Advancements in sales and marketing automation are making inside selling more effective than ever before. A 2018 survey by the KCBM Technology Group found companies that rely predominantly on inside sales tend to grow faster than their counterparts that lean more on field sales.
At the same time, Gallup reports less than half of customers believe sellers adequately address their problems. This issue stems from mismatched solutions and needs from sellers and customers, respectively.
What is needs-based selling?
Traditional sales methods typically revolve around salespeople highlighting the benefits of products and services without considering prospects’ personal needs. Needs-based selling makes individual customers’ specific interests the focal point of the sales process. Consultative selling is a type of need-based selling established on the development of personal relationships and open dialogue between buyers and sellers.
Needs-based selling often helps salespeople establish productive, long-term relationships with customers. By taking the time to understand individual customer needs, salespeople can also set themselves up to have more educated, well-rounded prospect interactions as time goes on.
Salespeople need a framework for making the best use of limited time across numerous pitches. The answer to that problem is a consultative approach.
What is consultative selling?
Consultative selling is an approach that focuses on creating value and trust with a prospect and exploring their needs before offering a solution. The salesperson’s first objective is building a relationship; their second is providing the right product.
Consultative selling fits the inside sales model hand in glove. It allows sellers to uncover customer needs faster and position more compelling solutions.
Putting this strategy into action requires seven key techniques:
Consultative selling tips
- Balance questions with insights
- Build knowledge-based trust
- Keep it conversational and genuine
- Take ownership of the conversation
- Let feedback guide the process
- Research customer needs and offer relevant findings
- Listen intently
1. Balance questions with insights
The path to the sale starts by understanding the customer’s needs with careful questioning. Developing this detailed picture is beneficial to the seller because it’s beneficial to the prospect. But all too often, sellers position solutions that aren’t a fit for the customer.
Sellers need to ask questions. However, that process takes time, and asking too many can make a customer feel like they’re being interrogated. The solution? Offer insights along the way.
For instance, say you’re selling an all-in-one CRM software to a prospect primarily interested in sales automation, but the conversation shifts to customer service.
If that were to happen, berating your buyer with questions about their support infrastructure wouldn’t be the right approach. Instead, you would want to briefly discuss how well your solution has suited businesses similar to your customer’s before moving on.
This earns you the right to ask questions. Insights provide rationale for your questions and build credibility.
2. Build Knowledge-Based Trust
While it’s true that more customers today are willing to engage sellers remotely, it’s also true that earning trust without in-person interactions is a challenge. Sellers can overcome this obstacle by developing knowledge-based trust: the process of building trust from actions that are consistent with words.
Sellers should try to deliver on at least one follow-up after the call. You could call your buyer, let them know it was a pleasure to speak with them, reference specific topics that came up in your conversation, and remind them to reach out if they have any questions.
The subject of the follow-up isn’t necessarily its point. That aspect is not as important as the opportunity to show the customer exactly how reliable and thoughtful you are. It shows you’re a person of your word.
This legitimizes your solution’s value and helps build a solid, trustworthy relationship between you and a potential customer.
3. Keep It Conversational and Genuine
The process of building trust with a customer extends beyond establishing rapport with knowledge. You’ll need to be disarming, appear approachable, and show you genuinely care about both what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to. That means speaking with real enthusiasm and meaning what you say.
Do what you can to keep your prospect engaged without coming off like a stereotypical, sleazy used car salesperson who puts on a big, fake smile every time someone comes onto their lot — the kind of salesperson who talks about how they wanted to get into whatever field the potential car buyer works in while trying to peddle a busted 1999 Dodge Dart that they haven’t been able to shed for the past 18 months.
That’s not the energy you want to bring to your consultative sales approach. You have to be more real than that. Believe in your product and discuss it with genuine conviction and honesty. If you’re selling that Dodge Dart, sell it like an economy car. Don’t try to convince your buyer it’s a Cadillac.
Understand your product’s value and speak to that. You should also try to identify something personally meaningful to your prospect and spend some time talking about that as well.
In short, be casually compelling, open with your intentions, and authentic with your pitch.
4. Take Ownership of the Conversation
Dialogue is the key to the consultative style. However, sellers still need to guide the conversation. The customer needs to understand they’re partnering with someone who can guide them through the complexities of business challenges.
Sellers should be prepared to reference examples of relevant work in the customer’s area with concise messaging — assertiveness underscores capability.
Taking ownership demonstrates credibility. The seller’s control of the conversation is a way to shape perceptions. But control doesn’t mean dominance; sellers must also be comfortable with using silence to emphasize key points and let their customers have a turn.
For instance, it can be helpful to be silent after making an offer. This can apply some pressure on prospects while they get a feel for what’s on the table. A lot of people will negotiate on their own to fill the quiet and can even end up talking themselves into very seller-friendly deals.
5. Let Feedback Guide the Process
There’s no such thing as bad feedback. Even the strongest customer objections offer an invaluable benefit to the seller. When a customer articulates a concern or disagreement, they’re clarifying their needs and indicating what they want to see moving forward.
Therefore, it’s important for the seller to carefully consider every piece of feedback. Be sure to take notes. And don’t be afraid to check with the customer that the solutions discussed meet their challenges.
Asking for the customer’s perspective demonstrates the seller’s commitment to a collaborative, consultative sales process. In some cases, gaining feedback will even offer an opportunity to expand the solution.
If you were selling software solutions for small businesses and a prospect said they were concerned about whether your solution fits a company the size of theirs, you would want to take that to heart. That would help you identify a vulnerable point in your sales pitch that you can pay more attention to as the process goes on.
6. Research Customer Needs and Offer Relevant Findings
Sellers need to research the businesses and industries they’re approaching in advance. Doing so equips the seller with the requisite base knowledge, allowing them to start with the most incisive questions first.
By researching potential gaps and needs in advance, sellers can identify opportunities to create differentiated value.
For instance, if you’re selling cybersecurity solutions, you should be familiar with the security regulations specific to your prospect’s industry. From there, you can identify the edge your product may have in helping customers achieve compliance with those standards.
Once these differentiators are understood, sellers can map their capabilities to customer needs. Ultimately, customers will be receptive to what those salespeople have to say because their information is relatable.
The key is to limit your ideas to the most relevant, cogent ones. The urge to demonstrate the value of one’s research is often strong. Push back against this compulsion. Create a bigger impact with just a few concise insights.
With a hypothetical all-in-one CRM pitch, you wouldn’t want to mull over every last feature of the sales and marketing aspects of the platform if you know your prospect is looking for a solution to improve its customer support infrastructure. Lock down the points you need to make and trim the fat from your consultive approach.
Consultative selling is customer-centric, meaning priority number one has to be hearing what your prospects have to say. Give them some room to talk. As previously mentioned, you should take ownership of the conversation, but there’s a difference between ownership and dominance.
Avoid obnoxious tactics that can come off as competitive or combative. Don’t interrupt their train of thought with your own solutions to their problems. Also, be mindful of other factors that may speak to how well the conversation is going, including any nonverbal cues they may be conveying, like uncomfortable body language or facial expressions.
The key here is to sympathize with your prospects. Let them know that their issues matter to you and that you have a vested interest in solving them.
The sales landscape is changing, and being able to develop and sustain interpersonal relationships is becoming more and more essential. The consultative approach may be the best way to keep pace with that shift.
The approach also helps sellers apply a consistent methodology to an ever-changing audience, achieve excellence in telephone selling, and ultimately drive more sales.