How to Sell Software as a Consultant

By Geoffrey James

The software market has gone through a major transition over the past few years. Back in the pre-Y2K and dot-com era, software sales was primarily a matter of writing orders and then trying to keep customers satisfied during the installation and support phases. Today, software sales are highly consultative, requiring sales reps to help customers clarify their needs and then propose a flexible solution that satisfies those needs.

Unfortunately, that style of selling might not come naturally to software sales reps whose main experience has been in markets where product demand exceeded the software industry’s ability to deliver. What’s the best way for software sales reps to make the transition to a more consultative selling model?

The key to accomplishing this is to focus more carefully on the sales process. Here are four essential steps for doing this.

1. Engaged listening. Hear what customers have to say without trying to frame what you’re going to say next or interrupt them during the discussion. See situations through customers’ frame of reference or operating reality without automatically trying to create a sales opportunity.

2. Active acknowledgment. Redescribe what the customer said in a way that confirms you were listening to the customer and not to your internal got-to-make-a-sale dialog, and that you understand what the customer was telling you.

3. Exploratory questions. Add value to the conversation by asking questions that help customers clarify their thoughts and ideas. In this step you are not mining for information, but using your experience and your ability to ask perceptive questions to ensure you truly understand customers’ positions.

4. Respond appropriately. Articulate a clear response that matches customers’ operating reality. This builds credibility and a collaborative customer relationship, which are the core elements of a consultative sale.

The above is based on an interview with Jeffrey Seeley, president and CEO of Carew International, Inc. He can be reached at 1-800-227-3977 or through