The cornerstones of consultative selling in B2B

In times when products and services become more and more complex, consultative selling can be one of key sources of company’s competitive advantage in B2B sales.

What is consultative selling?

Traditional sales representatives were trained to prove that their product or service was the best on the market. Traditional selling was about talking about products to prospects.

Today clients can easily find product information in the internet and they no longer require meetings with our sales representatives just to talk about our products or services.

Having direct relationship with client is helpful but also not enough to “close” the deal. In a complex and volatile business reality clients expect real value from interaction with sales people – they require advice and expertise.

Consultative selling means defining a solution to client’s problem by examining his needs. Consultative selling is about helping clients to find the right solution for their problem.

What are the cornerstones of consultative selling?

Consultative selling requires an ability of thoughtful questioning, but in the first place it requires an ability of careful listening.

Our role as consultant is to assist our Client in his buying decision. We are here to make sure that he correctly defines his problem, before we start to talk about the appropriate solution for his company.

It means that we spend enough time to let the Client talk about his goals and challenges, before we jump to a conclusion. We listen diligently. And if we have doubts, we ask clarification questions. We paraphrase what we have heard to make sure we are on the same page.

We are here for him to make sure, that he doesn’t confuse his problems and needs at the very beginning of the sales process. It maybe very costly for us and for him at the end of the day, in case we misinterpret his expectations and overshoot the proposition.

The other two cornerstones of consultative selling are “positive” curiosity and the art of asking questions.

Curiosity means that in the consultative selling process we are genuinely interested in our Client’s business and his situation. We are ready to discuss with him the way he runs his business today, and what he thinks may be the challenges of tomorrow.

What is the role of empathy in consultative selling?

What differentiates an excellent consultant from the rest of consultants is the ability to empathise with the client. Empathy in selling means the willingness and ability to put ourselves in the mental and emotional position of our client.

As one of recent articles in Harvard Business Review reports (“The B2B elements of value”, Harvard Business Review, March-April 2018) personal and emotional factors play important role in creating value for B2B customers. And so they do in the sales process.

If we underestimate our Client’s personal situation in the company, his motivations and attitudes – we may overlook important factors in the sales process.

We need empathy to analyse the situation from the client’s point of view. Our goal is to align the best solution to match his needs in his particular situation. Connecting not only with his rational, but also emotional needs may be the turning point in our sales process to him.

Good luck and enjoy your future conversations with your Clients!


About the author: Agnieszka Węglarz is a strategist and practitioner in marketing, business and sales, with over 20 years of managerial experience in corporate environment. Since 2014 she works as independent consultant, as well as lecturer at Ican Institute, editor of Harvard Business Review Poland. Agnieszka is an expert in B2B business development, powerful speaker and business blogger.