In this article for Middle Market Executive,Tom Searcy insists that Consultative Selling is dead. He says that consultative sellers end up with buyers who can only make small decisions, experts end up in purchasing and only industry authorities can reach executive decision-makers. He also says that consultative sellers ask, "What is your pain?", experts say, "Here is your pain.", and authorities say, "Here is the pain your industry is having and how you can uniquely overcome it."
Is he right?
Let's discuss that right now before your clothes go out of style...
Point 1: Objective Management Group's (OMG) statistics on salespeople evaluated show that on average, salespeople have only 21% of the attributes of a consultative seller. In the research phase of my recent White Paper, The Modern Science Behind Sales Force Excellence, more than 80% of executives claimed that their sales force was selling consultatively, but my first-hand observations at many of these companies is that they use the word "consultative", but after we evaluate their sales forces, we learn that they aren't anywhere close to selling consultatively. They only think they are.
Point 2: Like Searcy, most people believe that taking a consultative approach to selling is about finding pain, but that's not true. Sure, a few consultative methodologies from the 70's were pain-centric, but the consultative approach that my team shares with companies today is about identifying a compelling reason to either buy something for the first time, or a compelling reason for a prospect to move their business from a competitor to your company. A compelling reason is not necessarily pain, and it will often be an opportunity. But a true consultative approach uncovers the consequences of not taking action, gets to an emotional level, makes it personal, includes quantification, and creates urgency. Fewer than 20% of all salespeople have ever learned how to ask more than a question or two before moving to their pitch, presentation or proposal.
Point 3: Today, in order to effectively differentiate, a salesperson must have the conversation that nobody else is having. That conversation begins with a consultative approach and if it becomes a great conversation with pushback (the challenging of outdated, ineffective or inefficient thoughts, ideas and strategies), it will transition to a collaborative conversation. The salesperson will have earned the respect and status required to sell to an executive.
Summary: I believe that what Tom is really suggesting is that what people are calling consultative selling, is really the same old transactional selling with a few more upfront questions. He is saying that if salespeople continue to sell that way, they will be relieved of their jobs. Additionally, if their companies continue to employ this approach, they will no longer be relevant. A true consultative approach will not only prevail, but will continue to help salespeople differentiate and lead to success. However, an old and ineffective approach (with 2 or 3 lame questions and a consultative label attached to it) is surely deader than a door knob.
[Update - I heard from Tom Searcy shortly after publishing this article and he responded in the nicest way, as only a professional of his stature would. Tom said: