The 6 Principles of a Consultative Sales Process

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Mark Kilens
Mark Kilens



How do you sell? You probably have a sales methodology of some kind, whether you know it or not. If you sell, you have a preferred way of selling. It doesn’t matter if you’re a solo entrepreneur, a small business with just one salesperson, a well oiled team of ten or more, or a sales team that spans the globe. Every business has their own way of selling.

How do you sell?

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With inbound sales, the goal of sales is to sell what you create. Sales is not an end in itself. This is often known as the consultative sales process, and it can make all the difference in the world to you, your business, and your customers.


What is consultative selling?

The consultative sales process is primarily focused on the experience that the potential customer (the lead) feels and sees during their interactions with you. It’s about the how you find ways to provide your leads with value and make it all about them. Not your product, your business, your numbers. The consultative sales process is most especially not about you. 

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Sometimes this is also referred to as solution-based selling.

Solution selling is a sales methodology. Rather than just promoting an existing product, the salesperson focuses on the customer's pain(s) and addresses the issue with his or her offerings (product and services). - Wikipedia

In a previous article we discussed how to begin the consultative sales process. Generally speaking, the initial conversation with your lead might begin with your sales rep saying something like this:

Hi Mark, I was notified that you came to our website and recently downloaded (reference the conversion event). Do you remember doing that? Great! What were you looking for help with?

Notice that the emphasis is on what the potential customer wants and needs, not what you want and need from the potential customer.

There are six principles to the consultative sales process:  

  1. Research
  2. Ask
  3. Listen
  4. Teach
  5. Qualify
  6. Close

These six principles should provide the basic outline of the consultative sales methodology that you create for your business. The methodology you create should take into account the thing you’re selling, the typical sales cycle for your business, your industry, and your buyer personas. 

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1. Research

The research phase of consultative sales involves using the lead intelligence that your business gathered in the process of acquiring each lead. If you’re doing inbound marketing well, then you’ve gathered data on your leads like company size, pages visited on your site, email preferences, and social media behaviors. Even more importantly, you’ve gathered tons of information on exactly what sort of content your lead is most interested in, which tells you what questions they have topmost in their minds.

In HubSpot, all of this lead intelligence can be found in your Contacts tool. The properties you’ve selected as most important to qualifying a lead will be your “starred” properties, and your Contact Timeline will give you a quick and detailed overview of what your lead’s experience has been with your business to date. All of your sales reps would have access to this lead intelligence data via the Sales Rep User role in HubSpot.

Salespeople should also spend some time researching leads’ recent company news, social media profiles, personal blogs (if applicable), and of course Google their name to see what else comes up.

You should always research the lead thoroughly before you make any next move.

2. Ask

When you speak with the lead, be sure to ask open-ended questions. Now that you have all this detailed information on them as a result of your research, you may be tempted to assume you know everything there is to know about them. This is a mistake. The point is to allow the lead to volunteer the information themselves, as result of (and contributing to) the trust you are building between sales rep and lead.

Ask questions that start with the words Who, What, Where, How, Why, and When. Avoid starting questions with words like Do, Are, You, and Can. These types of questions tend to lead to yes or no answers, which is exactly the sort of response you most want to avoid.

The goal of asking questions is to slowly discover what the lead’s goals are, the plan they might have to reach those goals, the challenges that are in the way of executing this plan, and the timeline that’s in place for reaching them.

You also need to uncover their budget and the level of authority of the person you’re talking to.  Are they an end user, an influencer, or decision maker, or the person who controls the budget? You can find this out if you ask the right questions.

Always be asking questions during the consultative sales process. Questions are one of your greatest sales tools.

3. Listen

Always. Be. Listening. It’s the most important thing a great salesperson can do. And we’re talking here about active listening, not passive listening. You’re focused on the person talking and are ready to respond and repeat what they said. The goal is to make sure that both people understand what the other is saying.

As you practice active listening, you’ll need to be documenting everything that the lead tells you. All of the information you obtain will help you qualify and/or close the lead.  You must be very attentive to their tone, pitch, and level of enthusiasm. Those elements will help you decide what your next move should be.

Practice makes perfect. Always. Be. Listening.

4. Teach

As you are actively listening, you need to be responding, and as you respond you should looking for opportunities to teach. But note that this is not about teaching your lead about your product or service. It’s about helping the lead learn to overcome their challenges and build a plan to reach their goals.

This may or may not involve using your product or service. Your focus should be to help the lead, no matter what.

You must be careful not to give away too much knowledge. You must balance the knowledge you give with the questions you ask and the answers you get back.

Always be teaching.

5. Qualify

You’re always going to be qualifying the lead. A qualified lead has goals, might or might not have a plan, definitely has challenges to overcome, a defined timeline, and budget. But keep in mind that an unqualified lead is just as good as a qualified lead during the consultative sales process. Unqualified leads give you a chance to help, be friendly, and move on. Qualified leads, of course, give you the chance to help, be friendly, and sell. The sooner you can identify a lead that is not a right fit for your product or service, the better.

Don’t continue to try to close unqualified leads; it will just hurt them and you in the long run.

You want to be spending the most amount of time and provide the most attention to the qualified leads.

6. Close

It should be fairly easy to close your qualified leads. They have budget and have the authority to authorize the purchase.

If pushback does occur during the closing sequence or at any point you can always try to dig in to what the consequences might be for the lead if they fail to buy from you. For example:

“What happens if you aren’t able to reach your goal?”

“What happens if you can’t execute your plan or overcome your challenges?”

The closing sequence should feel natural to both you and the lead. If you’re always striving to close only those leads that are the right fit for your business, then your retention rate on those new customers will also be quite high.

Your Turn

Use these six principles to create your own consultative sales methodology. Salespeople perform at their highest output when there is a process that they can understand and repeat, and when they know they have a process that will help them close business. And your leads will never feel like they were being sold to; even those leads that were never qualified to buy from you in the first place.

The experience will be remarkable. Not ordinary, or disappointing.

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Topics: Inbound Sales

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