Consultative Selling. 70’s hype or the path to differentiation?

Guest Post by Ray Charland of Lead Dog Selling.

The term “Consultative Selling” and it’s underlying concepts were first introduced in the book by the same name published in 1973 and authored by Mack Hanan, James Cribbin and Herman Heiser. Although amended and modified countless times since then and in countless industries and by countless sales organizations, the basics remain true to this day. Perhaps they are even more relevant today and are an underlying foundation for Lead Dog Selling.

In this recession driven age of cost control Lead Dogs don’t succeed by confronting cost constraints but rather by enabling customers to do business with them at zero cost. Even better, customers can make money on their transactions by the ability of consultative sellers to improve customer profits.

Consultative Selling confers pricing power to the customer. The only strategy that provides proven sustainable command of value-based margins even for undifferentiated commodity products or services sold against me-too competition in mature markets. Consultative sellers make money or save money for customers, not cost money. If there are start-up costs, it’s just a short-term loan.

Let’s take a brief step further back in time. The Book of Five Rings is a text written by the samurai warrior Miyamoto Musashi circa 1645. It is considered a classic treatise on military strategy. Many business leaders find its discussion of conflict and taking the advantage to be relevant to their corporate strategy development. Many business schools still teach it’s core techniques and philosophy.

Musashi repeatedly remarks that technical flourishes are excessive, and contrasts worrying about such things with the principle that all technique is simply a method of cutting down one’s opponent. He also continually makes the point that the understandings expressed in the book are important for combat on any scale, whether one-on-one or a massive battle. Descriptions of principles are often followed by admonitions to “investigate this thoroughly through practice, rather than try to learn by merely reading.” The same is true of Consultative Selling.

Even if you don’t read this book remember the above admonition “investigate this thoroughly through practice, rather than try to learn by merely reading.”

A man in his  sixties wearing sunglasses and a black T-shirt bearing the sequined  words "LOVE" and "PEACE". Only his torso is visible,  but his left hand appears to be on his hip. His right hand forms a  V-shaped peace symbol.

One more piece of sage advice from Ringo Starr and the Beatles. “It Don’t Come Easy.” Believe me, It don’t. But then again if was easy everyone would practice it and they don’t. You can!

The simplest and perhaps the most profound definition that I’ve heard for Consultative Selling is “a shift in focus from the product being sold to the problem being solved.” Clearly, you must know your product and know it well but all of your competitors, well most, do that and it’s no way for you to differentiate yourself.

If you have a strong Marketing department and can go in on an applications basis even better. This affords you the luxury of being a specialist, an expert with reference accounts. It also saves you time. Note that I did not say a strong Product Development department.

Each of the other nine inaugural articles to be included here over the next several days are building blocks designed to equip you to become a Consultative sales person. You will be your firm’s sustainable competitive advantage. This is one window that will never close.

Think about it in the context of your career.

Leave a Reply