Strategic consultative selling model: The 2023 guide

Consultative selling goes by many names, such as needs-based selling, solution-based selling, and finally, the type of selling your SaaS salespeople need to adopt in 2023.

One-size-fits-all is out, and full customization is in. Your customers and leads all experience their own unique set of issues, and they require you to rise to the challenge and provide them with personalized solutions rather than the brown band-aid approach.

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Regardless of who your prospects are, they want to partner with an agency that can help them understand and prioritize their issues, and provide high-quality, relevant solutions. Sometimes, your prospects may not even be sure what their most pressing issues are. Part of your sales team’s job is to help their prospects gain more clarity about their business.

That’s where consultative selling techniques come in. The salesperson has to do their research, ask the right questions, listen closely, ask more follow-up questions, listen even more closely, and only then prescribe the right solution. Let’s dive into exactly how the strategic consultative selling model works, and how you can implement it to grow your agency in the year ahead.

Consultative selling definition: What is consultative selling?

The strategic consultative selling model is a method that focuses on the problems the customer actually needs to be solved. It’s a customer-focused sales technique that incorporates methods for identifying those problems so that you can offer the best tailor-made solution, rather than a universal (and generic) one.

As this consultative selling definition tells us, it’s anything but a cookie-cutter approach. To succeed in using consultative selling techniques, your team must:

  • Do their research
  • Listin effectively
  • Provide advice
  • Tailor their product suggestions and sales pitch to the unique needs of each customer

Think about it like this: When a patient comes in to see a doctor, the doctor will open up the patient’s medical records, ask questions about what symptoms the patient is currently experiencing, and ask about environmental factors such as stress, exercise, nutrition, sleep, work, family, and more. Only then can they make suggestions about the next steps and potential treatments that are appropriate for the patient. Instead of automatically assuming that they know what the patient came in for, the appointment is used to uncover the needs of the patient and to help cure whatever ailment is affecting them. Consultative sales techniques take a similar approach and apply it to the sales process.

Consultative selling in four steps

The basics of the strategic consultative selling model can be broken down into four parts:

  1. Generate demand
  2. Research
  3. Ask questions
  4. Solve problems

This is the model salespeople should follow to appropriately identify the prospect’s needs and the best available solution. Let’s take a closer look at each of these component parts.

Lead comes in with a problem: Generate demand

When a patient has a problem, they get scheduled for a visit with a doctor. The same thing should happen with your sales leads: when they have a problem, they should know that your agency is the place to call to find a solution.

However, to reach the stage at which your agency is recognized as a valued solutions provider, you have to build trust and credibility both within your industry and with each individual lead.

You can do this by:

  • Keeping on top of industry trends so that you can be better positioned to understand customers’ pain points when they arise
  • Regularly building your sales pipeline so that you always have a funnel of prospects
  • Creating a portfolio of solutions so that you actually have something to offer when engaging with your lead

Nurturing your leads is part of this stage. You might start by cold calling to introduce yourself and gain some information about your prospect. Then, you can use sales intelligence tools for outbound prospecting to follow up with targeted email campaigns, personalized follow-ups, and other techniques.

As your leads get hotter and opportunities to offer solutions arise, salespeople can move to the next step: Conducting research.

Preparing for the appointment: Research

Let’s return to our doctor analogy for a moment: A doctor can consult their patient’s chart and see their medical history in order to have a better understanding of their condition before the meeting begins.

Similarly, in the strategic consultative selling model, the salesperson should arm themselves with as much research as possible before their sales call. This consultative sales technique gives them the chance to enter the conversation prepared with plenty of relevant information about the prospect and potential solutions that may be worth bringing up in the conversation.

Information before consultative selling sales call

This background information will help the salesperson ask the right questions. People love to talk about themselves, so you can use that to your advantage if you know the right questions to ask. Conducting research in advance of a call will enable you or your sales team to ask productive questions.

The conversation: Ask

Asking questions is the core of the strategic consultative selling model. In fact, the consultative selling definition can be boiled down to providing professional or expert advice. It’s difficult to give useful advice about a situation if you aren’t completely clear on what the situation is. Asking the right consultative sales questions ensures that you have a clear picture of the client’s needs so that your consultative sales suggestions are as helpful as possible.

