When you start selling with a consultative sales process, you embark on a journey with every new customer. You discover their needs, understand their pain points, and walk side-by-side with them as they discover the right solution.
Consultative salespeople are like a great doctor who takes time to listen to you and prescribes the right solution to the root of your problem, rather than just pushing pills to cover the symptoms.
So, what exactly is involved in a consultative sales process? How do you set it up and get it right from the start?
Here’s what we’re going to discuss now:
- Core principles of the consultative sales process
- Consultative selling process steps & stages
Core principles of the consultative sales process
Before we dive into the 8 steps of consultative selling, let’s talk about the principles that form the foundation of this sales methodology:
- Authenticity: You can’t fake genuine interest in people. Since much of consultative selling has to do with building relationships and earning trust, making sure that you are your authentic self during the whole process is key.
- Empathy: When you can put yourself in the shoes of your customers, you’ll be better able to relate to them and more motivated to find the right solutions for them. As revops consultant Marc Belgrave says, “You accrue a percentage of the value you create.”
- Authority: To be a successful consultant, you need to have a clear area of expertise that you can share with your clients. Consultative selling is the same—prospects must see you as an expert that they can trust to guide them towards a solution.
- Context: Having full context of the deal, the relationship, and the previous interactions with each prospective customer is a key to building trust. That kind of context requires a communication-focused CRM that connects with the tools you use for lead generation and data enrichment.
So, how do these principles fit into the consultative selling stages?
Consultative selling process steps & stages
Most B2B sales processes follow the same basic steps:
- Get a new lead
- Introduce them to your product
- Close the deal
So, following this general pattern, how can you build your own consultative selling process?
Step 1. Learn about your new leads before talking to them
Whether you’re doing mainly inbound or outbound sales, research is a key part of starting your consultative selling process.
Start by matching these new leads to your ideal customer profile (ICP). Do they match the criteria for a successful customer?
But more than that, try to get into their head. The more you talk to your customers, the easier this will be (we’ll discuss this in more detail in Chapter 2 of this guide). Try to understand their business, their perspective, and their motivations.
That said, reps can only be successful if they have the right resources to do in-depth research and truly understand which profiles are more successful customers. That’s why well-developed (and regularly updated) sales enablement is a key element of consultative selling.
Step 2. Listen, listen, listen
And then listen some more.
This is the main aspect of the consultative sales process, and something every article and guru will tell you to do if you want to start using this model.
But, how exactly do you listen better to your potential customers?
First of all, take the time you need before the call to relax and refocus. Think about the value you can provide to a potential customer, and set a clear goal for the call to keep it on track.
Once you’re on the call, shut up. Never, ever allow yourself to multitask on a sales call. When the prospect is talking to you, really listen. Don’t worry about what you’re going to say next or think about the questions you’re going to ask. If you have some questions prepared in advance, you won’t have to think about this during the call.
When the customer finishes talking, repeat back what they said. This makes sure you understood their point correctly, and shows them you were really listening to what they were saying.
Another way to listen better is to use the right tech. This could be something simple like call recordings in Zoom, or an advanced recording and AI note-taking application like Fathom. The point is—make sure you have a way to go back and reference the conversation, because you probably won’t catch everything on the first go.
Step 3. Dig into the root of key pain points
A good doctor doesn’t take what you say at face value. They’ll ask you questions until they’re absolutely sure they know the root of your problem, not just what it appears to be on the surface.
This is exactly what consultative sellers do.
Don’t take what prospects say at face value. Dig deeper. Ask questions. Understand the root of the problem, not just the surface pain.
Here are two ways to do it:
- Ask open-ended questions: “Tell me about…” / “Can you talk me through your process for…” / “How is that affecting your team?”
- Ask follow-up questions: “Why is that in particular so important to you?” / “Do you have an example of that for me?” / “What’s that look like in terms of [metric]?”
In Chapter 3, we’ll dig even deeper into asking the right consultative sales questions.
Step 4. Customize your sales pitch with the insights you’ve learned
While you may have a sales pitch template or basic demo framework that you use every time, consultative selling involves personalizing your pitch to what this prospect needs to hear.
