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Transaction selling, relationship selling, partnership selling, consultative selling… If you’re a sales manager, you’ve heard professionals, blogs, and influential figures discussing these techniques. One resource will swear by relationship selling, while another swears it’s a mistake. How can you know which approach is right for your team?

There is no shortage of different sales approaches and techniques to take your team’s skills and close rates to the next level. If you’re considering relationship selling vs consultative selling, you need to understand the differences between these approaches to make the best choice for your team. 

This post will cover relationship selling vs consultative selling. I’ll discuss each approach’s pros and cons and give you the tools you need to implement the best approach for your team. 

Relationship Selling vs Consultative Selling: The Basics 

Let me clarify for starters: No matter what your approach is, you will have a relationship with your clients. However, you can start getting into trouble if you believe the relationship based sales is all that matters in your sales approach. 

Think about it for a second.  You've got great relationships with your friends and family, but how likely is it that you could sell something to them? Probably not very likely. Why?  Because sales is also about creating value for the other party.  

It doesn't matter how friendly you are with your prospects if you're not helping them achieve their goals in some way. That is the balance you must find to be successful in sales. Keep that in mind as we discuss these two highly valuable relationship-based selling techniques

Because of their heavy emphasis on relationship-building, both consultative and relationship selling fall into the category of what I would consider modern sales approaches, making them both markedly superior to legacy approaches to sales.

RELATED READ: The Slow, Ugly Death of Legacy Sales

Legacy approaches rely heavily on touting the features of your products and services. Your customers and prospects don’t want a features list: They want business insights that create real value for them and their organizations. 

The most important thing to consider when selecting your sales approach is to ensure that it is the most effective choice for your company, your clients, and your teams.

So, is relationship selling or consultative selling the right choice for your business? Let’s take a closer look at each approach's building blocks, pros, and cons. 

Relationship Selling 

Relationship selling is a strategy that requires sales reps to focus conversations around building a bond with their customers rather than talking about products or services. The stereotypical “strong sales rep” is a friendly person with a good personality and a lot of charisma. If people like you, you’ll be able to sell anything… right?

Let’s look at the pros and cons of relationship selling and see if it’s enough to win deals in the current market. 


Pros of Relationship Selling

A chief pro of the relationship selling approach is that this style of selling enhances the customer experience. Building a relationship with your customer builds trust and makes it easier for customers to ask questions and make meaningful decisions.

RELATED READ: Trust-Based Relationship Selling Examples

This increased trust and enhanced experience—as well as the relationship itself—also makes it easier to generate customer referrals. 

Lastly, building a relationship selling with your customers is a two-way street. In the process, you will also come to understand their needs and expectations more clearly. This knowledge will help you enhance the experience for future customers and prospects for cold calling statistics .

Cons of Relationship Selling

Relationship selling isn’t without its downsides. Firstly, sales reps may find it challenging to express a product's or service's benefits when solely focusing on relationship-building with the client. 

This lack of focus on the product can also translate over time to sales staff being less knowledgeable about your organization's product or service offerings. As a result, your reps may be less primed to answer product questions when they do arise. Rather than handling the questions themselves, sales staff must then call on other departments to answer questions, which can slow the sales cycle.

Lastly, when relying on relationship-building alone, your reps risk getting “friend-zoned” by prospects. When this happens, your reps will spend time and energy becoming friendly with prospects who have no true interest in making a purchase. 

How To Use Relationship Selling

Some of my top tips for using relationship selling to maximum effectiveness include:

  • Researching prospects to help break the ice
  • Leveraging small talk to uncover goals and pain points
  • Engaging in active listening
  • Following up proactively with information and resources that will add value for the prospects
  • Working to maintain the connection over time

I’d like to note, however, that I believe relationship selling is only effective when used in conjunction with another sales approach in the modern environment. 

Consultative Selling 

Consultative selling is also sometimes called “needs-based selling.” In this approach, you act as an adviser, guiding customers toward a product or service you know will solve a pain point for them or their organization. 

Consultative selling requires you to be an expert in your field, not just your product.  

The present business environment is increasingly complex and uncertain. A successful consultative salesperson positions themself to provide their clients with useful counsel, advice, and recommendations on navigating their industry.


Pros of Consultative Selling

Consultative selling provides many advantages to both the customer and the sales rep. By focusing on building an adviser-advisee relationship with your clients, you build trust and demonstrate the value you’re capable of providing to your clients. 

Building genuine relationships in this consultative way creates distance between rep and client, clearly establishing the relationship as one of a business partnership rather than a friendship or acquaintance. 

Consultative selling also challenges buyer-seller stereotypes. If a customer expects a greasy, “used car salesman” type interaction where the rep attempts to steer them toward the priciest package regardless of fit, they will not find that dynamic in conversation with a consultative seller.

Lastly, and most importantly, consultative selling has higher win rates. This advantage is especially true on larger deals where the customer may require more advisement to make their decision. 

Cons of Consultative Selling

No solution or approach is without its downsides. Consultative selling has two main challenges. Firstly, the time reps spend providing value and advice to the client upfront can result in longer sales cycles. 

The second con of consultative selling is that it requires a bit more effort on the part of your sales staff. They must understand not only the ins and outs of your business, product, and services but also the customer's business, product, industry, and even their emotional needs. 

How To Use Consultative Selling

You can use consultative selling by beginning by explaining why the client needs to change something to improve their results. If they don’t understand why they must make a change, they aren’t going to feel compelled to rely on your product—or anyone else’s—to do so. 

RELATED READ: Answering ‘Why Change Now’ For Your Clients

To succeed with this approach, your reps must take the time to educate their clients on environmental and economic conditions at large, how it impacts the client’s business, and what they can do about it. 

You must provide training and development to help your reps achieve the business acumen they need to succeed with these conversations. Once that knowledge is established, your reps will be far more effective than they were without this training.

Reps will need to establish the following in conversation with their prospects:

  • Customer pain points
  • Extensive knowledge of your products or services (as well as those of potential clients)
  • An ability to hold a genuine conversation
  • Strong listening skills

These four elements come together to help your sales reps offer valuable solutions and suggestions to your customers. The relationship seller isn't able to provide that level of value.

Relationship Selling vs Consultative Selling: Which is Best?

So, which method is better?  In my opinion, relationship selling vs. consultative selling might not be the right question because, if you're doing consultative selling the right way, you’ll build great relationships with your customers in the process. 

When you take a modern approach to selling, you’ll use consultative selling techniques to gain valuable customer insights while simultaneously building trust and relationships. 

To gain more modern sales tips you can use to start crushing your targets, you’ll want to request access to my Modern Sales Insights Pack. Use this free resource to learn how to stop chasing prospects off with legacy tactics and start building meaningful relationships and skyrocketing your close rates. 

Sales 2022
Post by Anthony Iannarino on December 1, 2022

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino

Anthony Iannarino is an American writer. He has published daily at thesalesblog.com for more than 14 years, amassing over 5,300 articles and making this platform a destination for salespeople and sales leaders. Anthony is also the author of four best-selling books documenting modern sales methodologies and a fifth book for sales leaders seeking revenue growth. His latest book for an even wider audience is titled, The Negativity Fast: Proven Techniques to Increase Positivity, Reduce Fear, and Boost Success.

Anthony speaks to sales organizations worldwide, delivering cutting-edge sales strategies and tactics that work in this ever-evolving B2B landscape. He also provides workshops and seminars. You can reach Anthony at thesalesblog.com or email Beth@b2bsalescoach.com.

Connect with Anthony on LinkedIn, X or Youtube. You can email Anthony at iannarino@gmail.com

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