In our doctor’s office example, the doctor asks what symptoms the patient is experiencing. The same concept translates to consultative sales. You, as the salesperson, are trying to figure out what the prospect’s pain points are. Start by asking questions based on your research of the lead that are relevant to the products you sell. For example:

Conversation examples in consultative selling

The first consultative sales question is directly related to the inbound lead nurturing you achieved through the creation of BoFu content. They have given you an indication of what their problems may be by downloading a case study related to their area of concern, which makes your job that much easier.

The second consultative sales question is all about showing a genuine interest in the company. You can establish trust and goodwill by giving a compliment based on the data collected in the research stage, and leave an opening for the prospect to open up and offer more valuable insights. This step should be all about having a conversation. The questions should all flow so the prospect feels like they can open up to you. found that the ideal number of questions in the most successful discovery calls is between 11 and 14. With fewer than 11, you may not get all of the information you need, and more than 14 makes the prospect feel like they are being interrogated. This ballpark of 11 to 14 is that happy medium that is jusssstttt right.

Notice the difference between these consultative sales questions and more old-school sales questions such as “what if I told you I could increase your revenue by X and reduce your costs by Y, would that be something you’d be interested in?”

This style of questioning comes off as insincere and “salesy” to the contemporary ear. Instead, consultative sales techniques are all about getting a productive, open conversation flowing through the effective use of questions.

Remember: Most of us love a chance to talk about ourselves. You can use this to your advantage by implementing consultative selling techniques in your calls, giving your prospect plenty of room to do so.

Next steps: Solve

We’ve talked a lot about the importance of asking consultative sales questions, but it’s also key that you embrace your role as a listener throughout the conversation. When using consultative selling techniques you want to pick up as much information as you can about your prospect’s situation so that you can provide the most useful solutions.

With all of the information collected in the previous step, the salesperson should be able to make a product or service recommendation that truly meets the needs of the prospect.

A doctor only writes a prescription after consulting the patient’s history and discussing their symptoms because this diagnostic process helps to determine the treatment that will treat the patient’s ailment. The value to the patient comes from the fit between the ailment and the treatment. Similarly, the value of any solution offered by a salesperson using consultative selling techniques comes from how appropriately it meets the client's need.

The strategic consultative selling model is, of course, intended to lead to a close. The salesperson should make recommendations and give their sales pitch at this stage in the process. The salesperson should inform the prospect about their solution while highlighting how it relieves the uncovered pain point.

Note that instead of walking the prospect through all of your solutions to see where there might be interest, you are using consultative sales techniques to first uncover their needs and then provide the most valuable solution.

Like @GaryVee says, "give value, and then ask for business."

Strategic consultative selling model

Now that you have a handle on the consultative selling definition, we can discuss some of the essential requirements that need to be met in order for your consultative sales techniques to work.

1. Build customer trust - Consultative selling techniques are all about establishing trust between the seller and the prospect. When engaged in consultative sales, always check in with yourself and make sure that you’re prioritizing your relationship with the client over just getting your sales pitch heard. In every interaction leading up to a sale, remember that building rapport with your prospects is a top priority, and that it ultimately serves your goal of closing the deal. Building trust establishes you as a valued resource and provider of solutions rather than another aggressive salesperson just trying to meet their targets.

2. Identify customer needs - We’ve touched on this several times, but it bears repeating: uncovering the prospective client’s needs has to occur before offering a sales pitch or overview of your solutions. It’s tempting to go into a meeting or call and hide behind your presentations, brochures, or slide decks, but it’s best to save those for later in your conversation. First, get the conversation going in a direction that will help you (and your prospects) really hone in on their most pressing needs. Asking questions and active listening are key consultative sales techniques that can help you do this.

3. Offer solutions that meet customer needs - Now that an understanding of the customer and their needs is established, ensure that the correct solution is offered to remedy the challenge they face. You may have a new service that you’re excited to get out there and promote, but if it isn’t the right fit for your prospect, it may not be appropriate to present it to them. Prioritize solutions that meet their needs. Once you do this, you’ll open up the possibility to sell more products and services in the future.

