Consultative Sales: Definition, Process & Techniques

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  • 0:00 What Are Consultative Sales?
  • 0:24 The Consultative Sales Process
  • 2:45 Consultative Selling…
  • 4:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Carol Woods

Carol has taught college Finance, Accounting, Management and Business courses and has a MBA in Finance.

Expert Contributor
Joseph Shinn

Joe has a PhD in Economics from Temple University and has been teaching college-level courses for 10 years.

What is a consultative sale? In this lesson you'll learn what it is, how it varies from the traditional transactional model, and when consultative selling techniques are best used.

What Are Consultative Sales?

Consultative sales is a selling method in which the salesperson spends time with the customer to understand the problem the customer is trying to solve and then recommends a solution that will specifically address that problem. It's different from a traditional sale in that it involves suggesting a solution to a problem, rather than a focus on selling a specific product.

The Consultative Selling Process

A consultative sale is different from the traditional selling model. To show the differences, we'll look at Max and Joe, two salesmen at an auto dealership.

Max follows a traditional selling model, often called transactional selling. When customers come into the dealership, he asks them what they are looking for. Once he has an answer - they are looking for a small car, for example - he shows them the car selection area and tells them to take a look. Once they show interest in a vehicle, he starts using his closing skills to try to finalize the deal. His goal is to finish the sale and have the customers on their way quickly.

Joe takes a different the consultative selling approach when customers enter the dealership. When a customer tells him what he or she is looking for, he asks why the customer is interested in the type of vehicle described. Once the customer explains his or her needs, he might walk the customer over to the car selection area, and then take the customer directly to two vehicles that would meet those needs and explain why he suggests those vehicles. He might also suggest that a light truck would better meet the use the customer described. He might see if the customer would also like to look at a truck while at the dealership. His goal is to locate a product that best meets the customer's needs and have him or her happy with the purchase when the customer leaves the dealership.

As you can see in these examples, both methods of selling can result in purchases by customers. In the transactional model, the salesperson tries to finalize the deal as quickly as possible so he can then focus on the next customer. In the consultative model, the salesperson tries to identify the underlying reasons the customer has come in in the first place and suggests specific purchases that would meet those needs.

Although we've given an example of two salespeople at the same dealership, the product often has an impact on the type of selling methods used. Small or regular purchases don't generally require a significant investment of time analyzing the purchase. For instance, when a customer enters a grocery store, the focus is on helping him or her find what he or she has already identified as a need, and then ringing the customer up as quickly as possible. If the buyer instead is looking for a new home, the sales person is likely to spend quite a bit of time understanding the needs of the home buyer and showing him or her specific homes that would fulfill those needs.

Consultative Selling Techniques

Techniques used in consultative selling would include the following:

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Additional Activities

Case Study:

Consider the following scenario and answer the questions below. You are thinking about starting a consulting firm that helps first-time small business owners get from the idea of opening a business to opening their doors to customers. In essence, the goal of your business is to assist new small businesses get up and running.

  1. How will you go about selling your company's services to other small business owners? How would this sales method differ from a situation where you were selling a physical product (i.e., you were selling a book that describes how to open a small business)?
  2. Which selling approach (transactional selling or consultative selling) would be more appropriate for your business? Your answer should discuss the differences between these approaches and why you believe one would be more appropriate than the other.
  3. When a small business reached out to you about possibly employing your services, what types of questions would you ask them? What are your goals for asking these questions?
  4. Explain the importance of carefully listening to their answers to your questions. Your answer should discuss the needs of the business owner.
  5. Why is establishing a good relationship with the potential client of particular importance during the sales pitch that you are making to them? Be sure to discuss the "trust" factor in your answer.

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