Consultative sales reps always ask the right questions

Friday, August 23, 2013, Vol. 37, No. 34

The Internet has created an unprecedented power shift in the marketplace. Gone are the days where the salesperson alone carries the lion’s share of the knowledge about the products and services he’s selling and therefore holds the power in a sales exchange.

Thanks to the Web, the consumer is most often quite knowledgeable about your products or services, as well as those of your competitors, before they ever make initial contact with your company. This new "knowledge economy" has forever changed the sales dynamic and the role of salespeople.

Consumers no longer immediately accept a sales rep as an authority figure. If they feel as though they are being sold to, they are likely to retreat. Instead, they are looking for truth, transparency and candor. They seek a sales rep that is more interested in helping them solve problems than landing a sale. This requires a more sophisticated sales strategy than the old features and benefits approach, and is aptly called consultative sales.

Where extreme extroverts often found great success with features and benefits-based selling, consultative selling more often fits best with sales reps that walk the line between introversion and extroversion. Those who are too introverted may find connecting with prospects challenging. Strong extroverts may struggle in honing their listening skills due to a desire to be heard.

Study after study supports the fact that prospects that feel listened to and understood are more apt to buy, assuming the product or service meets their basic needs. Consultative sales reps that ask the right questions ultimately lead a prospect to self-discover a need for their services and enjoy significantly higher close ratios than their counterparts who are focused too heavily on their pitch and what they’re going to say next.

Another consultative sales approach is to add value through the sales process, not just after the sale is made. For example, if your buyer is a business, add value by connecting them with a prospective buyer or referral source of their own.

Many in sales are concerned about giving away too much of the "secret sauce" before a prospect agrees to buy. A consultative seller’s role is coach and guide the prospect through the sales process, step by step.

If you’re concerned the prospect will take what you share with them and then buy from someone else, then you’re not doing your job building rapport and offering persuasive reasons to buy from you and only you. If you do connect and persuade, even if you’re up against a lower-cost provider, most consumers will feel bound by the rule of reciprocity and buy from you in the end.

Lori Turner-Wilson is an award-winning columnist and managing partner of RedRover Sales & Marketing,, with offices in Memphis and Nashville. You can follow RedRover on Twitter (@redrovercompany and @loriturner) and Facebook (