Consultative Selling: A Step-by-Step Guide
EBOOK

Consultative Selling: A Step-by-Step Guide

What are you selling?

Are you trying to sell prospects something, or are you trying to solve their problem?

Your answer could mean the difference between a lost deal and a long-term customer.

If you can show prospects the true value they'll get from your product or service, and how your company can solve their biggest pain points, you'll have a higher chance of closing than the salesperson who's just sending prospects a pricing list.

This approach of selling value and helping prospects solve their problem is called consultative selling.

We've teamed up with Aircall to create this free guide that’ll walk you through the steps of consultative selling. It's time to ditch the cliché of being the pushy salesperson that prospects avoid—and become a helpful consultant that prospects look forward to talking to (and buying from).

In this guide you'll learn:

  • How to become the industry and product expert your prospects want and need
  • How to find your prospect's deepest pain points (and how to reverse engineer them)
  • One of the biggest mistakes you're making when talking to prospects
  • How to use persuasive storytelling to seal the deal
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EBOOK

Consultative Selling: A Step-by-Step Guide

Consultative Selling: A Step-by-Step Guide

A handy guide to master the art of consultative selling.

Introduction

The New Way to Sell

There’s an unfortunate stereotype that sales representatives are still facing.

In this classic portrayal, the salesperson is peddling used cars, healing ointments, or penny stocks. In other words, the product they’re selling is flawed, useless, or a scam.

From these misconceptions, salespeople have developed a reputation for professional trickery. The best way for the modern seller to combat these myths? Provide real, measurable value to their prospects.

For this challenge, consultative selling is a tested and effective tactic. When executed right, the seller becomes a trusted advisor who can point prospects in the direction of critical business solutions.

With this guide, you’ll get a step-by-step lesson on how to nurture relationships and close deals using consultative, needs-based selling.

Become an Authority
Chapter 01

Become an Authority

Consultative selling—and its eventual success—requires a perception of authority.

This perception, however, can’t just be a facade. The best way to seem knowledgeable to prospective clients is to actually be knowledgeable.

The first two roles that every sales representative should assume are:

  • Industry Guide
  • Product Expert

Proficient sales reps need to know the solution they’re selling like a city they’ve lived in their whole lives. If this knowledge isn’t deeply ingrained, the seller will lose the appearance of authority (and usually the deal not too long after).

How to become a product expert

To acquire a firm understanding of the product and the industry as a whole, new sales reps will need more than blogs and books.

Learn what other teams are doing within your company.

One-on-one interviews with coworkers on other teams can help new sales pros understand the industry terrain from a variety of perspectives. Marketing can better illuminate the target audience while Engineering creates realistic ideas of product capabilities and uses. If accessible, C-level employees can also offer a unique perspective on where the industry and company are headed. This helps SDRs and AEs understand they’re an integral part of a larger mission.

When speaking to coworkers, find out what they do to contribute to the product’s success, what their main challenges are, and how their work ultimately impacts customers.

As a sales professional, you’ll have to wear many different hats throughout your career. You’ll also inevitably need your teammates’ help and/or knowledge to close a deal. Strong working relationships outside of the sales team will prove useful when navigating the details about larger, more complex deals.

Use the solution yourself.

Selling becomes more natural when you know how the product actually performs from a customer’s perspective. Both new and experienced reps should use the product regularly — if not in their own work, then at least on a trial basis.

This will help you learn workarounds when necessary and empathize with potential clients during demos and prospecting calls.

And especially with software products, updates will be frequent. Sales reps can stay ahead of prospects’ questions and competitors by previewing new features and benefits before these improvements are even made public.

Shadow the Customer Support team.

Nothing teaches sales professionals how customers use a product like speaking to the customers themselves. Sitting in on support phone calls (anonymously or actively) and reviewing responses to emails and chat conversations gives you a fly-on-the-wall perspective. This will help later on when prospecting potential clients as well as advising during the sales process.

Also, few colleagues can troubleshoot quite as well as the Customer Support team. Listening to the advice they offer customers can give sales reps a second-to-none education on handling objections and improvising solutions.

Unfortunately, the perfect product doesn’t exist, but support representatives are masters at finding functional remedies and offering an empathetic ear to client issues. Mimicking and embodying these skills are essential when using a consultative selling approach.

Study the competition.

An intimate knowledge of your own company and product is the first step toward successful consultative selling, but a keen awareness of the competition is what distinguishes qualified consultants from a typical sales rep.

Study and respect your counterparts at other companies. To know what you’re up against, you should have an intimate knowledge of competitor pricing and how their own features and benefits match up.

