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​The 5 Steps in the Consultative Sales Process

Men in an office during a consulting meeting

Marketing has changed dramatically for building service contractors (BSCs) during the past decade. We have gone from marketing our products, our services, our companies—and even ourselves—to consulting.

This is a huge shift. No one likes to be solicited, especially today’s millennials who are moving into management positions. However, they are comfortable with, and even welcome, the opportunity to work with someone they can trust and who knows their industry.

Unlike soliciting, consulting implies advising, guiding, suggesting, and recommending strategies that can help a building manager operate a facility more efficiently, cost-effectively, and in a healthier, more sustainable manner.

This is what consultative selling is all about. It can be instrumental in helping BSCs not only win more clients, but also secure clients who are far more loyal.

There is one key drawback to the consultative selling process: It can take time. But once you have proven yourself to the client by providing substantial and tangible benefits, results, and solutions, you can move beyond serving as just a vendor, becoming a crucial partner in their day-to-day operations.

To take advantage of the consultative selling process, BSCs should know these five key components.

1. Research

Broad research is the first, and possibly the most important, step in the consultative sales process. Often BSCs think the research component involves knowing as much as possible about the company they will be calling as well as the person they will be meeting. This is true, but something that BSCs often overlook is learning about the industry of the company they are courting.

For instance, let’s say you are trying to earn business from a medical facility. These types of facilities are always dealing with new rules, compliance regulations, legislation, etc. By being aware of these issues, especially recent changes, you can more easily put yourself in your prospects’ shoes. This makes it much easier to understand their needs and wants.

2. Ask

Once you have secured an appointment with the prospect, it’s often tempting to make sure the prospect is aware of how much you know about them, their company, and their industry. While this might prove impressive, it’s best to keep this under wraps for now. Let the prospects take the lead and discuss their situation. Ask open-ended questions. Let them do most of the talking. This helps build rapport and trust. You may also learn which issues are most important to them, about the scope of their budget, and whether your prospects are “influencers” versus decision-makers when it comes to purchasing decisions.

3. Listen

Interestingly, listening can be one of the hardest parts of the consultative sales process for some salespeople. It’s important to listen actively, respond when necessary, and ensure the prospects that you understand their needs, wants, and constraints. Often this is helped by jotting down critical items during the discussion. But don’t get carried away with it. Continuously jotting down notes can prove distracting and cause you to miss essential points in the conversation.

4. Inform

Now it is time to share some of what your research has uncovered about the prospects, the companies, and their industry. Don’t market yourself, your products, or your services; rather, position yourself as a solutions provider.

Often technology can play a crucial role here. For instance, let’s say our prospects are in charge of the cleaning and maintenance of an office area, a warehouse, and a controlled environment research center. Each area will have different cleaning needs. Having access to a software program or online dashboard-style system allows you to essentially peel the roof off those three areas and show the potential clients how they can maximize resources across all three facility components. Younger people in particular relate well to new technologies and it helps to show them procurement solutions, uncovering issues they may not even be aware exist. Now you are providing answers, showing them solutions, and displaying your expertise in a way that relates to them.

5. Close

As with any selling process, consultative selling does involve the close, securing the clients, and offering them solutions in the form of products or services. It’s important for the closing sequence to occur when it feels natural for both parties. Too often, salespeople start closing too quickly. This can result in pushback and discomfort, and it can derail the entire consultative sales process.

These key components in the consultative approach can be used when working with prospects as well as with current clients. In both cases, they never feel they have been sold anything. Instead, they see you as a natural extension of their business. This is what results in long-term sales and the customer loyalty we mentioned earlier.

 

Michael Wilson

Michael Wilson

Vice President of Marketing for AFFLINK

Michael Wilson is vice president of marketing for AFFLINK, a global leader in supply chain optimization, providing clients with innovative processes, such as the ELEVATE™ process, as well as procurement solutions to drive efficiencies in today’s leading businesses. He can be reached through his company website at www.afflink.com.

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