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Article 12 min read

4 principles of the consultative sales approach

Convert more leads with these key consultative sales principles.

Por Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer

Última actualización en June 27, 2022

Customers don’t like to feel pressured into making a purchase, yet they’ll always savor that feeling of joy that comes from buying a great product. Or, in the wise words of Jeffrey Gitomer: “People don’t like to be sold—but they love to buy.”

This paradox leaves sales reps with a tough challenge. You know your prospective customers will appreciate your product or service, and you want to tell them as much. But a pushy sales rep always appears more concerned with making a commission than helping another human being.

The solution? Consultative selling.

Consultative selling helps you walk the fine line between pushing for sales and missing out on opportunities. The goal of this solution-based, customer-centric sales strategy is to establish positive relationships with buyers by helping them solve their problems.

It sounds simple, but it can be tricky to implement. In this piece, we explain consultative selling and how to apply it to your sales strategy so you can build trust, guide (rather than pressure) your prospects, and ultimately increase your sales success.

What is consultative selling?

Consultative selling (also known as needs-based selling) is a sales approach where reps act more like advisers than salespeople. Instead of pushing a specific product, sales reps recommend various solutions to potential customers based on their needs and pain points.

Of course, the consultative sales approach isn’t always appropriate. It’s best used in situations where your customer has already done basic research on products but isn’t sure which one is right for them.

In cases like these, the first contact with a customer generally occurs in the middle of a traditional sales pipeline, rather than at the beginning. While this may seem like an unlikely scenario, more and more consumers are doing their own research. With product information, reviews, and resources readily available to buyers online, sales reps are having a harder time managing customer conversations with methods like transactional or Challenger sales. As a result, the consultative sales approach is becoming increasingly prevalent as a sales skill.

The consultative sales approach helps sales reps meet customers wherever they are in their journey, ensuring the interaction is both valuable and profitable. However, for this strategy to be effective, reps must first develop a thorough understanding of customers’ pain points by:

  • Actively listening to buyers

  • Asking questions

  • Being objective

  • Focusing on solutions (rather than on products or features)

  • Providing customers with helpful information and resources (without asking for anything in return)

Consultative vs. solution selling

Consultative selling and solution selling are similar in concept. They’re both sales approaches that focus on the prospect’s needs instead of on the product. They also involve walking prospects through solutions that can meet their needs. But these two sales strategies have one significant difference between them.

In solution selling, sales reps will seek out solutions for their prospect, but they’ll often push offerings from their own company to fill the prospect’s needs. This makes solution selling more transactional in nature.

Meanwhile, consultative selling is all about giving prospects the resources they need to understand their problems and find a solution. Sales reps who use the consultative sales approach are frequently seen as more trustworthy. Though it may not result in a direct sale, this relationship-building sales technique helps reps bond with their prospects, which could lead to future sales or referrals.

The 4 principles of consultative selling

If you’re looking to build more trust through consultative sales, here are four sales psychology-based strategies that will help you put a consultative sales process in motion:

  1. Ask (the right) questions

    Ask (the right) questions, two people talking
    The main goal of consultative selling is to help your prospects discover a solution to their problems. Asking questions is crucial for guiding them through this process. There are two ways to ensure you’re asking the right sales questions.
  2. Practice active listening

    Practice active listening, phone in hand
    You can’t consult if you don’t know what you’re consulting on. When you meet a prospect, give them your undivided attention and listen carefully to what they’re saying. Not only will you gain a better understanding of the buyer’s needs, but you’ll also show them that you care, which builds trust.

    Improve your sales process

    A good sales process is the foundation of any successful sales organization. Learn how to improve your sales process and close more deals.

  3. Educate your potential customer

    Educate your potential customer, person with book in hands
    You have the expertise—use it. You’re teaching prospective customers how to make educated decisions. Assume your prospects have done their research; now your goal is to educate them on how to use what they already know.
    Here are a few ways to leverage your expertise to educate potential customers.
  4. Be authentic

    Be authentic, hands holding rainbows
    Consultative sales are only successful when you’re actively seeking out a solution and focusing on helping the prospect. If you suddenly start to push a sale aggressively, your prospects will be taken by surprise and more hesitant to follow your advice.
    Here are two ways to make your customer interactions more authentic.

A consultative selling example

Let’s say a business wants to invest in a CRM system to assist with data storage. They see your software online and reach out to you.

The potential customer has read blog posts on the topic, downloaded thought leadership pieces, and participated in online forums. They understand what constitutes an efficient and effective CRM but aren’t exactly sure if incorporating one makes sense for their overall company strategy. That’s where you come in.

You start by asking specific questions to learn more about how they plan to use CRM software. You watch their webinars and read their company blog and news articles to understand everything you can about their business and their needs. Then, you gather details about their existing tech stack.

With all that information in hand, you use your expertise to create a plan and offer suggestions on how to successfully incorporate a CRM. They push back at first, but you’re prepared to show them examples of how a CRM has helped other companies in the past—and they warm up to the idea.

Soon, you and your prospective customer discover that your company’s CRM isn’t the best choice for their business. Now that they fully understand their company’s problems, they begin to seek out more direct solutions and wind up implementing a cloud storage system that helps organize their files.

They don’t buy your company’s software.

And that’s okay.

Remember: Consultative sales is about selling a solution, not a product. At the end of the day, the goal is to provide value and develop a strong relationship with the customer. Achieve this goal, and it’s more likely that buyers will come to you with their future business needs and referrals.

Consultative selling with a strong CRM

Consultative selling requires a lot of research and in-depth knowledge about your prospects. With so much information to track, it can be easy for sales reps to overlook crucial details.

Zendesk Sell can help sales reps keep those important details in order. Thanks to customizable sales dashboards, your reps will have quick access to notes, company details, and statistics that will illustrate their expertise during sales conversations.

Don’t let sales reps get overwhelmed. Request a demo of Zendesk Sell today to experience how a robust CRM can set your team up for success.

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