The world of sales and customer service has evolved dramatically in recent years - and so too have consumer expectations.
Today, 66% of customers expect businesses to know and understand their unique needs - yet brands are consistently falling short in this area.
In fact, research by Hubspot discovered that 42% of companies don’t listen to their customers at all. Consequently, only 12% of buyers believe that brands “put the customer first”.
This indicates a clear disparity between what customers want/need and what businesses actually deliver.
So how can businesses bridge this gap and truly live up to their customer-centric promises?
The answer lies in a consultative approach to sales and customer service. In this article, we’ll cover:
- What is consultative selling?
- The benefits of a consultative sales approach
- Essential strategies for successful consultative selling
- Consultative selling use cases
What is consultative selling?
Consultative selling is a customer-centric sales strategy that prioritizes trust, rapport, and individual customer needs.
The focus is on building an authentic relationship with the customer through trust and two-way communication. This allows the sales advisor to better understand the customer’s unique situation and provide a fully tailored experience.
Successful consultative selling requires your sales team to be experts in the product or service being offered. They also need to be masters of customer conversations so that they can uncover client needs and present more compelling solutions.
The key defining factor of consultative service is putting customer needs first and the sale second. The goal is to design a solution that is best suited to the client, rather than pushing for the easiest or most profitable sell.
The benefits of a consultative selling approach
Consultative selling requires an investment of time and resources - but the potential payoff for this investment is huge.
Let’s explore how a consultative approach can benefit both your business and your customers.
A better customer experience
There’s no denying the importance of an exceptional customer experience.
By improving CX, you can increase your business’ revenue by up to 15%. Fall short in this area, and 96% of customers will abandon your brand for a competitor.
Consultative selling is one of the most effective ways to take your brand’s CX to the next level.
Why? Because a consultative approach leads to a holistic and nuanced understanding of the buyer and their unique requirements. This empowers sales advisors to provide in-depth service and a truly personalized experience.
In turn, you’ll enjoy the benefit of happy customers who feel valued and seen by your brand - it’s a win-win.
Relationships that last beyond the sale
If you want to forge lasting customer relationships, consultative selling is the strategy for you.
A consultative approach builds authentic relationships by creating a mutually beneficial partnership between the customer and the sales advisor.
These stronger relationships will benefit your business in numerous ways, including:
- A higher customer retention rate
- Increased opportunity for further sales and repeat purchases
- Lasting brand loyalty
Through consistent communication and encouraging prospects to share their challenges, consultative sellers develop trust and rapport with the customer - both of which are pillars of a long-term business relationship.
An edge over your competitors
In today’s increasingly cutthroat market, it’s important to set yourself apart from the competition.
Consultative selling is an excellent way to achieve this. It provides customers with a level of care, service, and personalization that’ll be difficult to find elsewhere.
This competitive edge will help you attract high-value customers - and keep them coming back for more.
By offering a consultative experience, you’ll go beyond the customer’s expectations and differentiate yourself from the countless other salespeople they’ve encountered.
The consultative selling process: Top strategies for success
Consultative selling can be a highly lucrative sales strategy - but it has to be done well.
Luckily, we’ve compiled the essential steps to consultative selling success.
1. Be an expert
Consultative selling requires you to be an expert in your industry, business, and product.
This is crucial for building trust with the customer and establishing brand credibility.
Plus, it’s an area in which your competitors may be lacking. In fact, 57% of buyers believe that sales advisors lack adequate knowledge of their business.
You also need to become an expert on your customer.
That way, you can understand their specific challenges and map your product's capabilities to the customer’s needs. This insight is fundamental to providing a truly consultative experience and a bespoke solution.
The key to becoming a consultative expert is research - research your customer, your industry, and your competitors. This will give you the knowledge base required to anticipate buyer questions and have every conceivable answer ready.
By arming yourself with thorough research, you’ll also be able to showcase your business expertise and make a memorable impression on all types of customers.
2. Ask the right questions
Two-way communication through careful questioning is the foundations of successful consultative selling.
By asking the right questions, you can develop a full and nuanced understanding of the customer’s perceptions, goals, and pain points. You’ll also be able to lay the groundwork for a fruitful, long-term relationship.
To get the most out of your consultative interactions, you should always:
- Come prepared - Do your research and know what you need to ask to gain a detailed picture of the customer’s situation.
- Use open-ended questions - Encourage exploratory conversation rather than forcing a sales pitch.
- Get to know customers as people - Don’t just treat them like a number or a sale.
- Practice active listening - Always ensure you understand the customer’s meaning and probe further if needed.
Ultimately, it is genuine care and curiosity that sets consultative advisors apart. The more invested you are in the customer and their circumstances, the more likely you are to foster a lucrative relationship that leads to a successful sale.
3. Build genuine rapport
One of the key aims of consultative selling is to understand your customer and encourage them to share more about their challenges.
In order to achieve this, you have to establish a strong rapport with your client by:
- Always being responsive to any communication from the customer throughout the sales process (and post-sale).
- Proactively staying in touch with the customer throughout their journey.
- Expressing genuine interest, compassion, and commitment to the customer’s success.
- Demonstrating that the customer can rely on you and your brand by always following through on any promises or commitments.
Once you have built rapport with your customer, you can learn more about them and uncover their needs more thoroughly. This information is crucial when you’re formulating a customized solution.
Be careful not to force rapport with a customer - it needs to feel natural. Focus on providing value and credibility first, and trust that the sale will follow.
4. Present a personalized solution
A personalized solution means one that is specifically customized to a particular customer and their exact needs, rather than a one-size-fits-all fix.
