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Implement a Consultative Selling Approach for Sales Success

Discover how a consultative selling approach can improve your sales success. Learn key strategies to build trust, solve customer problems, and close more deals.

In today's highly digital age of information, there is no place for the traditional "sell it and forget it" approach.

On the contrary, consumers want to consume information at their convenience and then make educated decisions based on their research and needs.

While it may seem as if the role of sales reps is all but obsolete, it's not. The sales professional role has shifted from a product pusher to more of a friend and guide through a consultative selling process.

In consultative sales, the goal is to get to know the customer's needs and to create personalized sales experiences. It's not the product at the center of it all — it's the customer.

Let's take a closer look at consultative sales and how consultative selling can help you close more leads in your sales funnel.

What is consultative selling?

Today, consultative selling has become the number one sales strategy. Instead of one-and-done transactional salespeople, 89% of buyers describe sales reps they worked with as "trusted advisors."

Due to the proliferation of information and on-demand data, the sales process has evolved into what is known as consultative sales.

Consultative selling is an innovative sales approach that centers on establishing trust and building relationships with customers. This trust is established by listening to the customer's needs, pain points, and goals.

Unlike traditional selling, consultative selling isn't focused on pushing a service or product. It's all about the customer and helping them find the best solution. This transforms the role of a sales professional into more of a consultant — thus consultative sales.

However, consultative selling isn't appropriate for all sales situations. It's more applicable in complex sales, such as purchasing a computer, buying a car, or even choosing a mobile phone. Consultative sales are often appropriate when the customer doesn't have a clear understanding of what is available or what they need.

In these instances, sales professionals must work to get to know the customer, identify their needs, understand their pinpoints, and connect the solution that checks these boxes.

To help the customer make the best decision, sales professionals can provide valuable insight, content, and helpful tools. Doing so can help establish the sales reps as experts, valuable resources, and trusted advisors.

Why is consultative selling important?

Traditional sales or product-pushing was all about the here, now, and making a sale. The consultative sales approach centers on building a lasting relationship with the customer.

It prioritizes the customer's needs and offers tailored solutions to address those needs. This more modern and thoughtful sales process can open the door to many benefits:

  1. Build lasting relationships with customers. Considering that it can cost up to five times more to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one, it makes dollars and sense to build relationships with customers. This can help foster increased loyalty and trust, which are cornerstones for referrals and repeat business.
  2. Improve customer satisfaction: Everyone likes to be understood. When you show your customers you understand their needs by providing tailored solutions, they will feel like they're receiving more value for their investment.
  3. Create a competitive advantage: When sales professionals take a consultative selling approach, they will stand out from those only focused on pushing services or products. Educating the customer with valuable resources and insights can further position consultative selling sales reps as experts and trusted advisors.
  4. Bolster sales outcomes: Consultative selling is more efficient and can lead to better sales outcomes. 53% of sales reps believe following a consultative sales process can make sales more efficient.

Understand your customer...

The first step in the consultative selling approach is to understand your customer. Without a clear understanding of your customer, it's virtually impossible to suggest solutions with any accuracy. Make sure to focus on three key areas:

Their needs, Their goals, and Pain points.

Understand your customer's needs

A need is a non-negotiable requirement that is very important or essential for the customer to achieve their goals.

In many instances, the customer's need is the thing that has prompted them to seek out a solution. These needs may be related to their business, personal life, or a combination of both.

Examples of customer needs in a consultative sales process include:

Reliable, accurate information, On-demand expertise, A solution to their problem, and Support before, during, and after the sale.

Understand your customer's goals

While needs are more fundamental and non-negotiable, goals are things your customer wants to achieve by going through the sales process. Consultative selling professionals must have a clear understanding of the customer's goals. Examples of goals for a business that manufacturers cars could be:

  • Bolster sales
  • Lower costs
  • Increase manufacturing efficiency
  • Improve customer satisfaction
  • Increase retention
  • Improve quality
  • Improve efficiency.

In consultative selling, sales professionals must delineate how their product or service can help the customer achieve their goals.

Understand your customer's pain points

Pain points are the specific problems or challenges your customer is experiencing. To understand their pain points, ask "What keeps my customer up at night?" For a business looking to market a new product, the pain points could be:

  • Not enough knowledge
  • Not enough time
  • Not enough money
How to effectively use the consultative sales approach

Strategies for uncovering customer needs, goals, and pain points

Uncovering your customer's needs, goals, and pain points isn't rocket science. To get started, just ask!

