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Consultative Selling–We See Great Examples Everywhere

by David Brock on July 24th, 2012

As people, particularly we consultants, are prone to do, we make things more complex than they need be.  Most of the principles we look at in high performance selling are simply the disciplined and systematic application of common sense and the Golden Rule (I mean the “Do unto others….” one).

Consultative selling is a key means of aligning ourselves with the customer, helping them understand opportunities to improve their business, diagnosing problems they may have, and recommending solutions.  Dozens of books have been written about various aspects of consultative selling, $10’s of millions are spent every year on developing skills in consultative selling, but the successful execution of consultative selling approaches often eludes us.

However, there are great examples we see every day.  Most often, they are executed by people who have never been trained in consultative selling, but who are doing it out of their genuine interest in helping the customer.  This past weekend, here are just a few examples I ran across:

My wife and I went grocery shopping.  She’s a professional chef, so grocery shopping, even just for us, is an arduous task  (at least for me).  My role in the process is to carry the shopping basked and to pay for things, so this frees me up to watch what’s happening.  Our first stop was with the butcher.  He and my wife are close friends.  She starts to talk about buying some beef.  We walk over to the beef section of the butcher counter while he asks, “How do you intend to use this beef?”  She talks about a couple of different dishes she is considering preparing, and they enter into a long discussion about different cuts, which might be better for what she is preparing, he also gives her some ideas for variations in how we might prepare the cuts of beef we are thinking of.  As I listened and watched, I realized I was watching one of the best consultative sales calls I had ever been on.  He even got her to thinking differently on a couple of things, challenging her, by suggesting some alternative methods of preparing the beef for one of the dishes she was thinking of.  The same things ensued with the produce guy and the wine guy.

Desperately needing to escape all this talk about food, we went to the Apple Store.  I thought to myself, “This is my domain, now I can do the buying and take control.”  The sales guy approached us with that friendly but cool Apple swagger.  I said, “We need to get my wife a new computer.  I think she needs a new MacBook Pro”  He immediately turned to her and asked, “What do you use a computer for?”  They carried on a conversation about how she used a computer, the applications she used most, her experience and so on.  Again, I was relegated to watching an observing.  Clearly, the Apple people are very well trained, but again, I was seeing an expertly executed consultative sales call for a pretty simple transaction.  We ended up walking out with a Mac, because it was the best solution for my wife.

By this time I was desperate to escape.  She went to shop for some other things, I ran into Nordstrom’s to get some new clothes. Don is my Nordstrom sales guy.  I hate buying clothes, so I always go to Don and over the years, we’ve built a bit of a relationship, even though I shop infrequently.  Don has a little book with a page dedicated to me.  He opened it up, looked at my buying history and some other information.  I said, “Don, I need to get some new dress trousers.”  Don went through and asked me a couple of questions, “Are they for business, or just for dressier occasions?  Dave, I know you travel a lot and making sure they stay wrinkle free must be important.  Do you want a summer weight or something that you can wear year around?  He also knew that I’m pretty picky about fabrics and tailoring.  He said, “Dave, I know you’ve always liked Italian wools, Super 130’s or 150’s.  But I’ve got this British wool that has just a great “hand”  (That’s clothing talk about how the fabric feels).  Plus I think it will travel better than some of the other fabrics we have.  Then we went on, he said, “Dave, I know you have always bought pleated pants in the past, but you may really want to consider plain fronts……”  We talked about all sorts of things, I ended up ordering several pair.  Through this process Don constantly sought to understand my needs–both practically and ego wise.  He educated me on some different alternatives and I ended up buying .

I was feeling a little better about myself.  I had at least become an active buyer and not an observer.

Later in the day, I ended up where I often spend hours on Saturdays, the bike shop.  I was just returning from a long ride, and decided to swing into the shop to see all the cool stuff.  My favorite bike mechanic came out to see me and shoot the bull.  At some point in the conversation, I started to complain about some bike shorts I had bought not long ago.  I was wearing them and had worn an embarrassing hole in the shorts on my inner thigh.  I went on to tell him that the three pair I had bought at the same time, all had the same hole in the same spot.  I complained the shorts were bad and I’d never buy another pair.  He started asking me some questions.  He asked me to go out to the parking lot and ride a few circles while he watched.  He was a little confused, saying, “Dave, I don’t see anything about the way you are positioned on the saddle that should cause  the kind of wear you are experiencing, but we’ve not had problems with those shorts before.”  We took the bike to the back of the shop, he put it on his bench rack and started looking at it.  In a moment, he discovered the source of the problem.  The saddle was several years old and was starting to wear.  A very small part of the saddle frame was projecting out a fraction of an inch from the surface of the saddle.  You could barely see or feel it, but it was enough that with the thousands of pedal strokes I made on each ride, the constant abrasion wore a hole in my shorts.  The problem was solved by buying a new saddle.

We see great examples of consultative selling every day.  Consultative selling isn’t just limited to major B2B sales deals.  As consumers we see great examples and should take lessons from those executing it well.  At the foundation of all this, is a sales person who is genuinely interested in the customer, their experiences, their needs/dreams/problems, and in solving those problems.

It’s really not that complicated.

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4 Comments
  1. Dave, it sounds like in one day you experienced consultative selling, solution selling, and relationship selling. If only someone had challenged you, you would have hit for the cycle!

  2. Seems like you and your wife have a great network of consultative sellers! Great article, it’s entertaining to see the amount of valuable lessons you can learn from seemingly miniscule interactions.

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