How to Ensure You Are a Truly Consultative Sales Professional

The Gist:

  • Whether or not you are consultative is measured by the value you create in the sales conversation.
  • Eliminating anything external to your business acumen, your situational knowledge, and your insights gives you a realistic gauge of your approach.
  • One test might be whether your client would pay for your advice if you had no solution to sell.

Imagine a company that’s experiencing a rather serious business challenge, one that requires a true expert’s advice. The decision-makers struggling with this problem begin their search for someone who can help them solve their challenge and improve their results. They stumble across your years-old business card in the bottom of their junk drawer, so they call your cell number and ask for your help.

You are no longer working for the company whose name is printed on the business card, and your current company doesn’t even sell what this company is going to need to buy. But they’re losing more money by the day, and they need a plan to turn things around, so they offer to pay you directly. Do you meet with them even though you have nothing to sell them? Or do you avoid the meeting and refer them to someone at your old company?

Would Your Client Pay You for Your Advice?

By eliminating the possibility of selling the client a solution and receiving a commission from your company, the value you create exclusively reflects your ability to help the stakeholders solve what they to be an intractable problem—one that requires expert, trustworthy help. This time, you can’t lean on your company’s credibility or history or client portfolio: you must create value for the company and its contacts on your own.

Because you have no solution to sell, you have to work with your business acumen, your situational knowledge, and your insights alone. If in the end, you would have to advise them to buy a solution somewhere else, adding more expenses on top of your consulting fee, what would your advice be worth to the company?

The Nature of the Problem

In your first meeting with the contacts who are endeavoring to solve a tough problem, would you be able to explain the external forces that are impacting their business and help them see the root causes of their challenges? In that same meeting, would you be able to recognize the contact’s false assumptions, showing them what has changed in their world and giving them a better set of assumptions with which to work on their problem?

How would you help your client accurately understand the nature of their challenge and gain clarity about what they will have to change to improve their position?

A salesperson builds a staircase with blocks as a solution

Recommending a Process for Resolving their Challenge

Your first meeting went well, and now your contacts want more help. They ask you what they should do next and how they can make the very best decision, as their challenge is strategic in nature.

Can you explain to the client what conversations will be necessary, what steps they should take and in which order, and guide them through the different commitments they will need to make to produce the best outcome? Would your ability to map the process be good enough that your contacts would have to pay you to reveal your plan to them?

Understanding Their Options

In a later meeting, your contacts want to better understand their choices before deciding on a solution.

Could you teach your contacts about the different options they might explore to solve their problem, differentiate the models that exist, and explain why one might be better than all the others in their specific case?

Would you be able to help them understand why they should pay more for one option over another? Would you be able to explain which concessions they want to avoid making and which might make sense to accept because they won’t harm their overall results?

Making Their Decision for Them

At the end of your conversations, your contacts ask you to make the decision for them. They want to know how they should solve their problem, who they should choose as a partner, and what solution they should buy—and they want you to stick around to ensure they can execute your recommendations.

Would your contacts feel more confident about allowing you to make the decision for them, or would they believe they could make an equally good decision without your help?

The Nature of Consultative Sales

The idea that the value you create comes from your insights and advice—and not from your solution—seems to conflict with the fact that you are indeed going to recommend your solution in the end, and that your financial incentives will come from your company. But actually that’s a false dichotomy.

The reason you use a consultative approach to selling is that it allows you to create value for your clients and your prospects outside of your solution. Your solution does create value for your client, but it’s the higher strategic value you create throughout the sales conversation that lets them recognize the value of buying from you and executing your advice.

The test here is how valuable your sales conversation is to your contacts, regardless of the value of your solution. The way to improve your sales is to become a true expert—one with the business acumen, situational knowledge, and insights to help your contacts make better decisions and secure better results.

Do Good Work

  • What would you need to improve to consult with a prospect if you had nothing to sell them other than your help solving a problem?
  • What would you need to master for your prospective clients to pay you for nothing more than the conversation and your advice?
  • How much is your advice is worth by itself?

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