The Limits of Needs-based Selling and Consultative Selling

These are popular concepts in today’s sales world:

Consultative Selling Amazon 568 mentions
Consultative Selling Google 270,000 mentions
Needs-based Selling Amazon 158 mentions
Needs-based Selling Google 22,800 mentions.

Both approaches ask questions to define buyer needs, so that the seller can alter or position the product to address those needs, thereby raising the value to the customer and the likelihood of closing the sale.

This may sound stunningly obvious and commonsensical. To that extent, it’s a tribute to the triumph over the old product-focused approach of convincing people they needed whatever it was you had to sell.

(At the same time, sounding obvious doesn’t mean it gets practiced all the time, or even usually. Product-based selling is far from dead).
The mainstream view among sales practitioners is that needs-based selling and consultative selling represent the state of the art, the high road, professionalism in selling.

But it’s just not true.

Reading the consultative or needs-based books, websites or training programs, you’ll find two beliefs—implicit or explicit—that limit the value of these approaches to selling. Those beliefs are:

1. Their primary intent is to close the sale
2. A secondary intent is to qualify prospects.

Those may sound obvious and benign as well, but look at it from the customer’s side.  Together, those two beliefs mean that if you’re paying attention to me as a customer, it’s only for as long as you think this transaction will result in a sale for you.

That means:

a. while you’re definitely in it for you, you’re only in it for me if it bodes well for you, and
b. while you’re willing to talk about my needs, you’re not willing to do so unless you see a sale close at hand.

Either way, it certainly appears you don’t have my interests very much at heart.

There is another way. It’s called Trust-based Selling®. It says focus on buyer needs, so that you can better articulate them and get them met.  Period.

You don’t focus on their needs because it’ll get you the sale—you do it so you can help them better articulate their needs and get them met.  Period.

You don’t focus on buyer needs in order to screen out buyers who don’t need what you have to sell. You do it so you  can help them better articulate those needs and get them met. Period.

The key difference lies in liberating sales from the transaction.  Trust flourishes only when then quid and the quo have some blue sky between them.  Screening at the transaction level screams “I only care about your wallet;” trust-based sales screens at the strategic customer selection level, not the tactical transaction level.

For needs-based or consultative selling to become trust-based, you need to migrate away from the tight leash of the transaction.  Loosen up.  Get free of the “pay me now or I quit doing this consulting” mentality.

Trust-based selling says, if you consistently do the right thing by your customer, then when the customer needs what you’re selling, you’ll get the first call. And you’ll therefore make more money.

The highest profit comes when you make profit a byproduct—not a goal—of a truly customer-centric sales process.

5 replies
  1. Harold Jarche
    Harold Jarche says:

    I guess I’ve been doing trust-based selling; I just didn’t know it had a name.  I think that blogging helps you move toward a trust-based approach because you are constantly giving, and in so doing you also receive,  but indirectly.

    Reply
  2. Barbara Garabedian
    Barbara Garabedian says:

    Pssst… I loved the cartoon. 

    Exactly the perception many clients have of consultants!

    Isn’t it  amazing that there are so many around that honestly believe they don’t "sell products" but end up being perceived no higher in the food chain than the fella in the alley? " Oh, you say you have turnover problem, just so happens we have an engagement study that can identify the root causes of discontent; oh, you think it’s really more the result of antiquated systems, go figure…we have a technology group that can work that out for you; you say your strategy  seems diffused, this is amazing, our strategy gurus have helped companies just like yours in over 13 different countries to …"

    Charlie, as you say, the consultative approach is really nothing more than a discussion focused completely on the client/ customer. Unfortunately, in the name of consultative selling,  an  off-the-cuff comment turns into an immediate  "need" in the mind of the consultant,  which then turns into visions of $$$$$, which then triggers the Pavolian response  of "opening the raincoat of products & services" to meet the "need".

    Sad to say, I don’t think many that are just starting out in the sales world are ready to "buy into" your approach of trust-based selling.  That’s too long-term, where’s the instant gratification & how would they keep score?

    Reply
  3. Martin Calle
    Martin Calle says:

    Mentioned in comments on other sales Trust Matters posts, I hire and train likeable people. More often than not, we get new accounts for clients like Staples, Starbucks, UPS, ATT, Verizon and the like simply because decision makers liked my people, realized they were working in the customer’s best interest, were not focusing on price or sales. They became customers in spite of needs or price simply because they liked the sales person.  

    So let’s call this person-to-person-based selling.

    Reply
  4. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:

    Harold, I like your parallel to blogging; it emphasizes not only the giving, but the indirectness of the connection, that we all seem to be talking about.

    Martin, there may be some differences between trust-based selling and person-to-person selling, but there certainly are, as you point out, similarities.

    Reply
  5. Nibor
    Nibor says:

    Demand for your products are short term if they are not based on needs. A customer will not just buy a product because they like your face or you have instilled trust in them. Even those who have money to throw around perceive some need for what they buy. If the need is of a low priority there may be no re-purchase.

    Reply

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