4. Close the sale - A relationship, the customer’s needs, and the best-fit solution for your unique customer have all been established at this point. Now, you can benefit from the trust that is been established to encourage them to move forward and close the deal. Once you’ve gone through the sales negotiations process, made the sale, and signed on the customer, you’re in a great position to check in regularly, keep the conversation going, and offer more solutions as new needs arise.

Consultative selling model

Examples of consultative selling

As a marketing solutions provider, you likely have a wide range of potential solutions to offer your clients. These examples of consultative selling demonstrate how you can ask the right consultative sales questions to get at the core of your prospect’s or client’s problems so that you can offer them the most appropriate solution.

Example of consultative selling #1: the local bakery

For this example of consultative selling, let’s say your agency specializes in digital marketing solutions for the food service industry. A new bakery has opened up in your area, and it looks like they are getting a lot of buzz online. They complete an intake form on your website, so you do some research and set up a call.

You use an automated needs assessment tool and see that the bakery has a great score in the area of social media, but particularly poor scores for listings, SEO, and reviews.

During your call, you ask questions to learn more about their business and build trust. Questions you ask include:

  1. What problems are you facing as a new business, and what motivated you to connect with our agency now?
  2. Have you tried anything so far to deal with the problem, and if so, how is it going?
  3. What metric are you most interested in seeing improved?

Through your conversation, you learn that the bakery is indeed doing a good job of growing its social media audience and engaging with it regularly. However, the content is of interest to bakery lovers around the world, so their audience isn’t particularly local. As a result, their large audience isn’t translating into as many daily customer visits as they would like.

You learn that their primary goal is to increase the number of people through their doors each week by 50%. From your conversation, you understand that they need to focus on local audiences. As a result, you come up with a custom solution for them that includes listing management, local SEO, and review management. This way, people in their community will be far more likely to discover the bakery online, and thanks to a stream of positive reviews, they will be more inclined to go in and see what all the buzz is about.

Example of consultative selling #2: the massage therapy center

Your agency has built a website in the past for a massage therapy center. Since it has been a while since you delivered the website, you check in to make sure they are still satisfied and to get a sense of whether they might have other needs. Through your research, you notice that they have added new services since you last worked with them: physiotherapy and acupuncture.

Because you mention their new service additions in your conversation, they open up about the fact that they are running into some operational issues due to their rapid growth. You ask questions to uncover what these issues are and notice that they seem to be struggling with keeping their bookings organized.

As a result, you can introduce them to your scheduling solution. They were thinking of hiring an additional office manager, but thanks to your solution, they can streamline their booking process and eliminate the problems they were having. In this example of consultative selling, you didn’t know what issues the customer was dealing with in advance of your meeting, but you were able to successfully discover them through consultative sales techniques.

Consultative sales techniques and tips

Now that you understand the basics of consultative selling, there are a number of important tips to remember to implement the sales tactic in a skillful way.

Consultative sales questions: What, when, and how to ask (350)

One of the most important consultative selling techniques is being able to effectively ask questions. This means knowing what questions to ask, when the best time to ask them is, and how to ask them for maximum effect.

What to ask: Asking questions is an important part of the process according to the consultative selling definition. However, you shouldn’t ask just any questions. You might use a few go-to consultative sales questions to get the conversation going. But once a conversation is underway, make sure you are digging into the prospect’s specific situation to uncover as much as you can with the aim of identifying the best solution for their problem.

What are examples of consultative sales questions?

  • What is the biggest issue getting in the way of you meeting your goals this month/quarter/year? This can help you identify problems the client may not even be able to fully articulate yet.
  • What motivated you to look for a solution now? This can help you discover if their problem has recently escalated, and if so, how their problem is evolving.
  • What is your current way of doing X process? Walk me through how you currently handle X.
  • Have you tried anything to solve your problem yet?

When to ask: Ensuring you ask some consultative sales questions early in your conversation is best. This way, you can ensure that you get as much valuable information as you can upfront, giving you the opportunity to guide the conversation toward solutions in your portfolio that may be suitable.

You can ask clarifying conversations throughout your conversation, but make sure that they are relevant. In other words, avoid filling dead air with lots of questions “just because.” This can annoy your prospect, and disrupt the natural flow of conversation. Give your prospects plenty of time to complete their thoughts.

