Despite all the pros of the consultative selling strategy, sales professionals around the world have, on average, only 50 per cent of the skills to sell consultatively. Why? While a lack of skill and training in consultative selling can partially explain it, most of it comes down to mindset.
So what attributes make a successful consultative seller?
No self-limiting beliefs
Self-limiting beliefs account for a high percentage of sale failures— and consultative selling is no exception. Consultative sellers who are able to overcome any self-limiting beliefs, such as "It's not okay to ask a lot of questions" and “Consultative selling won’t work in my industry”, are typically the ones who have the most success with this strategy.
Research from the Objective Management Group has found that 79 per cent of top sales performers have supportive sales beliefs, compared with the bottom 5 per cent of sales performers, who had no supporting beliefs at all. The difference between these two groups is that the top performers don’t let their own personal or professional beliefs cloud their judgement. They approach each sale as a fresh opportunity and give it their all.
Why is it important?
The biggest self-limiting belief in consultative selling is the notion that it doesn’t work in certain industries, typically the ones that sell “nuts and bolts” products.
“They might say, ‘I sell fasteners, how can I help a client increase their profits with fasteners?’” says Alex Chan, Head of Learning and Development at SalesStar Global. “But if they look at their fast and slow turnover items and minimise the number of slow moving items one retailer has, bulk up their supply of fast moving items and you’ll increase that retailer’s sales.
“With that, I’ve just shattered a self-limiting belief,” he says.
The takeaway? The best consultative sellers are those who believe in the method and don’t let their doubts weigh them down. They just get on with it.
No need for approval
“Having a high need for approval can impact your sales effectiveness by 33 per cent. And when you turn that into dollars, that's a lot of money,” says Alex Chan, Head of Learning and Development at SalesStar Global.
That’s why the most successful consultative sellers are comfortable playing the devil’s advocate from time to time. They know they don’t need to be everybody’s pal—and they’re prepared to ask tough questions to alert clients to the dangers (and opportunities) their businesses face.
Why is it important?
Asking tough questions is part and parcel of consultative selling.
“If you suffer from a high need for approval, you cannot ask questions like that, you’re too timid.” says Alex. “If you’re going to use a consultative approach, you must realise that you don’t need to be everyone’s buddy like the relationship salesperson thinks.”
Ironically, having those tough conversations often leads to strong relationships between the salesperson and client, far beyond what a relationship salesperson could ever achieve. Why? Because you helped them, and they respect you for that.
Comfortable talking about money
In our youth, many of us are taught that it’s rude to probe people about their finances. But while it might be a cultural taboo, it’s the language of sales and business.
Salespeople afflicted with money weakness are reluctant to talk about money, and as a result, they often struggle to perform––no matter which sales strategy they use. Of the bottom 5 per cent of sales achievers, only 2 per cent are comfortable bringing up the topic of money. Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, 98 per cent of the top 1 per cent of sales performers are.
“Salespeople who have a psychological condition of money weakness are almost terrified of asking customers what their budgets are,” says Alex. “And they're certainly afraid to ask what the customer’s problems and issues are costing their business.”
Why is it important?
If you’re unable to enquire about your customers’ budgets and finances, you’ll only get half the picture. Until you understand their budget and the cost of their problem, you have no way to know if your proposed solution will work for them.
“Successful consultative salespeople are very good at showing profit enhancement, even if the price of their solution to the client’s problem is dearer,” says Alex. “And that’s because they understand that there's more to cost than just the price—downtime, wastage, labour cost, utility costs, you name it.”
Good at listening
It should go without saying, but consultative salespeople need good listening skills. A large part of that involves staying in the present and not thinking too many moves ahead. Failing to stay in the present is called emotional weakness, and when salespeople fall prey to it, they stop listening to the customer.
Why is it important?
“If you don’t listen to your customer, you’ll fail to pick up where the problems are,” says Alex. “And if they throw anything unexpected at you—like price—you’ll tend to buckle, rather than deal with it consultatively.”
Why do salespeople around the world struggle to sell consultatively?
“Out of all the top salespeople in the last 12 years that we've evaluated, the top 10 per cent are really phenomenal at consultative selling,” says Paul O’Donohue, Founder and Group CEO of SalesStar Global. “There's a definite correlation. From top performers to bottom performers, the top performers, by and large, use the consultative selling process.”
So why have salespeople been so slow on the uptake? Part of it comes down to the fact that many sales trainers are still teaching the outdated 20th Century selling strategies, such as benefit and relationship selling. Another reason is businesses tend not to spend much time developing their sales staff.
“The skills in terms of consultative selling need to be lifted a long way in this country,” says Paul. “We're kind of a bit too casual about investing in sales training and development. And if you're casual, you'll become a casualty.”
What makes a great consultative seller? Find out in our free guide, Stop selling, start consulting: the power of a consultative sales strategy.