Posted on 6/20/2018

The Future Salesperson: Utilizing a Consultative Sales Model

Kristin O’Neill

Last year at Thanksgiving I had a conversation with my uncle-in-law (for the sake of this blog I’ll call him Jim). He spent his life working in an automotive assembly line, and his stooped back and gnarled hands were proof of his years of hard labor. He asked me about work, and I started telling him about a manufacturing company that I was working with. We were working together to automate their quality control inspection process, and we had run into some roadblocks. Now, normally when I’m at a family gathering and I jump into a work story about automated factories and paperless QC I have a 30-60 second window before eyes glaze over and ears tune out. This time it was different. I watched Jim’s smile disintegrate into seething anger. He stopped me mid-sentence and launched into a tirade about how automation was taking factory jobs, and that work like mine was the reason that he and his friends no longer had job security. The room fell into a heavy, awkward silence, and Jim and I dropped the conversation and turned our attention back to the food. 

I love Jim. And I understand his fears. I hear them regularly from companies that are exploring digitization and automation of processes. It’s a rational fear, and one that’s becoming more real every day. We’re seeing more and more robots doing the work of humans, and their artificial intelligence is allowing them to make more complex “human” decisions all the time, and it’s not just factory jobs that are being automated. 

Automation Alley’s Senior Director recently met with a company that is an industry leader in modeling, simulation, visualization and immersion. She came back buzzing with excitement about their tech, especially the automated sales representative. She recounted her experience with an interactive display screen designed to be used in a car dealership. She walked up to the screen and when she waved her hand, the digital saleswoman gave a friendly hello. “Simply point to the car you’re interested in and I’ll tell you more about it.” She pointed in the air. “Great! I see you’re interested in the (car), let me tell you about its features.” In that instant, I was Jim. I was faced with the question, what sets me apart from that digital woman on a screen? 

We live in a fast-paced world that expects immediate results with clear and actionable data. It’s tempting for a sales representative to look to technology as a way to help them sell more efficiently. But what are you sacrificing in the name of efficiency? In today’s data-driven world, more and more companies are seeking out a different type of salesperson: the consultative sales rep.

Consultative selling is more than a strategy, methodology, or a set of processes. It’s a philosophy that’s rooted in trust and transparency; the seller must trust that the buyer is being transparent and open with concerns, and the buyer must trust that the seller is being conscientious with the buyer’s money and time. The consultative sale requires skills like relationship-building and active listening. It doesn’t rely strictly on KPIs, scripts, or meeting structure. The consultative sales rep strives for a holistic understanding of the buyer’s needs. This is essential, as the goal for the consultative sales rep is to create a solution that is tailored to that specific buyer. The consultative sales rep utilizes technology to gain knowledge and insights about the buyer, not to speed up the sales process. 

The consultative sales meeting has an elastomeric framework. By that I mean structured, but flexible. It consists of the following stages: opening, exploration, explanation, closing and examination. The goal is to be your buyer’s trusted consultant. Allow for elasticity and flow of conversation rather than marching along and checking off process boxes as you go.  

There are five basic steps in the consultative sales process. I’ll give a brief overview of each here. 

The opening stage is where you set the stage for the sales interaction. For a consultative sales model, remember to be genuine, direct, transparent and concise. Give the buyer an outline of the meeting to allow them to set their expectations. State a clear goal for both parties: what you’re there to accomplish and what value they’ll gain from your services. Confirm that the goals align with their expectations for the meeting by asking them directly, something as simple as, “Does that seem reasonable?”

The exploration stage is the fact-finding portion of the meeting. It’s important to walk in to a meeting knowing what information you need from the prospect. It’s just as important to allow the conversation to unfold naturally and be flexible, rather than ticking questions off one-by-one. Practice active listening and ask open-ended questions that allow the prospect to elaborate rather than answer yes or no.

The explanation stage is where you’ll present your case for why the prospect should buy. The presentation stage has four parts: teach, tailor, state the why and ask for feedback. Remember that the buyer is relying on your advice, so give guidance rather than directives. Your presentation should draw from what you learned in the exploration stage. Improvisational skills are important for the consultative sales process. 

The closing stage is where you bring it all together and ask for the sale. Think of the closing stage as your concluding paragraph. Summarize what was discussed, confirm expectations and timeline, get a commitment from the buyer, and ask for feedback. This is your opportunity to tweak anything that doesn’t meet the buyer’s goals. 

The examination stage is where you take time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. This is where your continual improvement plans come into play, and you take an acritical but fair birds-eye-view of the meeting. Something as simple as sitting in your car for 10 minutes in the parking lot after a meeting will give you time to think back and gain insights that will make your next presentation even stronger. 

About the Author

Kristin O’Neill | Automation Alley

Kristin O'Neill is Automation Alley's Business Development Representative. Kristin has worked in technical sales for four years with an emphasis on digitizing and automating the quality control process. Kristin has worked as an ISO Process Control Coordinator and has a background in customizing paperless quality assurance software. She has experience as a lead auditor for the ISO 9001:2008 Quality Management System. She is a former member of the Society for Protective Coatings Women in Coatings Group, and was recognized in Products Finishing Magazine’s 40-Under-40: Class of 2016.


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