To help reinforce these facts, reps should use sales enablement materials. These resources can cover brief gaps in knowledge, and memorizing them will help you provide a quick and confident answer to prospect inquiries (which will build authority faster and better than an emailed PDF).

There’s no shortcut to knowing everything about your competitors — make sure you set aside the time to study the industry landscape.

Read everything.

Website content, customer reviews, and third-party analyses are just starting points.

Professional publications are also valuable sources of knowledge — discovering trends in related industries will give you helpful talking points during sales calls, and well-rounded knowledge about the sector can help you build rapport with prospects and closing deals.

Research the Right Person
Chapter 02

Research the Right Person

If a product is pitched to the wrong person, did it ever really happen?

Yes, it just means you’ll probably need to repeat yourself in the near future. Plus, pitching a gatekeeper might prevent you from ever talking to the person who will actually see value in your product.

This is why it’s so important to find the right person in an organization.

Do individual prospect research.

With all of the technology available, individual prospect research is no longer an optional step before reaching out — it’s now due diligence. The more you learn about a prospect, the more likely you’ll have a productive conversation.

Uncovering contact information is the first step. Tools like LeadIQ and ZoomInfo help sales development reps find the right phone numbers and emails for target prospects, but a prospect’s personality can’t be uncovered by contact info alone.

By looking at an individual’s professional history on LinkedIn, you’ll see what types of positions they’ve held at previous companies, and how their career has progressed. These clues provide important context on how they process information and their communication style. (See Buyer Persona Cheat Sheet Below.)

Did they study accounting in school? Have they transitioned from an engineering role to a business operations position? These could be indicators of an analytical personality type.

Maybe they frequently congratulate their coworkers on a job well done and are vocal about the importance of team-building outside of the office. This could indicate an extraverted nature.

Many professionals are publishing on Medium or other industry-specific platforms. Finding their recent contributions can tell you about what they value in terms of goals, products, and performance. A quick Google News search for the prospect’s name, position, and company can go a long way in helping you learn about the human behind the email address.

Use what you’ve learned to present value.

To help guide your prospect research, think about the decision maker’s thought processes and personality. Your judgments will make it easier to sort buyers into groups based on different characteristics and can help you tailor your pitch to match their interests and communication styles.

Think about buyer personas.

Creating buyer personas is a useful, albeit imprecise, science. Some examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Analytical vs. Emotional
  • Extroverted vs. Introverted
  • Detail-oriented vs. Visionary
  • Risky vs. Conservative

Not every personality will neatly fit into a buyer persona, and sometimes adjustments will need to be made mid-conversation. But if you can go into a call or email thread knowing roughly what type of buyer you’re dealing with, you can direct the interaction down a more promising route.

When time is of the essence, you may need to make broad generalizations about your prospect’s personality and goals. Will they be more easily persuaded by a compelling customer success story (more on that later), or are they more interested in the hard facts of price, contracts, and features?

Remembering these judgements and adjusting your pitch accordingly helps build prospect relationships on their terms.

Embracing a ‘jobs to be done’ (JTBD) approach.

Similar to buyer personas, JTBD creates a framework to help sales reps pitch using the prospects’ preferred terms.

Essentially, the sales rep empathizes with the buyer’s position and tries to understand what jobs they’re responsible for, and what they’d look for in a solution.

  • Which jobs must be completed to establish competency?
  • Furthermore, are there any secondary (related) jobs that can be accomplished?

Every manager must complete a primary task. This is the main JTBD. The related JTBDs play an important role as well. These can distinguish a product over competitors and “sweeten the deal” for decision makers.

When using this approach, sellers must also determine whether the persuasive points they present have an Emotional or Functional purpose. Does the product you’re selling have measurable benefits or create a better headspace for the prospect?

(Important: both are real advantages that buyers appreciate).

Emotional aspects are divided once more into Personal and Social benefits. Does the product improve the user’s emotional state, or rather, does it improve their perception of how others view them while using the product?

This emotional breakdown may seem overly academic, but in practice, it’s much simpler. Basically, B2B prospects (usually managers or other leaders) are concerned about whether the decisions they make are quantitatively and qualitatively appreciated by their team and superiors.

Based on what your sales reps have learned via their prospect research, they can use the JTBD approach to determine whether they’ll focus on…

  1. Primarily on functional or emotional aspects, or
  2. If they choose emotional aspects, are they advantageous for personal or social dimensions?

Now, the path they choose depends on what information they’ve already uncovered and also what they can learn when actually speaking to the target prospect.

Practice Active Listening
Chapter 03

Practice Active Listening

Active listening is a conversational tactic where the listener — or in our case, the sales representative — provides encouraging verbal feedback.

