How to use customer insights to power up your consultative sales team

Consultative selling is often regarded as one of the most effective sales strategies. Yet, a majority of sellers don’t have the requisite skills to execute it effectively.

A 2015 study of more than 350,000 salespeople from over 200 countries showed that the average consultative seller skill set was exhibited by only 48% of salespeople—a mere one percentage point higher than it was four years prior.

For the uninitiated, consultative selling (or “needs-based selling”) is the process of asking the right questions to your customer to understand their needs and expectations, then using their responses to ask even more pertinent questions that help you hone in on the perfect solution.

One of the challenges of consultative selling is that the conversation is steered by your customers—as it should be. While this allows you to gather useful insights about customer problems, you may not always have the right solutions to offer during the first call. Consequently, SDRs are often forced to go back to the drawing board in order to formulate the right solution, creating a delay in the sales cycle that could potentially lose them a customer.

This problem could be avoided by integrating consultative selling with what is known as insights selling. Here, the salesperson is more in control of the conversation and provides the potential customer with information and facts that serve to enrich their understanding of their industry, your product, and the way you would solve their business’s problems.

The integrated consultative-insights selling process typically works like this: The SDR asks the potential buyer a series of questions to get deeper insights into their problems and needs, and nurtures discussion through an insights-based approach. This way, you can continue to ask questions that help you understand customer problems while retaining control over the conversation itself.

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Training your sales force to leverage customer insights for and from the buyer may not always be easy. One reason for this is that insights selling is still an emerging area of sales training and there aren’t many trainers who have adequate experience with it.

It is therefore ideal for organizations to not rely solely on face-to-face corporate training sessions to train SDRs and instead make use of case studies and real-world simulations. Such educational techniques do not need a trainer and are instead delivered through group activities and discussions. Also, since they are based on real-world problems, your SDRs may be more attuned to customer needs and expectations through these techniques than through theoretical training methods.

Training to derive customer insights

While it may not be possible to derive insights about specific customers without access to their internal data, you can still gather insights at a demographic or category level.

For instance, if your business sells accounting software, you may have recognized that the accounting tool features requested by small and medium business clients may be significantly different from the features sought by enterprise clients. Such insights can be derived through user analytics data that can be aggregated from your own website or marketing assets.

It’s a good idea to hire a data analytics consultant who can derive such specific, actionable insights on a monthly basis, which could then be passed on to your sales team for insights selling. But merely providing these insights may not be sufficient. Proper sales training involves enabling your sales force to deploy them tactfully in a consultative context. Here are a couple of ways to do this.

Question bank: Success in consultative selling depends on the kind of questions you ask your prospects. Great questions elicit great responses that help you in deriving better insights about your customer. Unfortunately, there is no one template to execute this strategy successfully.

The most optimal way to go about this is to build a database of questions that your SDRs have asked over time along with the kind of responses they have received. You may tag each of your questions with information pertaining to the client (their industry, company size, primary pain points, etc.). Over time, you’ll end up with not only a sizeable database of questions to ask, but also information on each question’s impact on the customer’s conversion rate.

Once you have a list of questions that derive the best response from customer, you may work on building actionable customer insights surrounding these questions that can help you integrate your consultative approach with relevant, tailored information.

Follow up questions and reading between the lines: Consultative selling demands that the SDR actively listen to the problems and expectations listed by the prospective buyer. A successful execution relies on reading between the lines to infer unstated expectations or needs and asking follow-up questions that pertain to these implicit concerns.

There are a couple of ways to frame these follow-up questions. One way to do this is to introduce the implied need yourself. Example: “You mentioned that you have a poor user retention rate. Do you know how many users leave because they were not able to chat with a sales person?.”

Most times, your buyer may not have specific data related to these questions, which allows you to provide insights to steer the conversation in the direction you want to move towards. In the example above, you could follow this question with an insight like, “Our internal studies show that 15% of website visitors close a site when they are unable to chat with sales support.”

Sales force training is ultimately an exercise in training your SDRs to think from the perspective of their customers. Understanding a customer’s pain point and knowing what could potentially satisfy them goes a long way in not only formulating the best consultative-insights based sales approach, but also in providing your product team with the customer insights that could help them build a better solution for your buyers.

Author Bio: Anand Srinivasan is the founder of Hubbion, a suite of free apps and resources. Hubbion’s project management app has been ranked among the top 20 apps in its category by Capterra.

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