The Six Elements Of A Truly Consultative Sales Process

In a consultative sales process, the focus shifts from the product and services you offer to the needs of your clients. Consultative selling gives salespeople a leg up in a competitive marketplace because it allows them to deeply understand client needs, identify the right solution and craft their pitch to highlight relevance and impact.

So, how can you use a consultative sales process in your organization? Author, entrepreneur and educator Linda Richardson says that most organizations have the fundamentals of an effective process within reach-but most don't reach. In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we examine Richardson's framework for a truly consultative sales process.

Stage 1: Target and qualify. In this stage, the customer becomes aware of a business problem or the salesperson creates a pre-stage-one opportunity by introducing an idea or challenge that is not yet on a customer's agenda. A salesperson identifies a problem or potential problem the company or industry is facing and teases a solution.

Stage 2: Explore and assess. Richardson says that in stage two, customers assess how much of a priority the issue is, determine their options and develop decision criteria and decision process. Salespeople can help their prospects by sending them how-to blog posts, offering to run a consultative call and sending them relevant content resources. Richardson wants sales leaders to remember video. Sending a helpful TED Talk or webinar is a great way to grab a prospect's attention and provide valuable educational resources in an engaging manner.

Stage 3: Access and develop a solution. At this step in the sales journey, customers research, compare solutions, narrow down choices and refine decision criteria. The salesperson must differentiate, focus on business outcomes and prove value. Consider how your solution will differ from competing businesses. Make sure those differentiators are clear for your prospect.

Stage 4: Present a solution and follow up. Knowledgeable customers make their selection and negotiate at this stage. You should already know what steps need to be taken for your prospect to buy a new product or service. This knowledge is crucial for presenting a solution with a realistic timeline. Make sure you understand what the procurement process is and confirm that the solution you've presented meets your champion's expectations.

Stage 5: Negotiate and close. When a close is imminent, it's more important than ever to make sure your prospect feels supported. Richardson says you never want to lose a deal that's close to the finish line because you took attention off of nurturing a done deal and shifted it to a prospect higher in your funnel. Check in with your late-stage prospects regularly. Ask if they have any questions or concerns and get ahead of any red flags that might arise.

Stage 6: Implement, follow through, expand and assess results. In this stage, customers are in an evaluation mode. They decide on the future of the relationship. Salespeople must discuss results, prove value and build on the rapport they previously created. Richardson explains that it is at the intersection of the sales process and the buying process that sales are made. Marketing must step up to the plate and support the sales force not only with qualified leads but with knowledge sharing, research and insights into industry and customer priorities, personas and challenges.

The sales process is only successful when sales leaders and sales professionals execute with dedication and competence. Consider the points above to embrace a consultative sales approach at your company.

Source: Linda Richardson is the founder of Richardson, faculty at The Wharton School and author of the book Changing the Sales Conversation.

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