Fine-Tuning Your Consultative Selling Skills


As recovery gradually begins to take hold, we optimistically look forward to the upcoming year and all the success and opportunity that may be presented to us. Regardless of whether we’re still feeling the ill effects of the last few years, seeing a plateau in our individual business sales or experiencing growth, we all must move forward, concentrating on our success in selling.

This month I want to talk about consultative selling and how it pertains to the kitchen and bath design market. The term “consultative selling” is based on the concept that if you can convince your prospects that the only way to alleviate their problem is to purchase your services and products, and you work together with them on that, then you will close the sale.

At the end of the day, our job is solve a problem or series of problems for our customers. Sure, the clients may be in need of a product and/or service, and they may buy that from us or from our competition. But, if salespeople use the problem-solving skills they have acquired in conjunction with their selling skills, they can elevate the sales process and, most importantly, differentiate themselves from their competition.

The highest level of selling occurs when you transform a sales prospect into a problem-solving opportunity.

If we look at the way we would solve a problem and compare it with a consultative selling process, the similarities quickly become apparent. In both approaches, we would set up the interactions, perform some initial analysis of the problem, formulate recommendations about how to solve the problem, deal with any criticisms of the new ideas (products or services) and, lastly, gain (customer) commitment. As salespeople, we must use our problem-solving skills as a resource.

Identify the Problem

As designers, we are consultative by nature and it is our job to identify the needs and wants of our clients (i.e. the problem) and come up with creative ways to solve that problem.

It could be as simple as what style or color they are interested in or as involved as the need to adhere to ADA compliance or aging-in-place needs for an elderly client or a client with a special needs child. Regardless, we must first determine the obvious and sometimes the not-so-obvious needs of our clients.

I had a client who was
meeting with our company and one of our competitors during a short trip to our area. She only had a few days to meet with several companies and make decisions about contractors for her new home. The home was already under construction, so there were significant time pressures in place.

In an attempt to be as prepared as possible for her time spent with us, we had a phone conference to discuss some of her needs and wants prior to her arrival here.

She mentioned she wanted the range on a certain wall to maximize the room’s view of the ocean, among some other design and style criteria.

When we met with her to review some preliminary designs, we had placed the range on the wall she had indicated she’d like to have it on. At the end of our first meeting, the client signed our retainer and shared her story of meeting with one of our competitors.

When she met with the other designer, the designer obviously had not listened to her about how she wanted the space to function and had placed the range on the opposite wall, blocking the view. The client simply thanked the designer for her time and got up and excused herself from the meeting. Our client said, “How can I trust her to effectively complete my project if she can’t even listen to me about the one thing I wanted the most?”

Facilitate Problem Solving

When you analyze a client’s situation, it’s critical to ask the right questions and listen to their needs. Your success is also going to depend on how you ask and respond to the difficult questions, and how you listen to the obvious and not-so-obvious needs.

Critically important is how you interpret what the client says, and that you demonstrate a solid understanding of what information you’ve gathered. Equally important is building the relationship with the customers and making them feel comfortable throughout the entire process.

The questions themselves, the needs, problems and opportunities you uncover and the summary of what you’ve learned are all related. It’s all very important. But the great salesperson, like the great problem solver, focuses on how he or she does all this collectively.

Fundamentally, we must understand the needs and provide not only products to solve the needs, but ideas on how to incorporate them into the process. If we are presenting alternative ideas of products that go against what the client is asking us for, we must be prepared with specific reasons why this approach is the better alternative. In other words, we must show how the alternative is the best option to satisfy their specific needs.

At the same time, we must resolve any client objections with client-centered, straightforward answers.

Great salespeople must know how to respond and effectively deal with conflicts. They avoid becoming defensive when their ideas are not met with the same enthusiasm, realizing the natural reaction for most people is to instinctively reject and question different and new ideas.

In that situation, we should respond by acknowledging the clients’ concerns and encouraging them to elaborate on their specific concerns. Lastly, we need to transform the client’s objections into new needs and offer new alternative ideas.

Closing the Sale

Closing the sale can and sometimes is our greatest problem to solve. It takes a lot of our time and effort to finalize the sale and complete the closing. Eventually, we get there.

We need to constantly continue the fine tuning, re-pricing or redesigning process. But we do this until we have something complete that makes it feasible for the client to commit and start implementing all the ideas we’ve brought to the table.

It all goes back to asking for the sale. If there are reasons for not moving forward, there must be a clear understanding of those reasons for not moving forward. Continuous follow up is important, and we need to ask questions to determine what the issues are that are holding up the closing.

Only when all the issues are resolved is it time for the client to commit. As salespeople, we must make that happen.

By adding this problem-solving consultative approach to your sales, you are elevating your sales process and differentiating yourself from your competition. If you use this process successfully, you should also have elevated the working relationship you’ve developed with your customers from just a vendor or subcontractor to a trusted advisor.

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