What Is Consultative Selling?

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The term 'consultative selling' first appeared in the 1970s book "Consultative Selling" by Mack Hanan. It explores a selling technique in which the salesperson acts as an expert consultant for his or her prospects, asking questions to determine what the prospect needs. The salesperson, in turn, uses that information to select the best possible product (or service) to meet a need.

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. The consultative approach, when properly executed, often unearths a great deal of information about the prospect's desires — which makes it easy for the salesperson to take those desires and match them up with benefits related to the product he or she is selling.

Establishing Trust

The biggest advantage of the consultative selling approach is that it helps the salesperson build rapport quickly while simultaneously presenting themselves as an expert 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. And, 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 expertise.

How to Become an Expert

Because presenting yourself as an expert is a crucial part of the consultative selling approach, you'll need to take the time to establish yourself before getting started. First, you have to acquire that expertise — which is a lot easier than most people think. You probably already have some knowledge about a subject related to what you sell. Building on that knowledge will quickly put you in a position where you know more about the subject than your prospects do, which is all you need to position yourself as an expert. The second part of becoming an expert is establishing credentials for yourself to support your claim. It can be accomplished by writing blog posts and social media posts as well as collecting testimonials from previous customers. Depending on your area of expertise, you may want to work toward getting certified through a brick-and-mortar or online training program.

Prep Time is Key

Thoroughly qualifying prospects before setting up an appointment is a critical part of the consultative approach. If you don't know ahead of time that your product is the right fit for your prospect, you could waste valuable time during an appointment trying to draw out the prospect for information. In the end, you might even discover that you can't provide what the prospect needs.

Being Big-Hearted Pays

Even if you've done your homework and it turns out that your own product is not really the best possible fit for your prospect, you can still get something out of the experience. In the time-honored holiday classic "Miracle on 34th Street," the Macy's Santa Claus ends up a winner because he sends parents to his competitor (Gimbles) to buy a toy when Macy's is out of the product. Being big-hearted pays off. Referring a prospect to a competitor's product will win you the prospect's eternal respect and gratitude. You can pretty much count on him for referrals, testimonials, and other assistance even if he never becomes a customer.