You’ve done a decent amount of discovery by asking good questions and identifying the root causes of this customer’s problems. Now, use your pitch to provide a clear solution, not just with the product, but with a workflow and clear guidance.
Here’s how this looks in the real world:
When the sales reps at Close get on a demo with a new inbound prospect, they’ll take time to dive into the prospect’s free trial account in Close and set up a clear workflow with them. The prospect walks away, not just with a sales pitch, but with the guidance and support they need to actually start seeing real benefits from the product they’re testing out.
Sr. AE, James Urie, calls this building sticky trials with personalized demos. Check out the video below for more info:
Step 5. Educate your prospects
During the consultative sales process, you’ll have a part in educating your prospects and guiding them where they may need help.
Here are three areas consultative sellers will usually educate their prospects:
First, educate them on the real impact of their challenges.
Now that you know the main challenges they’re facing, help your prospects to think about the financial impact of those problems.
For example, if there’s an issue with productivity, how much money is that wasted time causing them? How does low productivity impact their employee retention rates?
Next, educate them on the root causes of their challenges.
As an expert, you can see past surface issues and understand what’s really causing the problem.
For example, a sales manager may assume that his team is underperforming because their CRM is bad. While this may be partly true, a consultative sales rep may dig deeper and find that the current CRM is full of bad data.
In this case, the root cause of the problem is bad data, not a bad CRM, and simply switching to a new CRM with the same data won’t help. It’s the job of a consultative rep to educate the customer on why and how to clean up their sales data before trying to sell them on a new CRM.
Finally, educate them on the possible solutions and the value of those solutions.
For a consultative sales rep, the right solution doesn’t just mean the product you’re selling. Solutions involve the processes and workflows being used, as well as the tools they’re using.
Maybe a lead doesn’t know the possibilities that exist with new software or tools. Maybe they’re unaware of certain necessary features to overcome the challenges they’re facing. Or maybe they know exactly what they need, but don’t fully understand the value of it.
Help prospects put a price tag on the value they’re getting. Show them exactly why the solution is worth the money they spend on it. And dive into solutions with them.
Step 6. Solve problems alongside your prospects
The consultative sales process is all about setting your customers up for long-term success, not just ‘making the sale’.
I love how Revenue Operations consultant Marc Belgrave put it: “In sales, people think: ‘You can sell ice to an Eskimo.’ But Eskimos don’t need ice. Empathy tells you what the person really needs.”
A consultative seller acts as an additional member of their customer’s team, helping them develop the right workflow and process to succeed.
Step 7. Negotiate and close with a win-win situation
Obviously, a win for your company is a closed deal. A win for your customer is getting a tool or service that will exponentially increase their productivity, revenue, or other essential business metrics.
So yes, win-wins are a feasible result in sales negotiations.
The key is proving to your potential customer that they will win by purchasing your product or service.
We’ve already discussed one way to do this: help your prospects get the most they can out of their free trial with your product.
But what if you don’t have a free trial? Then go to the next best thing: social proof.
Use relevant customer stories to show how similar businesses or teams succeeded with your product or service. Show them results and prove that you know what you’re doing.
Step 8. Stay with them until they’ve seen the solution work for them
A truly consultative sales process doesn’t end when the contract is signed. It ends when a customer finds real value in the solution they’ve purchased.
The salesperson will eventually hand off the new customer to an account manager or customer success rep, but there should be a period of time in between the handoff where the salesperson is still in charge of making sure this customer is happy with the purchase they made.
As a consultative sales rep, you’ve already developed a relationship with the customer. You’ve talked at length about their business and their needs. You’ve designed a process for them in your product. Now, take them over the finish line—help them implement the theories you’ve discussed into their everyday workflow.
Keep adapting your consultative sales process to your customers’ needs
Here’s the real deal: a consultative sales process should never be a step-by-step process you go through repetitively day after day.
The consultative selling steps are adaptive. It flows in a clear direction but is willing to make adjustments to fit each customer’s needs or changes in the way customers want to buy.
When you keep upgrading and improving your process, that’s when you’ll be a truly successful consultative seller.
What other skills do you need to succeed at consultative selling? Jump to the next chapter to find out.