What Is Consultative Selling?

Definition & Examples of Consultative Selling

A senior couple is working with a consultative salesperson.
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Consultative selling focuses on the customer's needs and experiences rather than selling them on a product or service.

Learn more about how consultative selling works.

What Is Consultative Selling?

Consultative selling focuses on the customer's needs. Rather than hard-selling a product, the salesperson asks questions and listens to the answers. The goal is to build a long-term relationship rather than a short-term, transactional one.

Consultative selling frequently works hand-in-hand with value-added selling, an approach in which a salesperson presents customer-specific benefits related to their product or service. When properly executed, the consultative approach often unearths a great deal of information about the prospect's needs. This makes it easy for the salesperson to match those needs to benefits related to the product or service they're selling.

How Consultative Selling Works

The biggest advantage of the consultative selling approach is that it helps the salesperson build rapport quickly while presenting themselves as a resource for their prospects.

The rapport-building comes from the salesperson's willingness to share helpful and valuable information with prospects without asking for anything in return. Once the seller demonstrates their expertise, the potential buyer is likely to reach out to them again whenever they have a question or concern about that area of interest.

Consultative Selling Steps

Consultative selling means letting the customer's needs guide the process. That means the process might change depending on the client. Here are steps typically involved in this type of sale:

  1. Prepare: Thoroughly qualifying prospects before setting up an appointment is a critical part of the consultative approach. Qualifying a prospect means doing your best to ensure your product or service is a good fit for the potential client. For example, if you're selling replacement windows, you want to be sure you're meeting with the homeowners and not tenants.
  2. Ask questions: Take the time to get to know the client. If you're in business-to-business sales, ask about how and why they started their business. Ask what challenges they face. Questions can build rapport and allow you to uncover customer needs.
  3. Listen: Actively listen to how the potential client responds to your questions. In sales, it's sometimes tempting to jump right to a solution, but that could mean you don't completely understand the client. You could miss sales or the opportunity to offer insights and advice by not taking the time to listen.
  4. Be authentic: You don't have to be "salesy" to be a successful salesperson. With consultative selling, you want to position yourself as a resource. Share your expertise and thoughts. Be honest about the pros and cons of your product or service. If there's a competitor product that might work better, let them know. Authenticity makes you memorable in a positive way.
  5. Follow up: Many clients won't commit right away. They may need to talk to a loved one, or in a business, they may need to run your product or service by other executives. Be persistent without being overbearing. Provide valuable information when you follow up, such as industry trends that might interest the client.

Requirements for Consultative Selling

While having a background in business can be helpful, there's no specific background or education you need to be a salesperson. There may be industry-specific requirements, though. For example, real estate agents and insurance agents need to be appropriately licensed in their state.

A salesperson should have experience in sales and/or customer service. They should have exceptional interpersonal and communication skills. Organizational skills are also essential since following up is a critical part of consultative selling.

Key Takeaways

  • Consultative selling focuses on the customer's needs and experiences rather than on a product or service.
  • The goal of this kind of selling is to build a long-term relationship rather than a short-term, transactional one.
  • Consultative selling involves preparing for the appointment, asking questions and listening to the answers, being authentic, and following up. 
  • To succeed in consultative selling, you should have experience in customer service and/or sales and exceptional interpersonal, communication, and organizational skills.