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Sell More and Negotiate Less through Consultative Selling

By Joane Ramsey

Sell More and Negotiate Less through Consultative Selling

How is it that in normal sales situations some salespeople never find themselves in a position of having to negotiate the final agreement/proposal with a client?

I believe that it's simply because they act as a consultant to their customers in such a way that any concerns or objections are dealt with during the process of selling and not at the end in a negotiation!

The reality is that if salespeople took a Counselor Approach to sales, they would realize that preventing and overcoming customers' concerns and objections happens at every stage of their conversations with their customer. A Counselor Approach facilitates the customer’s buying process in such a way that the customer and the salesperson are working together to determine the real need and the best solution. These counselor salespeople are focused on understanding their customer’s business issues better than their customers may understand it themselves, helping the customer to see that not only do they have a need, but they also need help. It is this focus on the customer that allows salespeople with a counselor approach to add value in every conversation, build solid rapport and trust with their customers, and ultimately help a customer have a positive experience when they're make a buying decision. However, we all recognize that more formal negotiations cannot be avoided when salespeople have to work through Procurement Departments. That is a whole other blog!

For most sales people negotiating is a losing deal. It's either I win and you lose or you win and I lose. So if that’s true, why do sales people do so much of it? If you’d like to to avoid negotiating with your customers and prospects then become a consultative salesperson. What we mean by this is that there are a number of things you can do in the sales process that will allow you to conclude the sale during that process and avoid getting in to a negotiation. The role of a good salesperson is to help their customers make sense out of the complexities of their business issues so they can move to problem solving. This is a mindset that sets the foundation for achieving win-win agreements. We call that approach the Counselor Approach.

So often I have clients call me asking to provide negotiation skills training for their salespeople. As we start discussions around why negotiations are needed, 9 out 10 times, we find out that negotiation is not really what is necessary, but rather the development of skills that will help their salespeople elevate their sales approach.

The aha! moment is usually when the realization sets in that either they don’t follow any sales process and/or methodology or they take a very traditional approach to sales, where the focus lies mostly on a few questions and a lot of "pitching". In a Traditional Sales approach little time is spent building rapport with the customer, time spent uncovering needs usually don’t go deep into their customers’ business issues, and a large amount of time and resources is spent on presenting and “pitching a solution” to customers with the expectation that overcoming objections is absolutely necessary, thus entering into negotiations.

In this article we’re going to talk about two skills that will help you become a more consultative salesperson: Anticipating your prospect's questions and Asking the "So What" questions

Anticipating Your Prospect's Questions

Anticipating the questions your prospect may have helps you to formulate answers ahead of time. When you share these questions with the prospect at the beginning of your sales interaction, it shows that you have been thinking about them and their needs and not just what you want to sell them. It demonstrates empathy which in turn helps to develop trust. Trust is so important in being able to have candid and open conversations about the prospect's challenges and needs. In a traditional sales approach little time is spent building trust with your customer. Without trust you can't get the information you need to differentiate your product or service. Many times you are left with a situation where you are negotiating on price, and that usually ends badly for the salesperson.

Formulating a list of five to ten questions that you think your client may have before you meet with them helps to prepare you to get into the counselor mindset. These questions may not even be on their radar but you are demonstrating your intent is to help them, not sell them. They will be more open to letting you know what their real questions are and gives you the opportunity to answer them. It is important to share the questions you came up with with your prospect and ask if these are important to them. They will let you know what they want answered and what they don't care about.

The outcome is that they will be more willing to answer your questions openly and honestly because they trust you and believe that you will provide them with the very best solution possible. When this happens, you are able to problem solve the real issue and come up with solutions that will work.

Asking the "So What" Questions

Asking the "So What" questions is our second skill. It’s not enough for the customer to tell you what they want. You need to understand why that issue is important to them, the reasons, or the "so what" behind the needs, and what the customer's interest is behind their want? Become a master at asking the 'so what' questions, because once you understand the interest behind the needs and the motives behind the wants, you are in a position to truly provide a complete solution for your customer that really meets all their criteria.

The process of uncovering your customer's motives and interests is done in a dialogue, a give-and-take discussion, not an interrogation of continuous questions. Stop frequently during your questioning and check with your customer to make sure you understand what they are looking for. Not only does this practice keep you on track but it also helps uncover any objections that the customer might have. It’s much easier to deal with customer concerns in the questioning phase of the sale than it is to wait until everyone's tension is high in the closing phase of the sale. By dealing with prospective concerns now, you avoid dealing with them as objections in the closing phase and you avoid being pulled into a negotiation.

Remember that most negotiations are actually bargaining sessions and the very definition of bargaining is "you give up more than you wanted and the customer gets less than he/she wanted until you are both mutually dissatisfied." Earn the customer's trust, answer their questions and solve their problems in the questioning phase of the sale and you'll rarely get pulled into a negotiation at the end. Doing that is a losing deal!

Published: March 30, 2021

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Joane Ramsey

Senior Performance Improvement Consultant

A native of Brazil, Joane first came to the U.S. as a foreign exchange student with AFS. She returned to Brazil where she successfully ran and sold two different businesses. Returning to the US in 1992, Joane put her business ownership experience to work with a small manufacturing company running the day-to-day operations and facilitating sales with South American companies. She joined SEG in 1999, where her experience has helped her clients get the results they desired. Joane has a B.S. degree in business management from North Central College, where she majored in international business and Spanish.

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