customer interactions, though, the product being offered might not be exactly what they need. There may be additional products and services that should be layered on. There might be different ways to adapt or deploy the product to make it truly work for the customer.
And then there are those moments when -- whether the customer realizes it or not -- the product really isn’t what they need, and the rep is only going to create a negative impression of the firm’s brand by selling it to them.
“We have just the thing you need” might be the motto for what some call solution selling. The alternative -- which is based on strategic use of data, along with nurturing a trusted relationship -- is sometimes called consultative selling. The motto or value proposition for the consultative sale might be best articulated as “Let’s figure out what we need to do to.”
Notice the difference? With consultative selling, there are no assumptions about what the rep can offer. There is an openness to learning more, and most importantly, the learning happens in direct collaboration and dialogue with the customer.
If you’ve been selling successfully to a particular customer for a while, they may have enough trust in you and your firm that consultative selling is a natural evolution of the relationship. That doesn’t mean you can’t approach prospects in a consultative manner too, though. When they fill out a form or act in some other way that qualifies them as a lead, the rep can begin with a friendly conversation based on genuine interest in who they are and what challenges their company is tackling at the moment.
Leverage the data you and the rest of the sales team have collected in a CRM like Sales Cloud as the starting point for these discussions. When you can reference what you’ve learned from other customers in similar kinds of organizations, you’ll establish credibility and authority much faster.
There are many different theories about consultative selling and how it should work, but let’s keep things simple by breaking them into three general phases.
When someone goes to see the doctor, what generally happens first? Most likely the doctor begins by asking why the patient came in, what symptoms they’re experiencing and any other relevant details. Then, they tend to go to their desktop to look up other information based on the patient’s electronic health record, followed by whatever tests seem most appropriate.
Sales reps shouldn’t think of themselves as doctors, necessarily, but a similar combination of steps can work well with customers and newer prospects. Even if they come asking about a particular product, back up and ask the right questions that ensure it’s the right solution. Don’t assume customers always know what they need; you’re there as an expert to assess what they think they need and either move the sale forward or explore other options. Some of the questions you ask could cover:
This is a conversation that requires compassion, focused attention and a lack of judgement on the part of the rep. You’re there to consult on a solution to the problem, not criticize or talk down to them. Learn as much as you can, and imagine yourself as an internal resource within the company, living the problem as acutely as the customer or prospect.
Good doctors don’t just dispense medicine. They talk about what they’re suggesting will assist with a problem, and use the consultation as a “teachable moment” that shows the person they’re speaking to why they’re experiencing a particular condition. This includes the root causes as well as the best ways to get better as quickly as possible.
Keeping the spirit of “let’s figure this out together” in mind, discuss product and services as options, spelling out the scenarios in which they would be deployed, and any insights from Sales Cloud that could suggest the best course of action. Run these by the customer or prospect as ideas, delineating what variables might affect the final outcome and get their feedback.
In the end, you’re prescribing not just a product but an action plan -- and it should reflect everything you’ve heard as well as what you’ve pulled out of your CRM.
Consultative selling isn’t just an effort to learn during the time before the customer signs off on an order. The dialogue should continue in the weeks, months or even a year after they’ve deployed a product or put the plan of action you’ve discussed in place.
This phase won’t necessarily lead to new business right away, and it will require time that more solutions-oriented sellers might see as a waste. Consultants know, however, that building and maintaining trust means going the distance with their clients. Similarly, a consultative sale means keeping the dialogue open, offering advice as needed and then, if and when the time comes, cross-selling or upselling them to whatever will keep their business on track.
The best thing about consultative selling is not just the way it drives more value out of your CRM. It’s a truly fulfilling way to deepen your insights about the customer community you serve, and to deliver a meaningful experience that lasts long after the deal has been closed.