Steli Efti
CEO

The consultative sales approach: 10 skills to get started

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Last updated
February 28, 2022

Here’s the deal with a consultative sales approach: You can’t fake it.

This sales methodology requires a certain personality and level of expertise that can’t be learned by memorizing sales pitch scripts or imitating someone else’s style.

There’s a difference between selling a product and using a consultative selling approach. So, ask yourself: do your customers view you as just another sales rep, or as a trusted advisor who can help them solve their problems?

What are the consultative selling techniques that are key to winning with this model?

Let’s discuss 10 consultative selling techniques and skills you need to succeed.

10 consultative sales approach techniques & skills to master

To be a consultative seller, you need to be an absolute master of all knowledge in these three areas:

  • Your customers
  • Your industry
  • Your product

Let’s talk about the specific skills you’ll need to master these three areas of consultative selling.

1. Be an expert in your industry

Talking to customers about your industry should feel like playing on the home field.

Here’s a real-world example: the sales team at Close can act as expert guides to our customers because they’re salespeople selling sales software to other salespeople. They have intimate knowledge of the industry because it’s part of what they do every day.

But even if you don’t have this home-field advantage with your product, you can still build genuine expertise in your industry. Here are some ways to do so:

  • As you talk to customers and prospects, be genuinely curious about what they do and how they do it
  • Follow top industry voices on LinkedIn 
  • Subscribe to podcasts that discuss your industry
  • Subscribe to newsletters that give you top articles and trends in that industry

(Psst… want the best roundup newsletter for sales? Subscribe to the Sales Brief, our weekly newsletter that delivers the best advice and guidance to over 400k sales professionals every week)

When you stay up-to-date on the latest trends, current events, and research in your industry, you’ll be able to provide valuable insights and guidance to your customers, not just ‘sell them’.

2. Talk to your customers regularly

You’ve probably heard the phrase “know thy customer” before. So, what does it actually involve?

Start with your ideal customer profile (ICP). An ICP tells you more than simply who your current customers are—it singles out a list of clear characteristics that define the customers who are most successful with your product or service. 

This also involves knowing the key customer pain points that move people to search for your product or service.

But here’s the real key: you need to actually talk to your customers.

Team up with your Customer Success team to learn more about the customers that are highly effective with your product. See if you can jump on a call with them and get to know their business challenges and how your product or service is helping them succeed.

You can also follow up with customers that you’ve closed in the past and are still happy with your product. Learn about their achievements and the way they use your product on a day-to-day basis.

The more you know about your customers, the better you’ll be able to relate to your prospects.

3. Be genuinely curious

This is truly one of the core consultative selling skills, and honestly a core skill for any type of salesperson.

Genuine curiosity does 3 things for you:

  • Allows you to show real interest in your prospects
  • Motivates you to keep learning about your industry
  • Keeps you on your toes with new trends and skills

Of course, curiosity isn’t a skill you can learn; it has to be part of your personality. But you can encourage your own natural curiosity by focusing on the people in your pipeline instead of the numbers.

James Urie, Sr. Account Executive here at Close, explains it this way: 

“The best salesman in the world are people who are deeply empathetic. They can put themselves in someone else's perspective. They ask questions to really get a thorough understanding of the challenge that they're trying to solve. They give the prospect tangible solutions, where that person can actually visualize how it's going to be solved. And then you give them a path of execution.”

Watch the whole conversation here:

4. Master the use of your CRM

Of course, with all these conversations, it’s important to store information so you can go back and get relevant context on every deal (and every individual).

That’s why having a communication-focused CRM is so important for a consultative selling strategy. When your communication happens in the same place where information is stored, that accelerates your prep time and optimizes your workflow for the most efficient communication with your customers.

Here’s how this works in Close: on the lead page, you can see a history of your previous conversations with a prospect, including emails, call notes, SMS, and Custom Activities. You can also make calls directly from this page, meaning all the right context is in front of you while you talk.

Pro tip: Talking to your customers via Zoom? Simply connect your Zoom account to Close and you can run meetings directly from the lead view. Get the right context, add notes during the call, and even access Zoom recordings from one centralized location.

5. Learn how to control the conversation

Controlling sales calls is a skill all sales reps must master. Otherwise, you’ll allow the conversation to be constantly derailed by the prospect’s whims.

Here are 3 quick tips to control sales conversations:

  • Have a clear goal to accomplish with this call
  • Set up a structure for the call, like an outline to keep you on track
  • Ask questions that lead you through that structure

Remember, your role as the consultative salesperson is to guide potential customers toward a solution that fits their needs.

As you ask questions, you’re learning about their needs but also guiding them towards new ways of thinking or solutions they hadn’t considered before. Open-ended questions that allow the customer to talk will give you insight into their situation, and you’ll be better able to lead the conversation toward a solution.

