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What is Consultative Selling?

The term ‘consultative selling’ comes from the book Consultative Selling by Mack Hanan, first published in the 1970s. It describes a sales approach in which you act as an expert consultant for your prospects. Consultative sellers ask questions to determine a prospect’s needs and then use that information to select the best product or service for those needs. Ideally, that best fit will be one of the salesperson’s own products.

Consultative selling frequently works together with the value-added sales approach, in which a salesperson offers customer-specific benefits for every product or service. The consultative approach, when properly executed, earns the salesperson a great deal of information about the prospect’s wants and needs — which makes it easy for you to use that information to pick out the benefits that will make your prospect sit up and take notice.

Getting the prospect to open up and share these crucial details is the most difficult part of the consultative approach. In order to start him talking, you’ll need to build some rapport between yourself and the prospect. Otherwise your questions will come across as an interrogation and he’ll probably clam up or give you one-word responses. It helps to start out with fairly basic questions and work up to the most personal or sensitive topics.

Thoroughly qualifying prospects early in the sales cycle is absolutely crucial for a consultative approach. If you don’t know that your product will be a good fit for the prospect, you’ll end up spending a long appointment drawing out the prospect only to discover at the end that you can’t provide what he needs. Ideally, you can ask some qualifying questions when you first get in touch with a prospect. You can also do some research before your first appointment, which helps you to determine whether he’s a potential customer and also gives you a head start in uncovering his needs.

About the author

My first sales position was a summer job selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door. I continued through a variety of sales jobs ranging from retail sales for a storage company to selling bank products for a Fortune 500 financial institution.

As a small business owner, I now focuses on selling for my own company, Tailored Content, a website content provider. I write on a wide range of topics but my primary focus is sales and how to sell effectively.