How to ask: Aim to ask your consultative selling questions respectfully, selflessly, and patiently. To ensure you’re being respectful, take cues from your prospect about how much they are likely willing to divulge. If there is resistance, respect it and step back to ask broader questions. Being selfless when asking questions means prioritizing the discovery of your prospect’s needs, rather than the promotion of your portfolio. Finally, you can exemplify patience by giving prospects the time to answer and ask any follow-up questions. Make sure that you are actively listening after each question you ask, so that you can pick up as much valuable information as possible.

Listen closely

When using consultative selling techniques, the importance of listening cannot be stressed enough. We aren’t saying that your salespeople don’t listen. But we are saying they could always listen better. Here are a couple of listening tips to remember to ace consultative selling conversations.

  • Don’t interrupt to give them your solutions. If you jump in while the prospect is talking to give them a sales pitch, you’ll lose their openness. You want them to feel like what they are saying is really important. It’s still rude to interrupt.
  • Put yourself in the prospect’s shoes. To really understand the problem, try to feel what the prospect is feeling. It’s all about perspective and this is a great way to get it.
  • Ask clarifying questions. Repeat what the prospect said in other words and ask questions directly relating to what they just said. It is really clear that the salesperson is listening if they are able to reword what was just said.
  • Interpret nonverbal cues. An important consultative selling technique is to listen to what isn’t being said. In the context of a phone call, inflection and pauses can say a lot.
  • Stay open-minded. The worst kinds of conversations happen when everything being said is explained away. The salesperson should make a conscious effort to validate what is being said by the prospect. That means sympathizing with problems and asking further questions about them.

Becoming a good listener is one of the most important consultative selling techniques. It takes practice and discipline. It can be useful to incorporate these tips into everyday life to get used to them. You might learn something new, understand something better, or avoid an argument with a significant other. Who knows if you don’t try!

Be conversational

We’ve all had those awkward dead-end conversations. It’s cringe-inducing just thinking about them. It feels like people are talking because they feel obligated to, or worse, they tell you way too much.

Essentially, this consultative sales technique boils down to an important rule, both in sales and in life: don’t be awkward. This includes talking too much as well as not enough—make sure you don’t “show up and throw up.” A salesperson should be approachable and informative but in a conversational way. It’s all about finding that middle ground.

Respond to what the prospect says in small doses and clarify that they understand. Speak with enthusiasm and be engaging. If you’re excited about what you’re offering and how it can solve the prospect’s problem it is far more likely they will get excited about it too.

Be genuine

This should go without saying, but it’s easy to tell when people don’t actually care. Being genuine can only happen if you actually listen and engage with the conversation. Remember the core of the consultative selling definition? It’s all about asking questions relevant to a prospect’s situation.

The other benefit to being genuine is it helps to build trust. Credibility and trust will improve any salesperson’s ability to sell effectively, whatever the approach they choose.

Consider this: would you follow the advice of a consultant you don’t trust? Probably not. The same goes for salespeople—especially those using the strategic consultative selling model. We’ve all experienced the irritation of receiving a sales call from someone who obviously is more concerned about making a sale than they are about solving any problems other than their own. To avoid being one of those salespeople, keep the conversation in the customer’s best interests, be honest, and be genuine.

Know your stuff

We’ve talked about the importance of product knowledge in a sales context, and it is applicable to the consultative selling model.

To incorporate the “selling” part of consultative selling, it’s important to know exactly what product will solve your prospect’s needs. Salespeople have to find the missing piece in any given situation and be able to explain why the product or service will fill the void.

Take a look at some tips to incorporate product knowledge training here!

Key Takeaways

Consultative selling is all about finding the prospect’s pain point and giving them the right advice specific to solving their problems.

If done skillfully, the strategic consultative selling model can help your salespeople build trust and expand business with your customers. By following these tips, getting lots of practice, and using the method in the right context your salespeople will be well on their way to their best year yet.

About the Author

A busy bee that you can find spending time at the gym, reading, hanging out with her black lab Joey, or visiting the newest restaurants in town. Alyssa is a former marketing intern and onboarding success specialist with Vendasta.

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