Want to know more about the questions you should be asking? Jump to Chapter 3 of this guide.

6. Be authentic and honest

I’ve always been a big promoter of authentic sales. Your prospects know how to spot inauthenticity—and once they sense it, they’ll be turned off by you, your company, and your product (even if they would’ve been a great fit).

Authenticity means being yourself, but without being overbearing or pushy. Be flexible to different people and different personalities, but don’t use psychological sales tactics to trick people into liking you.

Here are more of my thoughts on authenticity:

There are too many salespeople telling their customers what they think they want to hear just to make a sale. Don’t be that person.

In some cases, a consultative sales approach includes telling a prospect they’re not a good fit. While it may be hard, you’ll both walk away from the conversation satisfied and with that trust intact. And who knows, this same person may remember your honest approach and might come back to you down the road. We've seen this many times at Close: prospects wanting to buy Close, even though we told them we're not a good fit. From the very beginning, we've always recommended other CRM systems when we believed they were a better fit for a customer. People were flabbergasted—but many of them later referred us to others, or became customers as their company evolved and Close became a better fit.

7. Practice active listening

When you ask questions, you need to listen. This may seem obvious, but it’s scary how easy it is to get caught up in your own thoughts and what you’re going to say next that you completely miss the answer to your question.

We’ve discussed listening as part of the consultative selling process in Chapter 1, but let’s discuss some ways you can develop the skill of actively listening.

First, learn from the best listeners you know. This doesn’t have to be in a business setting—think about the best listener you know, and talk to them. Try to focus on what makes them a good listener. How do they respond when you talk? What’s their body language?

Next, mentally echo what you hear. When your mind is repeating what your conversation partner is saying, you won’t get distracted by what you’re going to say next. Having a call structure as we mentioned before can also help since you’ll be comfortable enough with your side of the conversation to focus fully on what you’re hearing.

Finally, practice listening and summarizing. Again, you can practice this aspect of active listening in any part of your daily life. If you get into the habit of listening carefully and repeating a summary of what you understood, this will help you on sales calls to listen more closely and confirm that you got the point.

8. Build your personal brand

While this technique may not be for everyone, it is an excellent way to build trust and authority.

Remember, consultative selling has a lot to do with the customer’s perception of you. If they don’t see you as an expert that they can trust, this model won’t work for you.

Building your personal brand is a great way to demonstrate your expertise and industry knowledge. This will help potential customers recognize you as an authority, and put more trust in the advice you give them.

Again, this is something that can’t be faked. It all goes back to being a true industry expert that your customers can trust.

So, as you learn about your industry, form your own opinions. Talk to experts. And start sharing your insights and experience on LinkedIn, Medium, or other platforms.

9. Know your product inside out

You should be able to navigate your product as well as you can navigate from the bed to the bathroom in the dark.

That’s the only way you can really show your prospects how to use your product to get the most benefit out of it.

According to the LinkedIn State of Sales 2021 report, 44% of buyers called “Not understanding their own product or service” as the second-biggest deal-killer.

LinkedIn state of sales report supports knowing your product as a key to consultative selling approach

If you don’t feel like you know your product well enough, it may be time to take a refresher course. Talk to your Product or Engineering teams to get a full walkthrough of new features. Take advantage of any content created around the use of your product. If possible, test things out for yourself.

The more you know your product, the better you’ll be able to consult with customers on how to use it to its full potential.

10. Be confident enough to stand your ground

Some people say the customer is always right, but I don’t agree.

Sometimes the customer is wrong. Sometimes they don’t have a full understanding of the root causes of their business problems. Sometimes they’re looking for a solution that won’t really solve their issues. Sometimes the decision-maker is trying to force a solution that the end-users don’t like or need.

As a consultative seller, you have the expertise and knowledge to guide customers. But when customers don’t want to be guided, you need to have the gumption to push back and communicate with confidence.

Here’s how James Urie, Sr. Account Executive here at Close describes it: “You should be very confident in what you are an expert in and how you can solve problems. That confidence relates to trust. If you are extremely confident on how you'll help someone solve a problem, it builds trust helps you ultimately close the deal, but also really help someone.”

Know when to challenge a customer’s way of thinking. This will prove your value as a trusted advisor, and show them what they actually need to succeed. Care about their success, and they’ll appreciate it in the end.

Put these consultative selling techniques into practice

The consultative selling approach is built on the basis of genuine interest in your prospects and expertise with your industry and product. Use the above techniques to build your own skills and improve your methods with consultative selling.

Of course, a major piece of the consultative selling strategy involves asking the right questions. Jump to Chapter 3 to learn exactly which questions to ask, and how to make the most of the answers you get.

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