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To maximize the potential of sales calls, a company's salespeople should focus on actively assessing the customers’ needs. Sales professionals call this a consultative approach. By embracing consultative selling, sales teams can speed up the sales cycle and improve their bottom line.

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What Is Consultative Selling?

The consultative selling approach is one in which sales reps ask questions and listen carefully to identify a customer's needs. Rather than emphasizing a pre-rehearsed sales pitch, the consultative sales approach centers around asking the right questions about a potential customer's pain points—the issues that they or their business may be trying to solve.

How Does Consultative Selling Work?

The consultative selling process begins just like a traditional sales process. A marketing or sales rep will contact a potential customer—either via cold-calling or through a lead generation algorithm. Yet rather than bombarding a customer with talking points, consultative sellers quickly shift to active listening. They pose open-ended questions and ask specific follow-ups, they carefully listen to the prospective client. They then describe potential offerings that could address the prospect's needs.

Why Is Consultative Selling Important?

The consultative sales process offers benefits for both the client and the seller alike.

  • It leads to mutual understanding. Consultative selling techniques emphasize dialogue. Rather than viewing a sale as a dry, transactional exercise, consultative sellers build rapport with their clients.
  • It establishes long-term relationships. In many sales environments, particularly the business-to-business (B2B) market, the best sales opportunities come from existing customers. If you can build trust with a new client during your first deal, you can create a long-term partner who will want to work with you on future endeavors.
  • It promotes feelings of respect. The decision-makers who pull the lever on sales tend to be managers. A consultative sales strategy can affirm the agency of such decision makers and make them feel heard and appreciated. If they feel like they have a respectful partner across the table from them, they’ll be more likely to make a major buying decision.
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An Example of Consultative Selling

Sales leaders may begin a business relationship with a call or meeting that never involves a sales pitch. They may simply reach out to a potential customer, engage them with questions, be an active listener, and simply have a conversation. The meeting may end with an exchange of phone numbers and email addresses. This makes the potential client feel valued as more than just a source of money, and it gives the sales rep clues about whether this prospect is worth pursuing down the line.

Consultative selling can occur without a face-to-face interaction. Salespeople can simply survey company stakeholders by asking them to answer a few questions about their business needs. They can then enter those survey answers into a CRM database (customer relations management database), passing along the most promising potential customers as sales leads.

3 Tips for Consultative Selling

Whether you’re leading a consultative sales training or are looking to burnish your own selling skills, consider these tips for improving your consultative sales techniques.

  1. Let potential customers talk uninterrupted. The best consultative sales leaders begin their meetings with open-ended questions, allowing customers to describe themselves. If you steer customers with your questions, you may get the answers you want to hear, but you won't necessarily get the most accurate information. To truly understand who you're working with, let them describe their needs and their pain points in their own language.
  2. Look for nonverbal cues. If you are able to be in the same room as your potential client, you must listen to the other person's words, but also watch their body language. If they say yes but their body shows hesitation, you may have more work ahead of you.
  3. Try different forms of communication. Some buyers feel most at ease talking over the phone. Others may prefer a video chat. Some may even be most responsive to text messaging. Work with your clients and meet them where they are.

Want to Learn More About Sales and Motivation?

Become a better communicator with the MasterClass Annual Membership. Spend some time with Daniel Pink, author of four New York Times bestsellers that focus on behavioral and social sciences, and learn his tips and tricks for perfecting a sales pitch, hacking your schedule for optimal productivity, and more.

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