Consultative Selling and Identifying Customer Needs

Consultative selling is about as far away from pressure selling as it is possible to be. Consultative sales people are professionals who help their clients solve problems. It therefore follows that one of the most important skills for the consultative sales professional to learn is that of gathering information from a potential client in order to identify their real needs.

The most effective method of sounding out your customers’ needs is by asking them good questions. This sales skill needs a great deal of practice in order to become proficient.

Ask Open Questions
The professional consultative sales person needs to learn to ask questions which require more than a simple “yes” or “no” answer from the customer. You have probably heard that it is better to ask “open” questions rather than closed questions. An open question is one which contains the interrogatives what, why, when, which, how, who or where. The reason why open questions are more powerful than closed questions is that open questions create genuine dialogue.

Involve the Customer
The way in which you construct the questions you ask is also important. The professional consultative sales person encourages their client to take an active part in the discussion.

You can obtain important information during your discussions with the help of the following open questions:

“If you could select any product irrespective of the price – what would you choose and why?”

“Could you describe for me the characteristics a product ought to have so as to meet your requirements?”

“I gather from what you say that you are not one hundred per cent happy with your present supplier. What are the precise problems?”

“You mentioned that reliability is of the utmost importance for you. Can you tell me exactly what you mean by reliability?”

“What standards does a supplier have to meet to earn a share of your business?”

These open questions allow the potential client to tell you in their own words what they really need. Once you have this information you can then sell the benefits of your product with these needs in mind.

Of course, you may also need to deal with any objections – this is another essential communication skill for the consultative selling professional – and we will look at this in a future post!