A Few Thoughts on Consultative Selling

A discussion on LinkedIn provoked a question about using consultative selling processes, how well they work, and how hard they are to implement. Although there is a lot more to say about, here were a few initial thoughts I shared in the discussion.

Thanks for the question Bill. I use a consultative sales process, and I have helped many clients adopt the same over the past many years. Although each consultative selling process tries to differentiate itself with various terminologies, most are pretty similar. Some are better for services, others are better for software, still others are better for large companies versus small ones. Which one to use really all depends.

The general trend I am seeing is that consultative selling processes are decreasing in effectiveness these days. Customers are growing increasingly impatient with sales reps who ask a lot of questions–customers are looking for answers. We are seeing a premium on rep expertise and a kind of assumptive selling in which one assumes a value, proposes to test for its actual relevance, and then reports results. This is different from a list of probing questions and customizing a solution, which lies at the heart of most consultative selling processes. It’s not that consultative selling is bad, it’s just that certain markets are growing weary of it, and assumptive selling is a stronger bet–albeit much harder to do.

That said, I have a run a small consulting company for many years, and sold consultatively until recently. If you are going this direction, the one problem we had was that too much consultation can become an awful lot of free consulting, and a few prospective customers ripped off our expertise that way. Be careful.

One last thing: You asked if people are using the consultative selling process. They do and they will, but only if everything else in your customer engagement process is oriented to that new process. People sometimes think all they need to do is adopt a new process, announce and train it, and voila! All will be better. Our clients who view it holistically and make the investment to change sales tools, positioning, training, metrics and measures, and even the marketing to support the new process generally succeed. Those who don’t take that complete approach generally experience far lower rates of adoption. Hope this helps.


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