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Dave Kurlan's Blog has earned a medal for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog award three years running and this year this article earned Gold. Read more about Dave.

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Top 7 Things That Consultative Sellers Do


Dave Kurlan is a top-rated keynote speaker, best-selling author, sales thought leader and expert on all things sales and selling.

competencyMy series about the Top 10 Sales Competencies that nobody talks or writes about is among the 10 most widely read of my articles.  That series did not include the traditional sales competencies so I want to talk about one of those competencies today.

In my opinion, this sales competency has become the most important of all the competencies.  It's More important than the closing competency.  It's more important than the ability to develop relationships.  It's more important than the ability to manage accounts.  It could even be more important than the ability to find new opportunities!  When salespeople master this competency, they close more business, receive more referrals and introductions and retain customers and clients indefinitely.  

Objective Management Group's data shows that on average, salespeople possess only 21% of the attributes of this competency.  The elite 6% and some of the top 26% have this competency in abundance.  The bottom 74% of all salespeople have even less than 21%.

Companies whose salespeople emphasize presenting, conducting demos, proposing, quoting and chasing business for months thereafter have very few salespeople that possess attributes of this competency.

Even the experts don't agree on the importance of this competency.

A small group of experts, especially those that lack this competency themselves, believe that using this competency for selling is manipulative and counters being customer-centric.  They are as entitled to their opinion as I am to mine.  But remember, you simply can't argue with science, data and results.

So which competency am I referring to?

It is the ability to sell consultatively.  The interesting thing about this competency is that if you ask 10 people what it means, you'll get 10 different answers.  I've helped companies who told me up front that they have been focusing on consultative selling, yet after evaluating their sales force and beginning the training and development process, there was no evidence of the ability to sell consultatively!   

At its worst, people believe it refers to presenting a solution, based on the identification of needs.  That's actually closer to the definition of solution selling but not correct for either approach.

When your salespeople sell consultatively, they are actually:

  • slowing down the sales process, asking dozens - maybe even hundreds - of very good, tough, timely questions,
  • having deep and wide discussions about the prospects'reasons to: 
    • change how things are done, 
    • begin an initiative, 
    • change suppliers, 
    • spend money, 
    • take advantage of an opportunity, 
    • solve a problem, 
    • save money,
    • etc.
  • discussing the implications or consequences of taking various actions or steps
  • talking about who is affected by these issues and how they are affected
  • identifying the real compelling reason(s) to buy and buy from you,
  • differentiating themselves through this conversation,
  • building a relationship based on sharing, trust, and caring.

As I mentioned, some will tell you that this kind of selling is dead but in reality, fewer than 15% of all salespeople have even learned to do this yet, the rest still selling in a very archaic way.  They are selling in a transactional way, selling based on relationships, or selling by presenting and proposing.  The rules have changed, the buyers have changed, the reasons and timing for spending limited amounts of money have changed, but most salespeople have not yet changed.  If your salespeople haven't learned and mastered the skills required to sell consultatively, they will lose out more often than they will win.

© Copyright  Dave Kurlan All Rights Reserved

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Nov 14, 2011 @ 08:01 AM


Wow! I rarely re-read a blog post three times, and I just did. This one of your more profound blog posts. Do you have any other posts where you discussing consultative selling Kurlan style into action?

posted on Monday, November 14, 2011 at 9:19 AM by Teicko Huber

@ Teicko - thanks! 
Check out http://www.omghub.com/salesdevelopmentblog/tabid/5809/bid/11585/The-Difference-Between-Consultative-Selling-and-Consultants.aspx 

posted on Monday, November 14, 2011 at 9:33 AM by Dave Kurlan

I've known you for 14 years and read most of what you've written. This is your clearest, most concise, tightest, most profound blog/writing I've read. 
I couldn't agree more and say: 

posted on Monday, November 14, 2011 at 9:51 AM by Tom Schaff

Thanks Tom! 
Some mornings I actually do have some clarity...

posted on Monday, November 14, 2011 at 10:26 AM by Dave Kurlan

Your post is timely. I just met with a client's sales team and the main topic was what they needed to do if they were going to sell more new accounts in 2012 than in 2011. The conclusion that we all agreed to was they needed to improve their Consultative Selling Skills. They agreed that by being more consultative and more direct about whether they can really help their prospects, they will sell customers in 1 or 2 months rather than 3 to 6. They agreed they will waste less time on marginal prospects. And they agreed that by being a businessman who is a peer rather than a salesman who is not, they can double the number of preferred accounts they win. Over the next 3 to 5 years, having more preferred accounts is worth hundreds of thousands in income to these salespeople. For the client, a higher performance Consultative Sales Force is a competitive advantage, and that advantage means thousands more preferred accounts that are worth millions to the owners. For us, the challenge is helping our clients hire, develop, and keep these high performers. A high performance, consultative sales culture is not easily copied, and it is why smart clients pay us to help them.

