Defining the Consultative Selling Approach & Process

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Today Consultative Selling is almost a household word. The Consultative Sales Approach is one in which customer needs are used as the basis for the sales dialogue (also known as "Needs-Based Selling").


What is Consultative Selling?


With Consultative Selling, the customer’s needs come first. Needs are identified through a combination of preparation and effective probing and drilling-down into customer answers. Consultative Selling took the hard edge from product selling and replaced it with the strong but flexible edge that is custom fit to the customer’s needs.

This approach focuses on using strategic questioning skills to engage in a dialogue with a client or potential client A consultative approach to sales requires the salesperson to constantly request feedback use that information to ask the right questions at the right times. This ensures both parties are communicating and understanding each-other effectively.


History of Consultative Selling


When the word Consultative was applied to sales in the 1970’s, it was revolutionary. It marked a major transition from the salesperson as the purveyor of information and the customer as the recipient to a much more collaborative interaction — one in which the customer’s needs, not the product — was the focal point of the sale.

By the early 80’s, the term Consultative Selling began to be misunderstood as a long, arduous sales process that focused on needs at the expense of closing business. In fact, effective Consultative Selling, because needs are clear and recommendations, therefore, are more likely to be on target, actually accelerates the sales cycle.

To really understand the consultative selling model vs. the approaches to sales that preceded it, it's helpful to think about Steinberg’s poster of the U.S. In his map, New York occupies the majority of the country.


Consultative Sales Approach vs. Product Focused Selling


The two most abused, misused, and overused words in selling are the words consultative and solution. It is interesting that these two words hold this distinction because without being consultative, the so-called solution is usually little more than a standard product pitch.

The transition from product focused selling to need-focused selling was the direct result of market changes. Increased competition and customers’ greater access to information and sophistication began the shift of power in a sales call from salesperson to buyer.


Consultative Selling Techniques & Skills


There are four primary techniques that mark a consultative salesperson:

  • They ask more questions.
  • They provide customized vs. vs. generic solutions.
  • Their calls are more interactive.
  • They provide insights to their prospects and customers

Consultative selling techniques are all about the dialogue between the salesperson and the customer. The word dialogue comes from the Greek and means “to learn.” In Consultative Selling and Needs-Based Selling, the salesperson learns about customer needs before talking product. Product knowledge is transformed into a tailored solution when the solution is delivered and positioned based on the customer’s needs and language.

The ability to effectively engage in a sales dialogue is a skill developed through consistent practice. Professionals interested in honing these needs-based selling skills will also seek out feedback on their techniques from multiple sources to find areas in need of improvement, they must also be committed to thoroughly and appropriately preparing themselves for every meeting they have with a potential client.


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Richardson's Consultative Selling Curriculum Guide View our Video Richardson's Andrea Grodnitzky discusses Consultative Selling: The fundamental need for dialogue