4 Ways to Take a Consultative Approach to Sales, When Nobody Wants to Be Sold To


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Let’s be honest: People hate ads. I don’t mean the compelling Super Bowl ads that tug heartstrings, call for change, or involve dogs — we love those ads. I’m talking about the same two ads that run during your favorite podcast. The one that interrupts your Hulu viewing. The out-of-touch ads that follow you around social media and creep you out.

“With shifts in viewing habits, commercial impressions in the most viewable, highest-attention media are in free fall across the world,” GroupM researchers wrote. “The problem is universal, and if the viewing behavior of younger audiences is a harbinger, things are not going to get better.”

On top of that challenge, many people and businesses are tightening their purse strings and changing the way they spend.

So how can companies effectively reach their target audience members, turn that traffic into leads, and then convert those leads into paying customers? By practicing emotional intelligence. In the evolving digital landscape, emotionally intelligent salespeople will thrive, while quota-hungry sales bots will tank.

Adopting a More Effective Sales Strategy

Inherently, this shouldn’t be a revolutionary statement within itself. Salespeople should have already been leading with empathy, providing value to their leads, and creating an appropriate sense of urgency. But in reality (and judging by the stale sales emails our own team has received lately), many salespeople have been overlooking empathy and diving straight into a (cringey, platitude-laden) sales pitch.

Instead, salespeople should adopt a more empathetic strategy by personalizing outreach, providing educational content, and nurturing leads in a way that’s helpful until they’re ready to sign on for services.

If your sales team has yet to adopt such an approach, it might sound daunting, and you might be worried about prolonged sales cycles. So before we dive into the tactical side of things, I’d like to point out two important considerations: You’ll have to adjust your expectations and your perspective.

  • Adjusting your perspective:
    Salespeople bring in revenue. That’s what we do. We close deals, we ring the bell, and we celebrate with our team members when new clients abound. But we’re operating in a time when budgets and timelines are arbitrary to even our highest-ranking decision-makers. I suggest embracing your new role: consultant.
  • Adjusting your expectations:
    A consultative approach takes longer. It assumes your buyer likely isn’t ready or in a position to bring your company on as a vendor and that the most valuable thing you have to offer right now is your personal knowledge. You might find yourself sending more resources than ever before, connecting your leads with partners, and giving your time away for free. It will pay off. You can safely predict extending your typical sales cycle significantly, and you’ll have to get very comfortable asking, “When is it realistic for us to work together?” You’ll need to adjust your pipelines, touchpoints, and projections accordingly.

4 Ways to Take a Consultative Approach to Sales

If I’ve sold you on the “why” behind taking a consultative approach to sales, let’s dive into the “how.” Here are four ways you can adjust your sales strategy to provide a better experience for your leads and position your company as an ideal partner:

1. Help leads prepare for a future partnership

Business Yoda, you are. Empathetic, helpful salespeople have to take a consultative position and provide value to leads. Don’t be pushy. Educate first, sell second — especially in the type of environment we’re operating in right now.

To do this, start by building a reasonable timeline that showcases how a future client can prepare for your partnership. Include milestones, check-ins, and advice on specific areas.

If a client isn’t ready to sign on with you yet, a milestone might include something you’ve tasked them to do in the meantime. For example, if you’re an advertising technology platform and your client doesn’t have the budget to spend yet, perhaps a milestone to check in on would be a phone call discussing current organic web site traffic trends, previous ad behavior, or getting Google Analytics set up properly.

Think of the things that your team needs to kick off a relationship successfully. Do you need a client to come to an initial call with fleshed-out brand guidelines? Current target keywords? If these things aren’t already in motion, give your lead some valuable homework (and coordinating tools) to get them done. Not only does this approach grow your leads into ideal clients, but it also allows you to showcase the kind of customer experience those leads can expect once they sign on for services (and it might encourage them to work toward that point faster).

2. Offer to hold a brainstorming session around an area that you have expertise

This approach allows you to offer the only thing you can give for free: knowledge. Offer to set up a time with leads to brainstorm strategies and solutions that are relevant to your craft.

To do this, choose a specific topic you can help with and create a brief agenda that you can share beforehand. Keep it simple. Then, take notes during the call and hand them off to the lead to execute on afterward.

I used this strategy recently with a lead who wanted help maximizing the effectiveness of her company’s content marketing efforts. I audited her protocol for content after it goes live, poked some holes in it, and offered suggestions. She walked away from the call with a list of new tactics to try and some gaps to fill. I walked away with some solid check-in points for later correspondence and a relevant reason to reach back out. Truly a win-win situation.

3. Share helpful educational resources and tools.

In sales conversations, it’s essential to showcase to your leads that your company can solve their pain points, and one great way is through content such as blog posts, articles, infographics, checklists, and guides. At multiple points throughout every lead’s journey, I share content related to roadblocks they’re facing. For example, if a lead has had a speaking engagement get canceled, I might share a blog post that I recently wrote about how that lead can turn the speaking engagement into a virtual event.

Additionally, keep a list of free or budget-friendly tools related to your area of expertise that you can recommend in the meantime until the lead is ready to sign on to work with you. Here are some resources and tools I often share with leads who are looking into content marketing services but aren’t ready to sign on yet:

4. Provide value to multiple departments

In B2B sales, getting multiple decision makers on boardis a dream. That’s why it’s important to see whether there are other departments you can help.

To determine how you can provide as much value as possible, start by asking the right questions to find out what the biggest hurdle is. For example:

“If budget weren’t an issue right now, what would you do?”

“If you only had a slice of your budget to allocate to X effort, what would be most valuable to you?”

“What’s top of mind on your to-do list right now?” or

“What’s your weakest area as a department right now?”

Next, identify areas where you can be helpful, even if it’s indirect. Has your company developed an envy-worthy virtual culture, but your lead’s company is struggling in that area? Offer to chat with the HR team. Even if it’s not directly related to your products or services, these types of efforts drive deeper connections within your potential client’s organization, further solidifying your position as a helpful partner.

People are inundated with more advertisements and sales pitches than ever before. So it’s essential for salespeople to do everything they can to break through the noise and provide an engaging, helpful experience for leads. Embrace an audience-centric sales process and, for goodness’ sake, retire “unprecedented,” “hope you’re well,” and “just checking in” from your vocabulary.

Brittni Kinney-Ratliff
Brittni Kinney Ratliff is a vice president at Influence & Co. Her background is in B2B content marketing, inbound marketing and sales. It is her life goal to see the sentence "just following up" cancelled forever.


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