The roots of the consultative approach to selling took hold in the 70â€™s and 80â€™s when there was a move toward more collaboration with the buyer in the selling process.Â Rather than begin the development process by focusing on the product or service and its associated features, function, benefits, and advantages (in an attempt toÂ persuadeÂ the prospect to buy), salespeople began by focusing on the prospect.
Utilizing an extensive list of questions, salespeople made an effort to â€œunderstandâ€ the prospectâ€”to uncover the companyâ€™s needs, wants, challenges, and goals, as well as the nature of the marketplace in which it competed, the companies with whom it competed, and the unique value it brought to its customers.Â Â And, there were questions to help salespeople better understand the internal structure of the companyâ€”its hierarchy, formal and informal chain of command, and centers of influence.
Presumably, by â€œconsultingâ€ with the prospect, i.e., obtaining answers to the long list of questions, the salesperson would be able to collaboratively develop a solution that was customer-focused and outcome oriented rather than product-focused and feature/benefit oriented.
At first glance, the consultative approach not only made sense, but it appeared to benefit the prospect.Â No longer would there be a need to manipulate or pressure the prospect into making an affirmative buying decision.Â That was the theory.Â And it worked for those salespeople who had the knowledge and skill to organize and analyze the newly discovered information in a manner that facilitated the development of meaningful solutions.
For some, there was another line of thinking.
By obtaining answers to the long list of questions, a salesperson would better understand the prospectâ€™s situationâ€”goals and challengesâ€”as well as his or her values, feelings, and views.Â Presumably, the more the salesperson understood a prospectâ€™s situation and thinking, the more likely he would be able to develop rapport and trustâ€¦and ultimately sway that prospect.Â The focus for many of the early adopters of the consultative approach was primarily on creating an environment that facilitated influencing prospects to adopt an opinion or to take action in the direction that favored the salesperson.Â Though more subtle, it was still a form of manipulation.
Salespeople who were asking questions for the sake of asking questions (and developing rapport and trust) were actually wasting timeâ€”theirs and their prospectsâ€™.Â Eventually, prospects caught on and would stop theÂ inquisitionÂ by asking, â€œWhy are you asking me all these questions?â€ or simply stating, â€œJust tell me what you got for me.â€
So much for the â€œconsultativeâ€ approach.
The ability to actually â€œconsultâ€ with a prospect and develop a customer-centered solution requires more than merely asking a series of questions to discover the scope of the prospectâ€™s goal or challenge.Â It requires the experience and expertise to analyze the prospectâ€™s situation and identify the real issues that underlie and contribute to the prospectâ€™s challenges and goals.Â And, it requires sufficient product knowledge from which to develop and ask relevant questions that not only direct the prospectâ€™s attention to those important issues, but also relate them to the appropriate aspects of your product or service that would provide a satisfactory and mutually beneficial outcome.
The consultative approach to selling is not so much about asking questions as a means ofÂ gatheringÂ information as it is about asking questions as a means ofÂ sharingÂ andÂ exploringÂ information.Â Isnâ€™t that what consulting is all about?