We are usually asked for sales candidates who are “consultative” sellers. In the sales world the term is used loosely. In reality, a small minority of salespeople have the necessary skills and approach. Clients themselves will tend to select a lot on “personality” meaning they select who they warm to and who they think will fit in, but a strong consultative seller will still shape their thinking. And that’s the real indicator of a consultative seller – they can shape other people’s thinking because they use a structured approach, they have a perspective and control the flow of the engagement. They instantly get the respect of a prospect – or an employer, even when there are other negatives, biases at play.

The shaping piece is the one to really look out for; can this person shape the thinking of other people?

There are 2 parts to proper Consultative Selling:

Part 1: What you do when talking to prospects (Phone / Zoom / On-site face to face). The Front Facing part. 

Position Yourself as Advisor:

  • You will likely start a conversation at a high overview level i.e. you have a perspective. That way you are first seen as an expert / advisor and a salesperson second. Essentially it’s in the prospect’s interest to meet, even if they never spend a cent.
  • Nowadays, often called insight-selling and value-messaging i.e. the quality of your conversation alone brings value.
  • You will have a lot of situation knowledge (this person has done this many times) and business acumen (understanding that clients want solutions to problems and access to new opportunities and best practice).

You are judged before the company or the offering is. You are the value proposition. 

The 51% Rule: You are not the implementation expert (you are not the “coder” or geek), but you have enough surrounding knowledge of an area or subject that prospects want to engage with you. We call this 51% knowledge.

Exploration Skills: You have expert conversation skills that brings a prospect through a conversation roadmap that includes discovery and exploring possibilities. This further cements the advisor / value messaging piece.

Control the Process: You will have a prescribed approach for managing the prospect / customer engagement securing date-driven commitments from the prospects.

Part 2: What You Do Behind the Scenes or back at the office (Skills and Activities). The “back-end” part. 

  • You will be researching target accounts – no just “leads”. Target accounts are “ideal” prospects who today, have no idea how useful you could be to them.
  • Desk-based formal call planning, the way an engineer or project manager would work.
  • While always trying to secure meetings / appointments, you are nurturing contacts today that will produce future meetings.
  • Conversation Entry Point: You plan the start of a conversation – you have a deliberate, prescribed entry point vs hoping your small talk will wind its way to a quick sale.
  • Exploration Tracks: You have deliberate planned questions and conversation tracks.
  • Engagement Roadmap: You know what you need the customer to do – you look for commitments, not vague agreements.
  • Stakeholder Management: You can manage multiple stakeholders, including the hidden “no” people who need ot be brough on side in a deal.
  • Create Preference: You can create preference for an approach as well as for your solution.
  • You report accurately. Even if the sales is “not going well” you are absolutely clear that it is not and don’t fool yourself with hope and wishful thinking. You are a complete realist. The only thing you are optimistic about is your own ability to recover from daily setbacks, the only  thing that is certain in sales.

What is the Opposite to Consultative Selling? 

  1. The salesperson sets up a “relationship” more along friendly than expertise-based lines. The friendly relations becomes the fuel for the sale and brings in the deal. You are likely very well liked, but not necessarily respected.
  2. In more complex sales, you stick rigidly to one “decision-maker” (the “friend”), but ignore the remaining stakeholders – the invisible “no”.
  3. There is no real concept of controlling a process or any process. Sales and selling are seen as the sum total of all your words, not a set of logical steps. If consultative selling were an algorithm, the opposite is the use of your personality as you main tool.
  4. Usually poor questioning, poor exploration of possibilities and narrow command of subject matter e.g. only ask me the 3 questions I know the answer to. Combined with pitching your own product and its features.
  5. You are probably the very last person to spot that the “opportunity” is going nowhere.