About Us.News.Contact Us
CEO Success Blog. The blogosphere for Successful Business Owners.



REAL Consultative Selling: Don’t be fooled by what they say

February 11th, 2021

I meet with salespeople and sales candidates practically every week. 

During sales interviews, I always ask new candidates in the first few minutes of our conversation to describe their selling approach.  Interestingly, 80% of them reply with some form of “I’m a CONSULTATIVE Salesperson.” 

Good answer!   Consultative Selling has become the superior method for selling in the digital, information-rich age.  In fact, consultative individuals are the ONLY salespeople that have ANY chance of differentiating themselves and selling effectively in today’s virtual environment. 

Much has been written about this subject, so most salespeople, especially “seasoned, experienced salespeople” know that they are supposed to sell consultatively. 

Unfortunately, as my sales interviews proceed, 9 out of 10 of the candidates who enthusiastically tell me they are consultative, PROVE to me they are actually the exact opposite.  And I’m not just talking about rookies here.   Many of the sales candidates I interview have been selling for decades. 

The vast majority of candidates spend the remainder of our conversation talking, presenting, and gushing—trying to convince me why they are the best.  Each one sounds just like the last one, trying to convey how great they are, telling me about their previous accomplishments, and citing the awards they have won in their illustrious careers. 

Interestingly, very few seek to learn what I am looking for, what criteria I will use to decide, what our decision process might be, what success would look like, what motivates me, and why I would possibly select them over the other candidates. 

In a sales interview, I couldn’t care less what a candidate (or their resume) says.  Their actions will always speak much louder than their words and documents.  You can be sure that they will ultimately sell your product or service using the exact same approach that they did when they tried to sell themself.    So if they don’t interview consultatively, run away FAST. 

If a sales candidate was truly consultative, here are just a few of the attributes he/she would clearly exhibit..: 

Questioning:  A Consultative Salesperson will ask good, tough, and timely questions, and when appropriate, will respectfully challenge certain things they unearth.   Most salespeople simply cannot do this, not because deep questioning is difficult, but because the questions cannot be scripted in advance.   Follow up questions should almost always result from the prospect’s responses. 

Listening (actively and deeply):   Most salespeople spend way too much time talking versus listening and understanding.  And when their lips are flapping, they are often spouting either statements or rehearsed, non-differentiated questions.   They rarely ask the question behind the question.  Rather than actually listening to a prospect, they are preparing a reply. 

Outward-focus:   Most sales reps (and human beings) are self-centered.  They have a difficult time removing themselves from their own desired outcomes.   Until a rep can train him/herself to set their own egos, objectives, desires to be liked or validated, and other needs, they will hear very little of what their prospects are actually trying to tell convey.   They will miss out on all of the really good stuff.

 Patience:  Most sales reps simply cannot wait to tell people about what they sell, how amazing their company is, and how they can help.   They have (detrimental) tapes playing in their heads that convince them that time is limited so that they “better hurry and tell them how great we are”.   They avoid asking questions because doing so might delay or replace their presentations, demos, and proposals, all things in which they have much more confidence in than selling consultatively.  Patient, consultative, differentiated salespeople add tremendous value with skilled Buyer Facilitation.  Because they are adding value, they subsequently learn that buyers will actually make additional time for them.   A sales representative should always strive to slow down, be 100% present, and go deeper and wider with their listening and questioning. 

Infinite Curiosity:   Children do this very well.  Adults, who become “selling experts”, often develop the “curse of knowledge”.  They consequently lose their ability to be curious and make far too many assumptions.  Infinitely curious salespeople facilitate mutual discovery, differentiate themselves, and help to buyers create a new, better buying vision.

More Questions, Better Questions:   Similar to the recruiting sales candidates I’ve described above, most employed salespeople actually believe they are selling consultatively when they have asked a few questions.  The reality is, until 4 or 5 dozen questions have been asked, a salesperson isn’t even close.  Again, I’m not talking here about rehearsed questions where a rep simply runs down a scripted list.   Consultative selling demands unique, thoughtful, spontaneous follow-ups to perhaps a couple opening questions which were asked during the first few minutes.

Z3 Performance Development has been helping companies to build world class sales organizations for 25 years.  During these years, we’ve interviewed many hundreds of “sales professionals” and helped thousands of salespeople improve their selling effectiveness.    Patterns become obvious, and quite simply, successful salespeople behave and THINK totally different from the masses.  

Whether you are recruiting new salespeople, working to help develop your existing people, or working to improve your own consultative skills, I hope these examples will provide some fuel for rapid and on-going improvement.  

Copyright © Joe Zente 2020. All Rights Reserved.