Over time, the role of the sales professional has expanded, evolved, and diversified. Where in previous generations salespeople may have sold products out of suitcases in the trunk of their car, the modern salesperson has a wealth of methods and tools that make sales more sophisticated, all provided by a robust age of technological and communication advancements.
Even still, “sales” can be a bit of a dirty word. Depending on whom you ask, the term “salesman” can conjure up images of cheaply dressed charlatans manipulating others into spending hard-earned money on things they don’t need, to solve problems they don’t have. But the best salespeople understand a simple tenet of sustainable business: All business should exist to serve the needs of the customer.
Commerce is a function of necessity and problem solving, so the best salespeople are selling only what they truly believe will solve their customers’ problems and needs. In this way, salespeople can be better thought of as advocates. The best salesperson advocates on behalf of their customer by anticipating and solving their needs.
The consultative sales process approaches business from this perspective, beginning with asking questions and always coming from a place of servitude.
What is consultative selling?
The Internet has provided an immeasurably powerful tool in the form of data collection and data analysis. Companies are now able to reach the entire world with their product or service, and through SEO and data tools, you can log the interaction of a lead with your company’s website, collecting valuable insight on where your lead finds the most value within your offerings.
The consultative sales process, then, is both a proactive and reactive approach. Also called solution-based sales, the consultative selling model requires salespeople to first understand exactly what they are selling and who that product or service is intended to serve. After that, consultative selling techniques operate under six principles:
At the heart of the consultative sales process is the principle that the salesperson or representative cares more about their customer or lead than they do about making money. This is a simple concept—but radical in the world of sales where a run-of-the-mill pitch has been the norm and profit drives most, if not all, business decisions.
To serve your clients’ needs, thorough research into their business and industry is necessary. At this phase in the process, the more information you have, the better. Begin with your lead’s industry, and start with some of these questions:
- What is my lead’s revenue model?
- Who is their competition?
- What is the growth rate of their industry?
- What types of problems are similar companies trying to solve?
The goal of the research phase is for your salespeople to be viewed as a resource to your leads. By breaking the mold of hunting down easy sales and quick conversions, and instead being a resource of information and servitude, the consultation sales process helps your company stand out with authenticity.
As you begin this phase of the sales process, start an account map to help you understand the landscape of the company. Account maps can help you keep information organized—as you learn more about the company, you can add key players and take notes in the context of the relationships you're building. If you use the Lucidchart Sales Solution, you can even sync new information back to Salesforce. By giving anyone within your organization the ability to easily access and share this information, you'll be fully supported by all your best minds at home, while guaranteeing the right people on your team are informed on your lead and best able to support.
What to avoid: Even with all of your research, never assume that you know everything about your customer or lead. Your research merely sets you up better for the next stage of the consultative selling process.
Now that your research has given you the insight to know your prospective customer a bit better, you’re in a good position to start asking questions to better understand their goals, needs, and challenges.
However, in order to build trust, it’s important to not make any assumptions of what the prospect’s answers may be. Ask open-ended questions to allow your prospect to volunteer information about themselves and their business.
What to avoid: Don’t ask leading questions or answers that could be answered with a “yes” or a “no.”
Listen not just for answers, but for sentiment. Pay special attention to tone, inflection, hesitations, or quick responses. These are all clues into what’s most important to your lead. Above all, be an active, not a passive, listener. This way, you’re not just waiting to respond with your standard soundbites, but instead are actively taking note of what they say and pivoting the discussion to make them feel fully heard and understood.
For more guidance on sales conversations, make sure to check out our blueprints from Winning by Design.
What to avoid: Don’t let your prospect lead the entire conversation. Listen strategically to determine how you’ll move the conversation to the next steps in the process.
Of course you’re trying to close deals. But the best salespeople also solve problems. By teaching prospects how to establish a plan of attack to address their challenges, you’ll become not only a teacher—but also a business savior. Presenting solutions will build further trust in your relationship and drive a sense of loyalty when it comes time to sign on the dotted line.
As you explain your solution and demonstrate ROI, consider using current vs. future state diagrams to show how the prospect's processes or systems would be improved with your product or service.
What to avoid: Don’t show your full cards. Weigh the advice and guidance you give against the insights you still need to gain from your customer.
Consider this: Maybe up to this point, you’ve had productive conversations with your lead. But at some point, your prospect revealed that their budget is non-existent. Or their company is preparing for a strategic shift that will render your product or service obsolete. In short, you realize the lead is not qualified.
Yes, the goal of the consultative sales process is about relationship-building. But it’s also about selling. Once you determine a lead is unqualified, move on.
What to avoid: Don’t keep trying to sell deals just because you’ve already made a hefty time investment. Perhaps the trust you’ve built will help sell-in a deal if and when they become a qualified prospect down the road.
If you’ve done your research, you’ve listened, you’ve taught, and you’ve qualified that this is indeed a good lead, then closing your sale should be fairly easy at this point. Your stakeholders have built a relationship with you, have the budget to make a decision, and have incentive to solve their problem easily and positively.
What to avoid: If you still face opposition at this point, don’t give up too easily and don’t discount your work. Instead, ask your customer or stakeholder how else they intend to hit their business goals without your help. Maintain a position of serving their needs, and view everything with the same long-term lens.
A deeper way of trading
The consultative sales process isn’t just savvy business or a lesson in charm school—it’s proven cognitive science. Research has shown that active listening actually increases well-being due to our inherent need for connection; when we are able to drop our agenda for ourselves and forget about what we’re preparing to say next, we invite a priceless opportunity for connection. Throughout the whole solutions-based process, by beginning with a product or service that you understand and truly believe will solve problems positively, you can be ensured that your authentic connection with a customer can result in a closed deal.
Explore the Lucidchart Sales Solution
Whether you want to learn more about solution selling or you need insight on how to project manage the entire deal, Lucidchart offers a webinar that can teach you both.
Further, when building a leads list, any rep can use the Lucidchart Sales Solution to seamlessly create shareable account maps of qualified leads and decision-makers. These account maps can be centrally stored and managed in Salesforce, allowing your employees and teammates to have immediate access. But the real power of Lucidchart is in diagramming: Sales reps and engineers can use Lucidchart to illustrate important business metrics like ROI and workflow systems. If it can be diagrammed, it can be benefitted by Lucidchart.