While some businesses use flash sales and price cuts to drive temporary spikes in revenue, nurturing customer relationships can result in a higher customer lifetime value. At the heart of this approach is consultative selling, a strategy that positions your brand as a problem-solver for your customers—someone that understands them and sees their challenges before providing a possible solution.
But what exactly is consultative selling, and how do you successfully apply it? Learn how to navigate the future of selling as a more personalized process below.
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What is consultative selling?
Consultative selling, also known as solution selling or clienteling, is a sales technique that focuses on understanding the customer’s unique needs and offering a tailored solution to meet those needs. It’s less about pushing a product and more about fostering a relationship, building trust, and providing value.
Consultative selling is beneficial for businesses of all sizes and types, but it is particularly effective in certain scenarios, including:
In consultative selling, sales reps seek to establish a relationship first while providing a solution tailored to a customer’s specific needs second. Doing this well requires applying a few key principles.
Key principles of consultative selling
- Emotional intelligence
- Problem solving
- Long-term relationship-building
- Persistence and patience
- Strategic questioning
- Product and industry knowledge
- A collaborative mindset
Finding success with a consultative selling approach involves the following elements:
The first and most important step is understanding your customer’s needs. Emotional intelligence is achieved through active listening, asking questions, and demonstrating genuine empathy for their situation.
Consultative selling thrives on personalization. Tailor your approach based on the unique needs and interests of each customer.
Your role in consultative selling is that of a problem solver. Identify your customers’ challenges and provide solutions that address those challenges.
It’s not about making a quick sale but about cultivating a long-term relationship. This includes providing excellent post-sale service and staying connected with the customer.
Persistence and patience
Successful long-term relationships require persistence and patience, as customers may not always be ready to make a purchase immediately.
It’s not just about asking a lot of questions, but about asking the right questions that dive deep into the customer’s needs and circumstances.
An effective consultative salesperson is adaptable and able to adjust their approach based on each customer’s needs.
Product and industry knowledge
Consultative selling requires a deep understanding of not only the product but also your industry and the competition. This knowledge positions the sales rep as a trusted adviser.
A collaborative mindset
In consultative selling, the salesperson and customer work together to find the best solution. This is different from traditional sales methods where the salesperson is typically in control of the conversation.
Real-world example of consultative selling: Diane Von Furstenberg
Iconic fashion brand Diane Von Furstenberg (DVF) completely transformed its selling approach after introducing a more consultative approach to sales.
With the help of Shopify POS Go, Shopify’s portable point-of-sale device for retailers, the DVF staff provides personalized service on the sales floor whenever customers need it. The team leverages customer data points—which they can search for on their POS device—including:
- Previous purchases
- Color preferences
- Notes left from previous staff interactions
They can then quickly check out customer orders on the spot.
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How to implement a consultative selling process
Consultative selling is more than a sales strategy—it’s a customer-centric philosophy that guides every interaction you have with your clients or customers. Here’s a detailed look at how it works in a retail environment, using a hypothetical luxury skin care company as an example:
A deep understanding of your target audience is crucial to a consultative sales approach, because you have to understand your audience in order to solve problems for them. Research how your products fit in the competitive landscape and how they can help address your target customer’s needs and challenges. Research your audience’s age range, lifestyle, average income, and other details so you can knowledgeably respond in the moment to individual customer questions.
If you were a luxury skin care brand owner, you might regularly research product innovations, as well as beauty trends being adopted by your target audience, so you can better anticipate your customers’ needs—and have solutions ready for them—before a customer ever walks through the door.
2. Actively listen and identify needs
The consultative sales process should be a two-way street, with sales reps asking specific questions and showing genuine interest in the customer’s responses. Consultative sellers excel when they practice active listening and empathy to fully understand a prospect’s pain points.
Let’s say you have a customer enter your store one day looking for a moisturizer. You can ask questions about their skin care routine, skin type, and any results they’re hoping to get from their new moisturizer. They express that they have sensitive skin and want to try retinol for its anti-aging properties. Also, they’re big into hiking and spend a lot of time outdoors. With this in mind, you can offer a solution in the next step.
3. Propose a solution
At this step, you’ll let your expertise shine. Once you understand your customer’s needs and challenges, you can offer insights about your product, recommend products that might work for them, share personalized tips for use, and—if applicable—give information about promotions available to them.
Continuing with our skin care example, you know that your customer will need some sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF) to protect their skin. They expressed they want to try a retinol moisturizer, but you know retinoids can irritate many types of skin—not ideal since they have sensitive skin. You propose a couple of SPF moisturizers with anti-aging ingredients that are less likely to cause irritation.
4. Follow up
The consultative selling process continues even after the customer has left the store with their purchase. Sales teams should follow up with customers to ensure satisfaction with their purchases. This could involve providing assistance with the product, updates on related products, or information about relevant promotions.
As you help your customer through the checkout process, you ask if they’d like to share their email to hear about upcoming promotions and personalized recommendations, and they say yes. A week later, you send an email asking how their moisturizer is working for them.
Maintaining this trustworthy relationship increases the likelihood of repeat business and creates a more satisfying shopping experience.
Consultative selling FAQ
What’s the difference between consultative and product selling?
While product selling focuses on the features and benefits of a product, consultative selling is about understanding the customer’s needs and proposing a solution that addresses those needs.
How is a consultative selling rep different from a salesperson?
A consultative selling rep acts more like a trusted adviser or a problem-solver than a traditional salesperson. They focus on building relationships and providing solutions that meet the customer’s needs.
Does consultative selling increase revenue?
Potentially. By building stronger relationships and focusing on customer needs, consultative selling can lead to larger purchases and increased customer retention, both of which can contribute to increased revenue over time.