Career Development

Consultative Selling: Definition, Techniques and Examples

February 11, 2021

Many salespeople are moving away from the traditional transactional way of selling and embracing a new approach called consultative selling. Also called "solutions selling," this method involves focusing on a client’s needs as opposed to making a product the focal point.

This article defines consultative selling and provides five ways to improve your consultative selling strategy.

Related: How to Develop You Skill Set to Advance Your Career

What is consultative selling?

Consultative selling is the sales approach of forming trusting relationships with clients and allowing them to communicate their needs during sales. Consultative salespeople actively try to engage in dialogue with clients to gauge their backgrounds, lifestyles and preferences. They can offer clients solutions that address their specific needs, rather than trying to sell them specific products.

Some salespeople practice consultative selling without being aware of it. These are sales professionals who ask questions and advise clients according to their unique requirements.

Why use consultative selling?

A client whose needs and wishes are met is likely to be more satisfied with your business, which strengthens the relationship between buyer and seller. This means that a client will likely return for future sales. Consultative selling also allows you to develop active listening and other soft skills.

How to enhance your consultative selling strategy

Some personalities naturally enable salespeople to practice consultative selling. However, many need to consciously train themselves to change focus from a traditional approach to a consultative approach. Here are five steps you can take to improve your consultative selling strategy:

  1. Do your research.
  2. Ask questions.
  3. Learn to listen.
  4. Be authentic.
  5. Follow up.

1. Do your research

It is typically easier to address a client’s needs and design a unique sales solution if you know something about their history and life. Many salespeople do not always know their customers in advance, but some salespeople, like financial advisors, engage with their clients often. This kind of sales environment allows you time to perform some background research on your client. Whether you consult social media or conduct an internet search, having some knowledge about your client’s lifestyle and history will help you with the following:

  • Answering questions: Knowledge of your client will help you answer your client’s questions effectively. You may even anticipate a few questions, which you can prepare for ahead of time.

  • Gauging the needs of clients: You will likely be in a better position to gauge if and how your product or service will benefit the client. This will allow you to look up case studies or statistics that may be insightful to the client before your next meeting.

  • Facilitating conversation: Some background knowledge will provide you with conversation points to maintain an active and productive discussion.

2. Ask questions

The traditional concept of sales is one in which a salesperson mostly speaks and a client listens. This dynamic is very different in consultative selling. It requires salespeople to gauge client needs through questions and active listening. Asking questions will not only help you engage in dialogue with the client but will also provide you with valuable information. You can start by posing basic and general questions that will allow the client to lead the conversation in a specific direction. You can then gradually introduce more specific questions. 

For instance, if you are selling accounting software, you can start with a general question like, “How many employees do you have at Ultimate Networks?” Learning about the company first will allow you to plan subsequent, more specific questions to foreground the unique benefits of your solution. You could respond by saying, “Did you know that our product DataList allows up to 100 unique profiles for every client organization?

Related: Common Communication Barriers (With Examples)

3. Learn to listen

Consultative selling requires strong active listening skills. Active listening differs from hearing, as an active listener is invested in what a speaker is saying. This kind of listening requires concentration and not only involves verbal cues but non-verbal cues as well. For instance, if a client seems distracted by another matter, it may be more convenient to meet at another time.

One aspect of being a great listener is to allow your clients to finish what they are saying and to not interrupt. Also, give yourself time to properly process the information your client supplies before responding. If you need more time, ask for clarification with phrases like, “Can you expand on what you are saying?” You could also take notes if it is appropriate and provide phrases of acknowledgment like “I understand” from time to time to show that you are interested in what your client is saying.

4. Be authentic

One cornerstone of consultative selling is trust. If you truly want to excel as a salesperson, aim to nurture trusting relationships with your clients. This requires honesty and authenticity from both parties. It also includes letting a prospective client know if a product or service is possibly not the best fit for them. You may not make a sale, but you could win a client’s trust and loyalty in return, which may lead to future sales.

Being authentic also means believing in the products or services you are selling and having an honest concern for the well-being of your clients. If you are guided by a passion for your products and clients, chances are that you will be a successful salesperson.

5. Follow up

Although you may be excited to close a deal, it is important to consider the client’s context. They may need to consult with a partner or CEO first or may have to arrange their finances. Whatever the case, it is important to remain patient and not rush your clients.

It is, however, important to stay in touch with your client and to follow up. Statistics show that, on average, a salesperson needs to follow up five times with a client before closing a sale. You could maintain communication by emailing a relevant article or interesting piece of news. If you do not receive feedback from a client for a prolonged period though, you can send a direct mail in which you ask for information, such as what the client’s timeline is and whether other stakeholders are involved in the decision-making process.

An example of consultative selling

Salespeople who practice consultative selling do not have to sell big and expensive products or solutions. These salespeople exist in many sales environments, even in a local butchery or shoe shop. Here is an example of a salesperson practicing consultative selling:

My laptop was giving me a lot of problems, and I decided it was time to invest in a new one. As I entered our local computer supplier, I immediately noticed a laptop that was way above my budget. However, I was too tired and stressed to consider other options and decided to buy it nonetheless. A friendly shop assistant approached me and asked me if I need any help.

When I stated that I wanted to buy that expensive laptop, he replied, “May I ask what you will be using the laptop for?” When I explained that I basically use my laptop to work in Word and connect to the internet, he responded saying, “Ma’am, I can recommend a much cheaper laptop that will provide you with all the functionality you need.” Eventually, I purchased a laptop that cost less than half of the price I was willing to spend, and it has functioned perfectly well for over two years now.”


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