The objective is to let the speaker know they’ve been understood and encourage further information sharing.

In other words, a good active listener:

  • Acknowledges the speaker’s value
  • Encourages the speaker to elaborate on their thoughts
  • Creates an empathetic bond with the speaker
  • Establishes an honest and trusting relationship

From the sales rep’s perspective, active listening is an indispensable skill when building mutually beneficial professional relationships.

Because in the end, successful sales numbers are the result of effective information gathering, and those who know more about their potential client have a better shot at winning the deal.

If a salesperson can guide the conversation toward the prospect’s goals, roadblocks, and ambitions, it becomes much easier to design and deliver a pitch.

This is particularly true in consultative selling, where prospects need to view their conversation partners as trustworthy advisors.

The reason active listening works:

Active listening isn’t a new conversational technique, but it does resonate particularly well with our brains in the internet age. Email, texting, and social media have made indirect communication the norm. As a result of this, conversational speakers have become more prone to what psychologists call the “shift response.”

Shift response happens when a listener repeatedly redirects the conversation back to themselves. It’s a tendency most people have — but can learn to avoid. And if you’re in sales, you can use this natural impulse to keep your prospects hyper-involved in discovery discussions.

The more a prospect speaks, the more you can learn about their needs and desires. Simultaneously, the speaker will begin to feel more comfortable with you, knowing that you understand their circumstances and wishes.

Of course, good conversations are a balance of listening, sharing, and reinforcing so that both parties can feel respected and heard. In sales though, it’s more important — at least in the beginning — that the salesperson follows active listening best practices to push the conversational balance toward the prospect.

Sales reps need to eventually speak in order to close the deal, but by that point, the prospect should have developed a sense of trust and understanding, having thoroughly explained their position and circumstances.

3 steps to active listening:

Whether you’re in the role of a sales professional or just a friend, active listening involves three important steps.

  • Comprehension
  • Retention
  • Response

Comprehension

As a good active listener, it’s important to fully understand what your prospect is telling you. Yes, you must know the prospect’s industry and position, as well as a little about their personal background and how to pitch your product as a good fit for their needs.

But comprehension is about more than just hearing the words being said.

To fully comprehend what a speaker is saying, you must put yourself in their position and internalize their circumstances. What are the stressors they experience on a daily basis? Is success possible? What would it feel like?

Retention

A good active listener can also retain and recall specific conversational details to keep a conversation progressing and show that they’re engaged. But this process becomes more difficult after a full day of sales calls, meetings, and emails.

You can retain information better during a cold call or demo if you’re taking notes. However, when you’re on a call, these bullet points should be concise and to-the-point — you only need enough detail to form follow-up questions and record essential information.

And for the modern seller, how you share and store these notes is vital.

After a sales call has ended, all notes should be recorded in the sales team’s CRM. This serves two functions.

First, it centralizes prospect info in an easy-to-access location. Having the complete contact history in front of you each time you engage a prospect will ensure they’re informed and that you’re both ready to advance the conversation toward a closed sale.

Second, it simplifies handoffs between sales reps. Inevitably, SDRs will forward a potential customer to an Account Executive for demos and onboarding. Even after you win a deal, the information in your CRM is accessible by the Customer Support team. More importantly, if the deal has to be delayed, your records are recoverable by anyone on your team to use when the time is right.

For example, here’s how to add notes to your leads in Copper:

Factual information, such as purchasing timelines and use cases, should always be available. But observational points like interest levels, personality traits, and potential objections can also be useful to know.

Taking a few moments after each call to recap and evaluate the deal keeps all representatives on the same page when making handoffs. Furthermore, this helps sales velocity by avoiding repeated conversations with prospects backtracking to discovery phases.

Most phone systems will have a call recording feature as well, and top-performing sellers will frequently review their calls looking for ways to improve.

Response

Comprehending and retaining a speaker’s points are important, but what really makes active listening an effective way of building empathy and trust is the tactical act of responding.

Especially in non-visual communication (like on the phone) a listener has to vocally acknowledge that they’re listening, understanding, and engaged in what the speaker has to say.

This involves three levels of acknowledgment:

  • Affirmation
  • Paraphrasing
  • Contributing questions

Affirmations let the speaker know you’re present in the conversation. These include statements like “go on,” “I understand,” and “I see,” among others. Insert these phrases during natural pauses in the prospect’s sentences, while they’re in the middle of a thought.

Paraphrasing goes a step further. By reflecting the speaker’s ideas in your own words, you let them know you’ve internalized what it is they’ve said. This projects thoughtfulness and respectfulness on your part, and it also makes the speaker feel like they’re making valid points.

