This list is not in any particular order, and many of the attributes or character traits depend on others. Similarly, while no single item listed here prevents you from being consultative, the more of them you possess, the less likely you are to be consultative.
1. Lack of Experience
There is a certain unfairness to this obstacle: how can you be expected to have experience before you have an opportunity to gain that experience? It’s especially challenging when you are just getting started in sales and haven’t ever had the occasion to provide targeted business advice.
The challenge isn’t easy to overcome, but there are a lot of ways to gain experience faster. For example, you can ask to join an experienced salesperson on a sales call, so you can experience their approach. If you are fortunate enough to have a good sales playbook and process, you can also study how to approach sales, as well as leveraging the talk tracks or planned dialogues that others have found valuable.
2. Lack of Situational Knowledge
Situational knowledge is different than experience. Once you gain enough experience helping clients, you can more easily discern why one client should pursue a certain set of changes and a particular solution, while another client would require different changes and a different approach.
Situational knowledge is subtle, and like experience, it takes time to acquire. The more you work to understand how and why the best salespeople customize their advice to the circumstances, the faster you’ll gain situational knowledge. Over time, you will learn to quickly recognize why a client has a certain problem and how they should respond.
3. Lack of Business Acumen
One of the most important changes in sales is that business acumen is now every bit as important as sales acumen. It’s not enough to know how to sell: you also need to know enough about business to provide advice and counsel. Since professional training rarely covers business acumen, to improve it you must become interested in business and how it works. Particularly in B2B sales, where you are helping another company improve their business, you have to know something about business.
4. Weak Grasp of Business Vocabulary
Business has a language of its own, just like sales, and you’ve got to be fluent to be consultative. As a quick example, a client I called on used the word “throughput.” At the time, I understood the concept, but not how they were using it. In this case, it was a measurement they used to calculate what it cost them to produce an outcome. The measurement was total units shipped divided by the total cost of labor. Once I grasped what they meant, I could both integrate it into our conversations and advise them on how to improve it.
Among the plethora of bad advice on the internet is the idea that you should avoid jargon. While it’s easy to overuse jargon, avoiding the language your clients use is simply an awful idea. Your clients have a certain vocabulary, and being consultative means acquiring it.
5. Lack of Insight
Insight is critical to consultative sales: put simply, you need to know something your client doesn’t know. Using that knowledge, you can offer your clients a new, clearer vision of their business and the decisions they need to make moving forward. Creating value for a client means offering them ideas and views they don’t already possess. If they already know everything you know, you aren’t going to be as valuable as someone who can help them discover something they don’t yet know.
6. Outdated Approaches
Some of the traditional approaches to sales are not consultative. Many of them assume that your dream client is already dissatisfied, yet somehow already has a well-formed idea about the root cause of their challenges. All you need to do to win their business, the story goes, is to show them how your company’s solution can solve their problem.
To be truly consultative, you are going to need a modern sales approach. Your clients may not think they are struggling to produce results, believing instead that they have things just right. A single stakeholder will have very little ability to effect change without building consensus among a group of people that may be defined by their lack of alignment.
7. Weak Questions
When you ask your client something, you want to hear “that’s a really good question.” Falling back on “what’s keeping you up at night” and the like will just make your client sigh, check their watch, and wonder what they did wrong to get stuck in a conversation that isn’t worth their time.
The really valuable questions drive your prospective clients to recognize why they might need to change their approach. Likewise, the more a question allows them to deepen their understanding of their business and their decisions, the more consultative it is.
8. Conflict Aversion
To gain trust, you must be both able and willing to engage in conflict. But here’s the secret: consultative conversations feel like diplomacy, not like war. You are trying to win hearts and minds!
Sometimes, for instance, your client is going to be wrong in their diagnosis of their challenge or what is necessary to improve their results. Failing to address these things is failing them as a salesperson. A trusted advisor isn’t going to allow their client to do anything that might harm them, either now or in the future.
9. Lack of Confidence
You must show confidence in yourself and conviction in your advice. Any uncertainty will be obvious to your client—and if you aren’t sure, why should they be? Put in the work to offer them the right solution, yes, but it’s just as important to show faith in your own solution.
10. Lack of Executive Presence
You project who you are as soon as walk into the room to meet your prospective client. You’re there to dispense advice and counsel, so you’d better look (and act) the part! Whether you call it being buttoned up, smart, or disciplined, exuding executive presence allows you to offer your advice and be taken seriously. Anyone can dress up for a meeting, but you have to carry yourself in a certain way to be consultative.
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