However, some questions are more effective than others. In either case, engaging your customer in a purposeful conversation can convey volumes of information. Use the following tips to tactfully uncover your customer's needs, goals, and pain points:

  1. Ask your customer questions. This should be a surprise to no one. If you want to know something, just ask.
  2. Listen to the customer. Anytime your customer is talking, you should be all ears. They are more than likely sharing valuable pieces of the puzzle.
  3. Observe the customer. You can learn a lot about your customer by simply watching them. For example, if you give your customer a test demo of a product, watch how they use it. What do they love about the product? Is there room for improvement?
  4. Use customer feedback. Anytime your customer is speaking or typing, you should be listening. But when your customer provides feedback, you should lean in.
  5. Review customer records. If you have customer records, reviewing them can offer valuable intel. Data points such as order volume, order frequency, and what the client is ordering can provide insight into their needs.
  6. Perform industry research. You can research your customer's industry and the competition.

How to use this information to tailor your sales approach

In consultative sales, everything should be based on the customer's needs, preferences, and goals, including your unique sales approach.

For example, if your customer has expressed interest in learning more about a potential problem, you should provide them with helpful research and insights.

On the other hand, if a customer asks how your product compares to the competition, you can provide head-to-head product comparisons.

Because every audience or prospect is unique, no two consultative selling processes will be identical. You must often modify your consultative selling approach on the fly, based on the customer's needs, goals, and pain points.

To ensure you don't miss the mark, use these helpful tips:

  1. Incorporate active listening and ask open-ended questions to encourage them to share their experiences and thoughts.
  2. Analyze CRM information to identify themes or patterns. Try to extract a common objective, pain point, or priority.
  3. Create a customized solution that addresses your customer's specific needs and objectives.
  4. Demonstrate value by highlighting the benefits of the solution and connecting those benefits to the customer's needs.
  5. The job of active listening in consultative sales never ends. You should continue to listen and adapt your sales approach based on any new information.

Build rapport and trust

If you're like most people, you wouldn't share your dreams, goals, and needs with a stranger. You would, however, be more inclined to share this information with someone you have established a relationship with, developed a level of trust with, or built rapport with.

In consultative sales, your ability to quickly build rapport is directly related to success. The relationship and rapport you build should be based on a solid foundation of mutual trust, respect, and understanding.

Developing customer rapport involves creating an authentic and genuine connection with the customer by taking a customer-centric approach, which involves:

  • Actively listening to your customer's needs and concerns.
  • Showing your customer you care by being empathetic.
  • Finding a common ground with the customer.
  • Mirroring and matching the client's speech and mannerisms appropriately.
  • Creating shared experiences.
  • Asking open-ended questions.

Why is customer rapport important in consultative sales?

Once you have this rapport, customers will be more inclined to offer the information you need to help solve their problems. Whenever a customer feels you understand their needs and are invested in their success, they are more likely to trust your recommendations, which includes a sale. At the same time, strong customer rapport can drive repeat business and extremely qualified word-of-mouth referrals and leads — a true win-win.

 Product-based selling vs Consultative selling

Strategies for establishing a connection

Building a connection is essential in consultative sales, and there are many strategies you can use to do so. For starters, always listen actively, ask questions to understand their needs, and show interest in their answers. Because everyone likes to be understood, show your customer empathy toward their perspective by using phrases like, "I completely understand how you feel." It can help you unlock a deeper connection You can also repeat, paraphrase, or summarize what the customer said to you. This shows you are engaged, listening, and paying attention.

When talking to the customer, it's imperative to make it personal. Use the customer's name and always remember something unique about them. If the customer has a child, you can quickly establish a connection by remembering the child's name and sharing elements of your personal life.

Above all, you should boldly demonstrate your expertise by delivering relevant information that addresses their needs.

Ask questions and pinpoint their needs

In consultative sales, your ability to ask relevant questions is unparalleled. It's the cornerstone of consultative sales and is essential to meeting the customer's needs. And when you ask the right question, you'll create endless opportunities. Specifically, you should always ask questions to:

  1. Understand your customer's needs. The customer's needs can act as a guide for how you tailor the solution.
  2. Build trust with the customer. Most people only ask questions about something they're interested in. Demonstrate your interest in your customer's problems by asking questions.
  3. Identify hidden or additional opportunities. Oftentimes, sales professionals will identify additional opportunities to upsell or cross-sell products or services they have never considered.
  4. Prepare to overcome objections. If you're selling a product or service, one thing is almost certain — you'll have objections. When you ask questions, you can uncover and assuage concerns and objections before they arise.