Personalization is a critical piece of the consultative puzzle. It elevates the customer experience and improves the chance of a sale. Not only that but 71% of consumers expect brands to deliver personalized experiences.
In order to deliver a personalized consultative experience, you must identify how your product/service can meet the customer’s needs. Prove to the customer that investing in your brand is the best option for their situation.
Consider the following questions:
- How can you shape your product/service to fit the customer’s criteria?
- Can you offer a specific package or promotion to cater to the customer’s preferences?
- Does the solution you’re providing resolve all of the customer’s unique pain points?
- Are there any case studies of your product resolving a similar situation that you can share with the customer?
Once you've designed a personalized solution, you need to present it clearly to the customer. Demonstrate how your solution is tailored to the customer and emphasize what they'll gain by going ahead with the sale.
A creative and flexible solution that’s customized for the customer’s exact needs will demonstrate a willingness to cater to the client. This is the ultimate way to add value and win long-term customer loyalty.
5. Always follow up
Following up with your clients throughout their buying journey and beyond is an essential practice of consultative selling.
It’s important because regular contact nurtures the customer relationship by making them feel valued and keeping them digitally engaged with your brand.
When you’re following up with customers, take note of the following pointers:
- Offer a variety of communication channels - You should contact customers via the most appropriate channel and offer a range of ways for them to get in touch with you. Phone calls can be useful, but they’re also time-consuming for both parties, and unwanted calls can be a nuisance to the customer. Consider using more convenient channels such as SMS or social media messaging to follow up. That way, customers know you’re still there for them, but they can respond on their own terms.
- Be consistent but not pushy - You need to find the sweet spot between keeping connected with the customer and not bombarding them with messages/calls. Overplay your hand, and you could accidentally push them away.
- Seek feedback - Follow-ups can be used as an opportunity to improve and ensure customers are happy with your service. Be sure to ask if they need anything more from you or have any further questions. Let them know that you’re on hand to assist them if any issues arise.
Remember that the consultative process can take time. Patience is key when following up with customers - rushing them can risk the chance of a conversion and quickly end your relationship.
Whatever happens with the sale, always ensure that you provide attentive and exceptional customer service throughout your dealings with the client.
Consultative selling techniques in action
Consultative selling techniques are used across a range of industries, including:
- Luxury retail and ecommerce
- Real estate
Traditionally, a consultative approach to sales was reserved for in-store customer interactions.
Now, that’s all changed. In fact, consultative methods have become an increasingly popular strategy for online sales and digital customer service.
Let’s explore some examples of in-store and virtual consultative selling.
In-store consultative selling
In-store consultative techniques are primarily used by businesses selling a high-end product or service.
Purchases in these scenarios are often significant and require a substantial investment from the customer.
In these instances, consultative techniques are used to guide customers through the lengthy decision-making process.
An obvious example of this is a vehicle purchase from a car dealership.
In these situations, the buying journey is complex. Customers will need a lot of information and expert guidance from sales advisors.
Multiple meetings may be required for test drives, and follow-ups are often necessary too – a new car is not a decision that most consumers make lightly.
Tech brands are another common example of in-store consultative tactics in action.
If you’ve ever experienced service at an Apple store branch, it’s likely that you’ve benefited from the expertise of “Apple Geniuses".
These advisors may not necessarily see themselves as consultative sellers, but their high level of product knowledge and attentive service creates a consultative-style experience for Apple store customers.
Virtual consultative selling
Virtual consultative selling has been adopted by many businesses to enhance their digital customer experience.
This is a particularly valuable strategy for brands with high-value customers, but it can be used by any business looking to set itself apart with premium customer service.
Take Talkative customers Caseys Furniture, Lululemon, and Outdoor Voices as examples.
These brands take the ecommerce journey to the next level by using Talkative’s video chat to provide personalized virtual shopping consultations.
With this service, customers can enjoy a bespoke and consultative-style shopping experience from the comfort of their own homes.
With virtual consultative service, the key is to offer a wide range of contact channels for customers to connect with you.
That way, customers can enjoy all the benefits of a consultative experience combined with the convenience of digital communication.
In-store vs virtual consultative service
Both in-store and virtual consultative service can be extremely beneficial strategies for businesses.
Which is most suited to your brand will depend on your goals, product/service, and target demographic.
Ultimately, the best strategy for maximum success is a hybrid approach.
By combining the two, you can ensure that all your customers receive a consistent experience and exceptional consultative service - whether in-store or online.
Consider again the above example of a automotive sale.
With a hybrid approach, the consultative process can begin at the very start of the customer's buying journey, via channels like car dealership live chat.
That way, the customer receives a seamless experience at every touchpoint - starting on your website and then smoothly transitioning into the dealership.
The takeaway: Power digital consultative selling with Talkative
With consultative selling, you can offer the ultimate customer experience to your high-value clients – and keep them coming back for more.
The strategies detailed in this article provide a solid foundation for you to build upon and refine your brand’s consultative sales strategy.
But perfecting the consultative journey doesn’t end there - you also need to invest in the right technology.
That’s where Talkative comes in.
Our Consultative Service Platform was specifically designed to provide superior customer service and personalized experiences at every digital touchpoint.
We provide a complete suite of engagement channels that’ll allow you to connect instantly, and effortlessly, with all your digital customers.
As a result, you and your customer-facing teams will be fully equipped to engage, consult, and convert more customers than ever before.
Want to learn more? Book a demo today and discover how you can power a digital consultative experience with Talkative.