Consultative Selling – How to Make the Shift

By Heather Baldwin

Almost all sales managers are in the midst of transforming their reps into consultative sellers. After all, the strategic shift from selling products to selling solutions has been happening for about a decade as customers have become more sophisticated and products more complex. Now, a strong, consultative sales force is not only an incredible differentiator, it might be the only competitive advantage you have in the marketplace. So why are most organizations going about the shift all wrong?

“People have done a handful of things to try to improve sales forces, but you can’t just push and prod in pieces,” says Jason Jordan, principal at Arlington, Virginia-based Go To Market Partners ( “You have to consider everything you’re doing in sum.” The focus on just one or two pieces of the puzzle is why many companies have struggled to move from product sales to solution sales. When you only address a couple components, says Jordan, the neglected components tend to weigh down the sales force and prevent a complete transformation. The solution, he says, is for organizations to take a more holistic view of the challenge and the steps needed to overcome it. Here are all the pieces of the puzzle, according to Jordan.

Strategy. To start, sales executives must rethink their sales force objectives by understanding what their customers want from their sales reps. It’s probably different than you think, says Jordan. For example, many customers no longer want to deal with brochures; they want real people who can help them solve their business problems. Or maybe your reps are trying to engage prospects in long interactions when they really just want a quick, painless transaction. Figure out what your customers need and expect from your sales team, then decide how to give it to them.

Process. Most sales processes are designed from the seller’s perspective with milestones such as lead, opportunity, proposal and so on. To transform your sales force you must redesign your sales process to match customers’ buying process. For example, one real estate company Jordan worked with did away with its old process and now uses customer-focused milestones, such as: Has the prospect identified a particular geographical area? Has the prospect visited the site? Has the prospect submitted our proposal to the buying committee?

Metrics. As with the sales process, most companies track metrics that are focused on the seller not the buyer, such as the number of calls salespeople make or the number of deals reps close. Consultative selling requires that you measure milestones in the customer buying process instead. Some examples might be: Has your internal champion agreed to introduce you to a wider audience? Has the customer come to visit your site? Has the customer requested a presentation? “Track increasing levels of commitment from the customer along the way,” says Jordan, “not the levels of your reps’ activities.”

Skills. The set of skills required for a consultative sale is much broader than that needed for a simple sale. You need analytical skills, negotiating skills, customer service concepts and much more, says Jordan. No one-size-fits-all training can help you here because what is required depends on the specific skills needed to execute your new sales process. For example, if you determine that your customers value industry expertise, then you should develop your reps’ industry knowledge. If customers value the ability to solve their problems, you need to develop problem-solving skills. If customers value well-written proposals, develop writing skills. For every sales force, the skills needed to become consultative sellers are going to be different.

Tools. Most companies provide their salespeople with tools that add value to the seller, such as SFA or CRM systems. In consultative sales, companies must provide tools that add value for customers, such as ROI calculators, targeted sales collateral and product configurators. Jordan once worked with a company that found the key profitability determiner was pricing, yet reps often were pricing the service too low and customers had long waits while reps went back and forth to come up with an accurate number. So Go To Market Partners came up with a pricing tool that enabled reps to calculate profit and margins instantly. Customers got an immediate price quote, and the price was right the first time.