Ask a salesperson if they are consultative, and you will find most answer in the affirmative. After nodding in agreement, ask that salesperson what makes them consultative, and you will hear many ideas, none close to correct. Some of my favorites include:
- "I ask good questions." This answer is incorrect. While good questions are important to good selling, they don’t make a person consultative.
- "I don't use any high-pressure tactics." Most salespeople would not be capable of pressuring their prospects to do anything. Those days are long gone, as your contacts have unlimited alternatives and options. The lack of high-pressure tactics is good, but it isn't consultative.
- "I help my clients solve their problems by selling them a solution.” This comes a tiny bit closer, but it’s still incorrect. You can solve a client's problem without using a consultative approach. Most salespeople sell their clients something that improves their results.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines consultative as "Of or pertaining to consultation; having the right or power to advise or join in consultation; deliberative, advisory; said chiefly of a body whose function is to take part in a consultation, but not to vote upon the decision."
Google, using Oxford languages returns this shorter definition: "intended to give professional advice or recommendations."
The 5 Challenges of Consultative Selling Training
While there are many reasons why a salesperson might not be consultative, there are five major obstacles that prevent it:
- A lack of business acumen
- A sales approach that prevents the salesperson from being perceived as an authority
- A lack of confidence in telling the client what they should do
- Conflict aversion and an unwillingness to address an inconvenient truth about the contact's role in their poor results
- A lack of knowledge and experience to provide counsel, advice, and recommendations
Let's look at each of the five challenges of consultative selling training and what you might do to address them.
1. A Lack of Business Acumen
This challenge stems from the salesperson and their company not recognizing that consultative selling makes one a business advisor. Some salespeople are not interested in business, and this reduces their ability to engage in business conversations. They don't read business publications or watch or listen to CNBC, where they might get an education by listening to CEOs and investors talk about companies and their businesses.
To enable a consultative approach, you first must deal with the lack of business acumen. A business person will have a difficult time taking advice from a salesperson who knows nothing about business.
2. A Legacy Sales Approach
For decades, salespeople have been taught and trained to gain credibility by borrowing it from their company, their client list, and their solutions. This legacy approach no longer works, and the salesperson is exposed as being unequipped and unprepared as soon as they must help. These challenges sometimes stack up, with the lack of business acumen and the poor approach reducing the salesperson's position.
A consultative approach cannot be used without an approach that enables it. It's important to recognize the current ACDC (accelerating, constant, disruptive change) environment is one that finds decision-makers and other stakeholders struggling to address their challenges. A salesperson who cannot help them make sense of their world and create the certainty they need to move forward is of little use.
3. Lack of Confidence
Not all sales are the same, and not all of them need a consultative selling approach. But if your type of sales requires consultation to create and win new clients, then the salesperson should have the confidence to tell their clients what they need to do to improve their results. There are good and nice people who don't believe they should tell decision-makers what they should do, but in many cases, those same decision-makers wish someone would help them understand what they need to do.
Again, we are stacking these challenges, one on top of the other. It's difficult to offer advice if you don't know more than your contact does. A salesperson’s lack of business acumen and their improper approach contribute to the lack of confidence required to enable consultative selling.
4. Conflict Aversion
Asking a client about their problem while knowing that you plan to solve it with your solution is a shallow, weak discovery. It allows the non-consultative salesperson to avoid implicating their contact’s actions as one of the root causes of their problems. Those who are conflict averse avoid telling the client their baby is ugly.
A lie of omission is no better than a lie of commission. Either way, you fail your client by not telling them the truth. Speaking truth to power can be intimidating, especially if you think it could cause you to lose the deal. However, if you don’t tell the client what they need to do differently, you’re more likely to fail later on. Much of the time, a salesperson’s solution fails because the client continues doing something that undermines their own results. The client will continue to have the same problems because they did not have a consultative salesperson to tell them the truth.
5. A Lack of Knowledge and Experience
It’s possible to develop a consultative salesperson through several projects that improve their approach. The salesperson without the requisite knowledge and experience will struggle to be consultative.
Development occurs over time, but those who want to train their sales force to be more consultative will need to recognize the conversations they have will be around the intersection of their business and their client's business. In team meetings and trainings, these conversations should address the real challenges your clients have and what counsel, advice, and recommendations would help them reach their goals.
It is possible to enable a sales force with consultative selling training. It starts with projects that provide them with a set of tools to speed their way to becoming more consultative and improving their results. To transform your sales team, schedule a meeting here.