When people choose to buy a product or service, that’s not all that they’re choosing. They are—sometimes without realizing it—making a decision based on the intangible benefits they believe a product or service can give them.

The consultative sales approach is the best way to communicate those priceless intangibles.

Consumer behavior tells us that people are motivated to buy for a variety of reasons. Logic may be the “right” way to make a buying decision, but the truth is that on any given day, emotion could be the main factor driving your prospect to buy.

Let’s say Jim is having a bad day. A windstorm hit his neighborhood hard overnight, and a tree slammed down, blocking the road he usually takes. Walking off the bus, Jim stepped in a deep puddle and now his dress shoes are soaked. As he walked into work, his boss called an emergency meeting to discuss the effects that the new tariffs from China will have on their business.

Do you think he wants to take a sales call?

Probably not.

Taking that into account, we should think about sales as a way to relieve someone’s stress, or alleviate work-related pain. The consultative approach is the easiest and most effective method of achieving just that.

Nevertheless, many salespeople will likely still struggle or fail. If it’s such a foolproof plan, how is that possible?

Well, there are some big obstacles to watch out for in your sales approach. Avoid the following four mistakes and your consultative sales approach will be undeniably powerful.


1.  You’re Slacking on Homework

If you thought you were done with homework once you graduated from school… think again. Doing your homework is a skill that separates the amateurs from the experts, and enhances your sales effectiveness.

While it can be valuable to ask about the prospect’s organization, try not to ask anything that you could easily find on their website or through a quick search on Google/LinkedIn.

You should already know details like the prospect’s role, the size of the organization they work for, and the industry they’re in. Often times, we assume a prospect is or isn’t qualified based on very basic information like the elements above.

Rather than assume, treat every prospect like a potential SQL. Many salespeople have secured their most profitable deals from a call that wouldn’t seem prolific from the outside looking in.

So set the tone early on and take those 2 extra minutes to gather not only basic information, but also recent news about the organization. Being up-to-date on the latest company or industry developments is your differentiator and shows your prospect you’re there for them.


2.  You’re Asking the Wrong Questions

The wrong questions are the ones that your prospect has heard before from every other seller. They’re the ones that fail to challenge, and are too easy to answer.

Alternatively, the best questions are ones your prospect may not have an answer to. They force your prospect to think critically. Many are dealing with a problem they haven’t even noticed yet—think challenger sale.

Through consultative selling questions that build off of each other, prompt them to realize that a need exists without explicitly mentioning it yourself. When people come up with an idea on their own, they’re much more convinced of its validity.

Handling every call as a well-intentioned investigation gets you far, whether it reveals that the prospect is not in fact that far down the funnel, or maybe they’re ready to buy.

Ask more pointed questions, like:

  • “What are the activities you are involved with on a daily basis?”
  • “Which processes take the longest to complete?”
  • “What are the holdups?”
  • “How do you see the business growing, and your needs changing over the next year or two?”
  • “What gains would you like to see from a new solution?”

Consultative sales questions should get your prospect thinking they do, in fact, have a problem and the incentive to do something about their problem hopefully becomes stronger.


3.  You’re Chomping at the Bit

After a minute of conversation, you launch into your sales pitch. (Clearly you’re not asking consultative sales questions…)

Save the sales pitch for the end of the conversation. The consultative approach is all about understanding your prospect fully before asking for the sale. That way, when you do ask for the sale, it’s much easier for the prospect to give an eager “yes.”

Throwing aggressive closing lines into the mix too soon not only causes your prospect to question your integrity, but it can also weaken the effectiveness of the closing sales pitch.

You want your prospect to know that although your intentions may include making a sale, they mostly include helping the prospect solve a problem.


4.  You’re Not Establishing a Personal Connection

This is a goal that all businesspeople should strive for, regardless of their role. However, it’s extremely important if a salesperson wants to actually close deals.

Features and benefits of a product or service often aren’t enough to close a deal on their own. If you want to elicit an enthusiastic purchase, you have to cultivate a bond.

After all, people do business with people. The following points are great ways to establish that personal connection:

  • Listen well— I once made a sale from a call that started with a man from the south telling me about how much his grandson loved the Seattle Seahawks. If you can tell the prospect likes to talk your ear off about x, y, or z, let them. Listening can create a bond of trust, which is more influential on winning business than any sales tactic in and of itself.
  • Bond over mutual interests—The most solid business relationships usually have more to them than meets the eye. Learn about your customer or prospect’s life; if the only thing two people can both relate to is that they do business with each other, the relationship probably isn’t as strong as it could be.
  • Try for face-to-face meetings—Michael Massari, Chief Sales Officer for Caesers Entertainment, says organizations rely on face-to-face meetings to (1) gain new customers, (2) close new business, and (3) foster outstanding talent. He knows “you are twice as likely to convert prospects into customers with an in-person meeting. The likelihood of getting a ‘yes’ increases, because it is so much easier to say ‘no’ in an email or on a phone call.”

If your prospect seems hesitant, let them know that you’ll be available to talk more at any time, regardless of their readiness to buy. Create a bond with your prospect by communicating that you understand their responsibility to make the right buying decision for their organization.

If you polish your consultative approach, chances are, you’re the one the prospect will call when they feel the pressing need to make change in their organization.

Which of these four mistakes are hampering your consultative sales approach? How could you adjust your consultative selling questions to create more success?