What is Consultative Selling and How to Bridge the Gap?

consultative selling secret

Consultative selling has often been associated with building trust, adding value, and being customer-centric. It is often contrasted with transactional selling where you position your products and services, and discuss with the customers if they need them.

Contrary to popular opinion, it is NOT an either-or situation. Both types of selling are needed at different times of your sales cycle to successfully close the deal. But how do you bridge the gap between the two?

In fact, this article on Forbes by Lisa Earle McLeod provides some nice tips on consultative vs transactional selling. She also mentions the importance of interactive tools for sales.

In this post, we will show you how to use both types of selling and bridge this gap between consultative and transactional selling. That way you will be able to engage better and sell more.

In order to do that, we need to re-frame the question like this:

How do we find out what customers really need and then take charge of the conversation?

This re-framing of the typical sales question is important. Customers usually already have a vision of what the end state should look like. However, if you look under the covers, you will discover that they are actually trying to give shape to this vision, and figure out their “execution” game plan. The vision needs fine-tuning because there are many uncertainties that need to be addressed. There are questions of sequencing, budgets, measuring of ROI, etc. So the vision needs clarity before it can be considered more or less reasonably done.

Customers generally know where they want to be, but they don’t always clearly know “how” to get there.

And as a service provider, you are in the best position to help. Why? Because you have seen this story play out at many other clients before. You can help customers with the tactical game plan they need to successfully realize their vision.

Take any topic – supply chain effectiveness, e-commerce, big data analytics, customer experience, starting a business, marketing  and so on – you know “how” it has been done before to meet the “why”. (read about how interactive content geared for this purpose can help you)

But instead we often get distracted by trying to lay out the vision, and then pitching our products to meet customer needs. In doing so we completely miss addressing the “how”.

Consultative selling chasm That’s true for coaching as well. Be it leadership, management, sales, life or career, you help your clients get to where “they” want to be. You don’t generally define the “why” for them. You only help them uncover the “why” in more detail.

And therein lies the gap between consultative selling and transaction selling. We try to help the customer “create” their vision, but in fact, what customers really want is to clarify the vision and define “how” to get there! If customers really don’t know what’s going on, they’ll probably engage service providers directly for that purpose – there’s no second guessing.

By not engaging in that clarity and roadmap discussion we are giving up control of our customer engagement. We are not taking charge. We are leaving it up to the customer to decide how to engage us. That’s not a great option because customers are struggling too. They will gravitate towards either what’s in front of them or what they are comfortable with.

So let’s do this in 2 steps:

1. Determining what the customers actually need

Remember that we are not talking about vision or benefits. Customers already know that. What want to do is to clarify the vision as needed and define “how” to best to get there.

That’s where “your” expertise comes in. Broadly speaking, every vision or goal can be supported by a given set of capabilities.

Whether it be technical, management, or human. For example:

  • Technical capabilities – analytics, digital, agile, cloud, etc etc.
  • Management – product roadmaps, target markets, customer experience, competitive parity etc.
  • Human – culture, objectives, collaboration, leadership, fairness etc.

Believe it or not, customers already know they need the above. Each of these capabilities above can be drilled down further. Your assessment should focus on where are the gaps in the application of these capabilities that map to your products and services. Filling these gaps will in turn help your customers achieve their goals.

These capabilities and your expertise in them are what your customers need. So focus on those in your assessment. See where the gaps are, and what the customers are struggling with.

This is the first phase of consultative selling.

2.  Take charge of the conversation on the “how”

In this phase you are applying both consultative and transactional selling methods.

This is where you pick up steam. You assume the role of a coach or consultant who has understood the customer’s goals and vision, and drilled down into what they need. Now is the time to nurture them and help them realize their vision.

See this post on how to build trust during the sales cycle. This article by Marissa Levin on Inc. also brings out some excellent points.

Your experience proves your expertise. If you share your case studies and customer testimonials, your prospects will trust you. This post is NOT about building that kind of trust.

Also, you are NOT adding value by giving them free stuff. You are adding value by helping them define “how” to apply these capabilities to get to their goals. That’s what you do in BOTH consultative and transactional selling. The only difference is that you are now doing it with the context of the “how”.

So, set short-term goals that help clients think through and apply the capabilities to their vision. For example, if you sell analytic services you might help them break down the problem into some relevant categories, if you sell SEO services then your goals will be linked to those actions, and if you are a life coach then you might be helping them build good habits.

Whatever the case, always tie these goals to a tangible benefit that your customers can observe.


This 2 step approach has the unique benefit that you can operate with context. And doing that helps you pull away from the commoditized offers and solicitations your customers may be getting.

Your assessments perform as interactive content and provide value (aka clarity). As a result, your engagement efforts deliver tangible benefits.

So the next time you send a cold email, don’t ask “We sell X and we can deliver Z benefits to you. Can we discuss this?

Instead, ask “I think you want to get to Y. And X is needed to get there. Here are the Z problems others like you have faced which we have helped overcome. Can we discuss?”.

Or something like that. Your assessment on Evalinator will help frame this pitch.

Good luck and hope to see you on Evalinator!

Next steps

If this approach sounds reasonable to you, then there is nothing better than testing it out! Get started for free and craft your first assessment. We are here to help you be successful.

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