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consultative selling

It’s Less About What You Sell and More About How You Sell

We find some interesting contrasts as we work in different industry sales models. In traditional product firms, sales teams are striving to be more like business consultants. Yet, in our work with professional services firms, our clients strive to be more like traditional sales teams.

What is it about these two models that seem so similar, yet so far apart? After all, we’ve been talking about consultative selling for more than 40 years! And the foundational principles still apply for effective B2B selling.

Most product-based organizations have finally realized that it’s less about what you sell and more about how you sell. The sales experience is critical to differentiation and buyer preference.

In contrast, our service-based clients know that they’re selling themselves. Their approach is tailored and buyer-oriented. Diagnosing business issues before proposing the solution comes naturally. However, increasingly they're required to “productize” their approach to drive growth, scale, and margin.  This includes more rigor and assertiveness around the sales process.

So, even though we’ve used the phrase consultative selling for so many years, it’s been a veneer. There’s a big difference between classic consulting actions and the most advanced selling we've seen in the recent past. Even the buzz around delivering insights to buyers hasn’t bridged the two models. Insight is necessary, but not sufficient.

Let’s break down the common struggles we see from each sales model and what we can learn from each.

Traditional Sales Organization

Organizations that primarily sell products struggle with:

  • Too many competing priorities and pressures resulting in limited time to deeply understand the customer’s situation
  • Overly focused on product specs and features
  • Lack of meaningful insight into the customer’s core business challenges
  • Failure to build consensus around the problem
  • Rewards focus on individual success, leading to challenging team selling dynamics
  • Focused on the wrong drivers of productivity and results

Professional Services Professionals

Organizations that primarily sell professional services struggle with:

  • Too many competing priorities resulting in the lack of time to effectively develop new business opportunities
  • Focus on the technical nuances of the customer’s business (to a detriment)
  • Balancing the "selling" of work with the "doing’" of work
  • Pursuit of the “100% solution”, when something 80% right would work well
  • Lots of smart and insightful discussions, but failure to build urgency or momentum to move deals forward – too many vague conversations
  • Lack of discipline in business development activities, methods and tools

It’s clear why - after 40 years - we’re still talking about consultative skills being required for sellers, and improved selling skills required for consultants.

You can see through the lists that they both struggle with time. Who doesn’t, right? But beyond time, the lists are an exercise in contrasts. For example, where sales teams often lack the meaningful insights around the business, the professional service teams do that well. But service teams struggle in other ways where traditional sales reps are strong.

We believe the future of sales continues to be the integration of these skill-sets. The modern seller needs to retain the strengths that make them so effective while building a consulting skill-set.

Here’s a sample of the skills we see as strengths in each model that need to be leveraged:

Common Seller Strengths

  • Disciplined and rigor to managing selling activity
  • Confidence in communication, approach and style
  • Powerful and simple solution messaging
  • Persistence to drive to opportunities forward
  • Sales management practices, such as coaching and pipeline management
  • Building deal momentum and urgency

Common Professional Service Strengths

  • Strong expertise in their solution domains
  • Solid business and industry vertical acumen
  • Focused on truly solving the customer’s business problem and helping them navigate change
  • Excellence and comfort in team selling
  • Executive presence to facilitate group dynamics of senior buyers

To be effective in today’s selling environment you need to leverage the best traits from both traditional product and professional services models. Let’s have a conversation about your team’s strengths and how they can build more sales consulting focused skills.

About The Author

Author photo Ralph is a partner with The Brevet Group, and for 20 years he has led sales performance teams in the United States and Asia. Recently he also served as a sales leader in both the media and technology industries. Ralph’s work has focused on a unique blend of management consulting and sales enablement to help companies execute their sales strategies. Prior to this role, Ralph was the APAC sales effectiveness leader at Mercer.

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