Listen to Improve Your Consultative Sales Process

March 12, 2012

One of the basic truisms used in training sales people to develop a consultative sales process is “sell people how they wish to be sold, rather than the way you want to sell them.” This requires, for some, a dramatic shift in how they view the sales cycle and, even more fundamentally, how they communicate with people in general. The biggest skill most salespeople need to develop to truly excel in this type of selling is simply the ability to listen.

Salespeople have a reputation for talking too much and trying to overpower with lots of glowing details about their products. This approach can be likened to traditional outbound marketing where an advertiser has to capture attention quickly and hard sell a product to unknown prospects sitting at the other end of a television or radio spot, or a print ad. Listening doesn’t quite work here…only a compelling pitch can produce leads this way.

Thanks to the social media revolution, marketers are now focusing their attention on inbound marketing, where prospects find them through their content and interact with them willingly. In this new world, prospects often provide their valuable contact information freely and basically invite companies to sell to them. Social media only works, however, if brands are listening to what their audience is saying through their interactions. This same model should be used in the consultative sales process.

Instead of overpowering with a fifteen-minute pitch about how great their company or product is, salespeople should learn to ask questions. This invites participation, and also provides valuable information as to what is important to the prospect, and where their “pain” is. That information should then be used to present a product as the solution to that pain, but salespeople cannot ever get to that point if they don’t determine what the prospect’s reality is.

Here are some of the key benefits of truly listening to prospects in the consultative sales process:

• Prospects will reveal what is important to them, as they will inevitably mention their families, jobs, goals, etc. This information is not only invaluable for closing this sale, but for follow-up marketing purposes as well.

• Salespeople will be able to steer the conversation in any sales cycle by asking follow-up questions based on answers their prospects give them.

• Less customer distrust of a brand, as they will see the salesperson as a trusted advisor rather than as typically pushy.

• Cost objections can be mitigated. An ability to steal business away from lower-priced competitors that don’t take the time to really find out about their customer’s needs can be gained.

• As they talk about themselves, prospects might mention other people in their circle that could benefit from what their salesperson has to sell, leading to more business.

A consultative sales process does not mean allowing the prospect to ramble on and on, it is actually quite a directed activity. An analogy is how a good medical doctor might approach a case, with smart questions that allow a patient to discuss what he feels is wrong with him so further probing and follow-up questions can occur. The point is not for salespeople to listen as if they are performing psychoanalysis, but to listen as a way to get the vital information needed to solve the prospect’s problem with their offering.

Salespeople can increase the reputation and effectiveness of sales professionals everywhere by listening to the people they sell in order to serve them better and have them return for future business.