All salespeople want to be consultative—their clients’ trusted advisor—but most are wholly unprepared to take on that role. Most sales approaches, both modern and legacy, are missing a number of important elements that are necessary to being a consultative salesperson.
Whether you use the most modern sales approach or one that is more than 50 years old, you may not be consultative. Much of what once passed for consultative selling is nothing of the sort. It isn’t uncommon for sales reps to suggest they are consultative because they ask questions, something that is necessary but insufficient. They also propose that they are consultative because they don’t pressure their contacts. Desk-side manner notwithstanding, this isn’t consultative.
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.”
You Have the Right to Advise
If you profess to be a consultative salesperson, you have to believe you have the right to advise your clients and prospective clients outside of buying your product or service. Like many, you may believe that your contacts know what they need and how to improve some strategic outcome. This belief can prevent you from being consultative because it can lead you to fear stepping over a line that might offend your contacts. The reality is that your contacts likely have many blind spots and knowledge gaps when it comes to making their decision, and they need an experienced outsider to help them learn what they don’t know.
Many, if not most salespeople sell by positioning their company and their solution, believing that their value proposition is what creates value in the sales conversation. This is misguided. Your value proposition is not consultative advice. Effective advisors are able to look beyond a specific problem and solution to help their contacts see the wider context.
You cannot be a consultative seller without believing that you have the right and obligation to advise your clients and prospective clients.
The Application of Your Advice
Selling your offerings every day gives you more experience than your prospective client, who makes buying decisions about what you sell. You are, or should be, an expert and an authority on your client’s problems and pain points—before your first meeting. The idea of being One-Up is that you know things your contacts need to know to make a good decision.
There are many points in the sales conversation that allow you to provide key information to your buyers and decision-makers. Your contacts can benefit from your advice about how best to go about exploring change. They can also find value in your advice on what they should consider and avoid.
Most salespeople ask a lot of questions to learn what they need to know without providing anything that might pass for advice. When salespeople don’t fulfill their obligation to provide advice, buyers look for someone who can provide a better sales experience.
If you watch salespeople meet with prospective clients, you will notice that few offer recommendations. Your contacts are trying to get things right. They don’t want to fail to improve their results because they missed something important. Your recommendations about the factors they need to consider and weigh are an important part of the sales conversation, especially during the buyer’s journey and consensus building.
When you are in a sales call, count the number of recommendations you make. If the number is zero, you are likely to lose your opportunity to a competitor who is consultative enough to eat your lunch.
The Value of Your Counsel
Your client finds value in your counsel if it enables their decision-making. The more valuable your counsel, the more likely it is that your client will be able to feel certain about their decision, build consensus, and succeed. For most salespeople, the problem isn’t providing bad counsel but that they provide none at all.
With experience, you will be able to recognize patterns that allow you to counsel your decision-makers on what they should do and avoid. If you aren’t leading your prospective client, someone else will.
The Power of Confidence
You can’t fake confidence, and when you are confident, your clients feel more certain about their decision. Being consultative requires you to have the experience and confidence to provide advice. When you don’t lead your clients, you leave them no choice but to find someone who will give them certainty.
We don’t spend enough time developing confidence in the sales force. We are often too interested in increasing the size of the pipeline without recognizing that a poor approach isn’t going to win deals. Some sales leaders believe that salespeople know how to sell effectively, but this mistaken belief limits their ability to reach their goals. In the future, focusing on pipeline instead of effectiveness will harm sales organizations even more than it harms them now.
The Future of B2B Sales
In the future of B2B sales, transactional salespeople are going to have a difficult time competing for enterprise-level opportunities because buyers are going to look for experts who have the right experience and approach to help them succeed.
In the past few months, we have heard from five companies whose sales teams can secure a first meeting with no problem but cannot command a second meeting. This is evidence that something is wrong with their sales approach. Now and in the future, buyers are seeking a better and different sales experience with someone who can give them the help they need.
Leaving this article, you should keep count of the counsel, advice, and recommendations you make in the sales conversation. If you need more help, see Elite Sales Strategies: A Guide to Being One-Up, Creating Value, and Becoming Truly Consultative or go here.