posted on Monday, November 14, 2011 at 11:25 AM by Tuck Mixon

Dave, You are absolutely right on the significance / meaning of this important sales competency of "consultative selling". Could not agree more actually, thanks for putting it so nicely.  
I have a few observations -  
1. A good consultative sales professional is likely to suffer on his operational scale. Though in long term, he is likely to get compensated by way of being 'in-demand'. 
2. Perhaps this competency is 'more' suited where there are identified verticals. 
3. To my understanding, this competency is a mindset issue, one may gain on this very quickly or might take years to acquire it. Importantly, sales professionals who are lucky to have this, actually 'might' find themselves no-so-fit in the community with its attendant challenges ( not many of the sales managers will appreciate it ).  
Solicit your expert opinion to the above. 

posted on Monday, November 14, 2011 at 11:40 AM by Gopal

Right on, Dave! I thought you were going to say Questioning Skills, but selling in a Consultative way really is #1. Most people have never even heard of any other way of selling than the Transactional (Objections-Rebuttals) model. I spend at least half of my time sharing with business owners and consultants that there is another way of selling. 
When I do run into someone who has buy-in to the Transactional model (which *will* work for you if you're super-persistent at learning and applying its ways, and enjoy becoming an Encyclopedia Rebuttica), and they're aware of other styles of selling, they often try to tell the crowd of listeners that anything other than the way they've chosen is weak, slow and ineffective. They tell people that consultative selling is talking about the weather. Then I have to respond: consultative selling is about being Tough! Asking the difficult questions! Putting pressure on the *prospect* (not you, the salesperson, in contrast to traditional selling) by having them acknowledge that they have a serious problem--and successfully avoiding the price objection, as I do, by then showing qualified buyers that you have the solution. 
It takes guts to be a consultative selling person. Anyone can "show up and throw up", blasting away with features & benefits as old-style salespeople do. If you do this often enough, you will make sales, it is true. But if you want an experience that feels more rewarding, allows you to be a problem-solver and not a features & benefits pusher, and ties your income--if you do it correctly--to the size of the problems you solve, rather than how many units you get out the door, then consultative selling is probably for you. 
The alternative is to remain in a world where the buyer-prospects have figured out what you do and why you do it, and are merely trying to get a free education out of you by appearing interested...and then disappearing to find what you have so nicely told them about at the lowest possible price. (I really hate "following up", don't you??) 
With all this in mind, it's no wonder that a consultative selling skill set is the key to an effective career in modern Sales.

posted on Monday, November 14, 2011 at 12:51 PM by Jason Kanigan

Interesting point about scale and challenges. 
There isn't enough time to sell consultativly when salespeople must sell many deals per day.

posted on Monday, November 14, 2011 at 1:11 PM by Dave Kurlan

Woah Dave!  
"There isn't enough time to sell consultativly when salespeople must sell many deals per day." 
It's true that it slows the process down...but you get far fewer incidents of buyer's remorse. 
It's true that you have to ask more questions...but you get to the real reasons why this prospect needs what you have to offer. 
It's true that each conversation is longer...but your discussions are more meaningful, genuine, and of a problem-solving nature. 
If you're selling milk in a corner store, you don't need consultative selling ("So tell me...when did you first realize you had the need for milk?"). But if there's anything technical about what you do, if your prospects have real problems, and you can learn to qualify well, consultative selling can result in quick sales for you. 
I talk to a lot of small business consultants who have very little Sales knowledge. Their cold calling experiences are terrible, getting hung up on even before they can give away a free report! So they could do all this activity, making hundreds of bad calls, and get nowhere fast. Or, they could learn a consultative/permission-based script from me (or you) and start turning gatekeepers into friends, and having good, *Focused* conversations with prospects to quickly qualify them in for the next step or out. Remember, in consultative selling, Yes is good; No is good; but Think It Overs are unacceptable. So I believe consultative selling actually makes Sales happen faster, by slowing specific things down for clear understanding by both sides of what is going to happen next.

posted on Monday, November 14, 2011 at 1:28 PM by Jason Kanigan

Right on Jason - 100% accurate. When I mentioned lack of time to sell consultatively when many deals per day were expected, I was referring to volume order taking, shelf stocking,fulfillment centers, and most inside sales groups where their effectiveness is measured in how quickly they end their calls.

posted on Monday, November 14, 2011 at 1:40 PM by Dave Kurlan

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