Professional salespeople want—and need—to be consultative. The word “consultative” means that one provides advice and recommendations, and it includes the idea that one possess the business acumen and situational knowledge (or experience) to dispense their guidance. Here are a few ideas that will improve your confidence as a consultative salesperson.
Increase Your Competence
A large part of the confidence you need to be a consultative salesperson begins and ends with your competence. A good many salespeople mistakenly believe consultative means they avoid hard sell, high-pressure approaches and ask good questions. While the approach matters, it doesn’t replace the need to be competent.
You improve your competence by becoming a subject matter expert in your field. There is no doubt that it takes time to gain the experience you need to be competent here, but the time it takes to gain the insights and ideas can through intentionally working to become a subject matter expert. What was the last book you read on sales? What was the last book or long-form article you read about the state of your industry?
As much as you need to work to become a subject matter expert in your field, you also have to become a subject matter expert in the challenges your prospective clients face and how you best resolve them. This is what consultative salespeople do, after all. Are you writing down the problems—especially the systemic ones—your prospects are struggling with now? Are you making careful notes on what works, when it works, and why it works?
Competency is found on the other side of this work.
Focus on Larger, Strategic Outcomes
It is too easy to look for “pain points” or “dissatisfaction” as an entry point to developing a case for your product or service. It is something altogether different to focus on the more substantial, more strategic outcomes your dream client should pursue and make a more significant case for change.
The first chapter in Eat Their Lunch: Winning Customers Away From Your Competition includes a framework outlining the four levels of value a salesperson or sales organization can create. The lowest level of value, while still critically important, is the value in your product. The highest level is the strategic value you create. Your product is not advice, eliminating that as something that makes one consultative. Offering the advice on how better achieve strategic outcomes is at the other end of this continuum, the consultative side.
Control the Process
It is difficult to be consultative without controlling the process. The contacts you work with often want to skip past the conversations necessary for a good decision, and they just as often try to avoid making some of the commitments they need to make to produce the results they need. Believing your contacts know best what needs to happen and when it needs to happen is to give up a consultative approach.
Here we shift back to competence. Who has more experience helping people make the decision your dream client is making? Who has helped more people and companies produce the result your prospective client needs now? How could they possibly know more than you, especially when they buy what you sell so infrequently in contrast to how often you and your company helps your clients with the same outcomes.
None of this is to say that your contacts don’t know their company and their situation better than you, but to make the point that your experience with hundreds of clients gives you a different level of experience, and one that can help shape their future experience. If you are consultative, you need to know how to help your client go from opportunity to execution to result.