Questioning is the third and final level. When a speaker has made their points, it’s the active listener’s job to continue the dialogue in a way that encourages their conversation partner to go on leading the way. These questions should relate to the topic at hand — and ideally inspire detailed answers.

Examples might include “What is your current plan to solve this issue?” or “Can you explain your thought process behind this strategy?” (Beware of the “Why” questions though — too many will start to sound accusatory rather than inquisitive.)

Sell a Success Story
Chapter 04

Sell a Success Story

Up until now, you’ve been mainly preparing and listening.

Before you get to the final consultative step, it’s important to know how to frame your offering as a solution that will help advance your prospect’s goals.

Using the information you’ve gathered through prospecting, company research, and your active listening questions, you should be able to recall a story — a true customer story — that matches your prospect’s reality.

In essence, there are three components to a good story:

1. There was a problem that needed to be solved

By mirroring your potential client’s issues, this draws them into the story and puts them at ease, knowing their problems aren’t unique or unsolvable.

2. Previous attempts at a solution failed

Acknowledge the existence of other solutions, and why they struggled to satisfy this other customer’s needs. Explain the shortcomings of alternative approaches.

3. Your approach saw the customer through to success

In the end, your product was the difference-maker. Whenever possible, supplement your story with hard statistics that support your story and show the benefits that your previous customer achieved.

A real-world example:

To illustrate the storytelling approach, consider this true example of how Aircall was able to help flatbed freight-shipping company FR8star solve more than one vital business need.

Using the steps above, we can break down how storytelling helped win FR8star as a valued customer (and could help win similar deals).

1. There was a problem that needed to be solved

FR8star is a tech-forward company that relies on real-time data to provide its customers with the best shipping prices and most fulfilling experience. However, their previous phone system didn’t match their company’s expectations for actionable insights.

2. Previous solutions failed or fell short.

In order to get reliable analytics, they would need to export spreadsheets and clean countless rows of data, all to perform a basic analysis of their phone operations. If a potential optimization was discovered, it was often too late to sustain happy customers. Plus, implementing changes could take even more time.

3. Your approach saw the customer through to success

FR8star needed real-time data and easily implemented changes. Aircall pitched them on these principles, highlighting features such as the analytics dashboard and administrator user interface.

Having examples like these top-of-mind will help sales reps convince prospects that their needs are easily met using your product. The industry fit doesn’t need to be precisely the same, so long as the problem and solution are clear.

Note: using an example like this in a pitch or demo should be quick: no more than one minute. The full story can be sent after-the-fact along as a useful piece of sales enablement material.

Become a Consultant
Chapter 05

Become a Consultant

At this point, you’ve understood your product front-to-back, compiled industry research, become a trusted listener, and explained how others have used your product to achieve their goals.

Now, your role will change slightly. You’re now an unbiased consultant who’s genuinely trying to manifest their client’s success.

They have problems, and you’re an expert who can offer winning advice. Of course, you’re also a salesperson, so if your product is a good fit for the customer’s needs, it should be showcased first and foremost.

It’s important to mention that you shouldn’t jump straight to an abrupt conclusion — take the time to tell the story and show exactly how good a match your product and prospect would make.

That is to say, explain case by case and goal by goal how your solution will deliver value.

But remember, as a consultant, you don’t want to give bad advice. This includes encouraging a prospect to purchase your product even after you diagnose a poor fit. Signing ill-suited clients might have a short-term positive effect on your monthly metrics, but will eventually backfire, whether via customer support nightmares, negative reviews, or sour breakups.

Even when your product isn’t right for a client, you should still try to help.

You can describe other products in your industry’s landscape at a high level, and mention which companies provide certain features. Naturally, you don’t want to downplay your product’s value. Any benefits your competitors offer can (and should) be presented with pros and cons. Truly helpful advice will endear your prospect to your brand, which can have long-term benefits.

Priorities and budgets are always changing — maybe your product will be a good fit a few months or years in the future. Maybe this prospect will refer your product to their network when an opportunity comes up. Plus, the trusted relationships you form now may end up playing pivotal roles in future chapters of your own professional story.

Chapter 06

A Winning Sales Toolkit

Consultative selling relies on strong working relationships between both prospects and sales reps.

How do your tools help make this as easy as possible?

Copper and Aircall understand day-to-day busy work can distract from this goal.

Aircall seamlessly integrates with Copper, automatically syncing all your important call data and notes keep sales teams informed, every minute of every day.

Ready to become a consultative selling pro? Get started with Copper and Aircall today!

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