Questions to ask to identify customer needs in consultative sales

There are no one-size-fits-all approaches to asking your customer questions. The only certainty is you must ask different types of questions, including:

  1. Open-ended questions encourage the customer to share more information and provide insights into their needs, challenges, and goals. These questions are more exploratory and can be instrumental in getting the client to talk. Examples of open-ended questions include, "What do you like the most about your current provider?"
  2. Closed-ended questions can usually require a simple "yes" or "no." A closed-ended question would be, "Did you hit your sales targets when you were with your previous provider?"
  3. Probing questions are follow-up questions used to dive deeper into a response. These questions can help explore additional insights and information. An example of a probing question would be "When you didn't hit your sales targets last year, did you find the root causes?"
  4. Clarifying questions ensures you and the customer clearly understand the information or the situation. For instance, a clarifying question could be "Just to confirm, hitting your department's sales targets is the top priority?" or "Can you clarify what you mean by that?"
  5. Hypothetical questions can be powerful ways to explore different scenarios or outcomes. For example, you could ask a prospect, "If you didn't use your previous provider, would things have been different?" or "What would happen if you continued with your current process?"

Uncover and prioritize your customer's needs

In the process of uncovering and prioritizing your customer's needs, some methods are more effective than others. For example, your sales conversations should include a healthy dose of open-ended questions. These questions prompt your customer to think and talk, making them more likely to share vital insights.

Before you ever meet with the customer, take time to conduct research. Learn about the competition, their industry, and the challenges they may face. This can show the customer you understand their business and help you ask more informed questions. In addition, you should always:

  • Make sure to identify the pain points
  • Work to understand the client's decision-making process
  • Ask for feedback whenever you suggest solutions.

Present your solutions confidently and close the sale

By now, you've had extensive conversations with the customer, and you should clearly understand their needs. You may have even perfectly mapped how your solution or product can solve the customer's problem.

None of that matters if you can't present your solution in a clear, compelling, and confident way. However, consultative selling takes this process one step further.

You must tailor your solution and presentation to the customers' expressed needs, preferences, and goals. Consider this process:

  1. Show the client's current standing and level set by discussing where the client is.
  2. Next, remind the customer of the potential or realized complications they can experience by not addressing the challenges.
  3. Finally, make the connection between their problem and your solution.

Tips for identifying the right time to close in consultative sales

One of the trickiest parts of selling is knowing when to close. If you try to close too soon, you can destroy credibility and rapport. If you wait too long, your competition may do it for you, or you lose the customer's interest.

Fortunately, your client will usually demonstrate distinct closing signals. Some of the most common closing signals include:

  1. When the customer asks questions about pricing, features, or delivery options, it may be time to close.
  2. If the customer shows increased engagement or interest, positively responds to your pitch, or expresses enthusiasm about your product or service, it may be closing time.
  3. Sometimes the customer will explicitly tell you they are interested in purchasing. It's one of the clearest, tell-tale signs it's time to close.
  4. Watch out for nonverbal cues, such as leaning forward, maintaining eye contact, and head nods. All of these can be indicators that it's time to close.
  5. When the customer asks about the next steps, you should close.

Remember, every customer is different. While some customers may exhibit multiple signs, others may exhibit none. As a consultative sales professional, you must listen and use your judgment to determine when it's time to close.

Always follow up and actively maintain your relationships

If you've ever purchased a car, you know how appreciative you feel when the sales professional calls you the day after — just to check up on you.

Then, they may call back a week later after you've had time to drive the vehicle, and you may have questions. And you may even receive a card or a small gift every year for your birthday, keeping the sales professional fresh in your mind.

This outlines the final step in the consultative selling process — following up and actively maintaining the relationship.

Even though the follow-up is the last step, it doesn't diminish its importance. Most experts suggest that relationship building starts after the sale. Because many people expect the one-and-done sales professional, you can wow your customers by consistently following up. When you get it right, you can forge a lasting relationship that continues to deliver high ROI in the form of repeat business and word-of-mouth referrals.

As a sales professional, we get have a lot on your plate. No matter how busy you are, nothing should take precedence over you reaching out to your previous customers.

Fortunately, Mailchimp's innovative sales tools make it easy to build and nurture lasting relationships with clients. This way, you can stay on your customer's minds and make your way into their hearts with minimal effort.

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