Today, the sales role has more in common with a fighter pilot's job than anything else. It is defined by periods of patient waiting punctuated by moments of unimaginable excitement. The secret is to keep a constant flow of fresh leads without losing track of any of your current prospects and customers.

Your Prospects Want a Quick Follow-up

A technology research firm known as KnowledgeStorm recently produced a report in which they revealed that a prospect's receptivity to salespeople declines drastically as time passes. Their data shows that 88% of prospects were happy to hear from salespeople when their Internet inquiry was responded to the same day. That means that salespeople who want positive reactions from prospects should respond to all inquiries the same day they receive them.

Despite a quick response, you should still expect a decision slow down.

While doing research for Cahners, Susan Mulcahy discovered that the typical B2B sale exceeding $35,000 now requires 5.12 sales calls to finalize, up 20% since 1989. Additional research in 2005 showed that there are 3.5 more people involved in a B2B buying decision than there were in 2001. Knowing that the average sales cycle for a high-dollar B2B sale lasts between 6 and 36 months, salespeople must be sure to be very responsive while at the same time very, very patient.

In other words, you must reply to prospects as quickly as possible, but they will not necessarily respond in kind. These forces have continued to push the need for a transition from a traditional selling mentality to a consultative one.

How to Shift from Traditional to Consultative Selling

21st Century Selling requires a unique mixture of skills. On one hand, a salesperson must exhibit a relative sense of urgency while, on the other hand, display a certain degree of patience. Immediate follow-up and a need to addressing your prospect's specific needs should be combined with a willingness to move at a speed your prospect is comfortable with.

The most blatant example of a traditional selling mentality belongs to the much clichéd "used-car (now called pre-owned) salesman." However, less extreme examples of the negative traits of traditional selling are exhibited in other ways, as well.

Salespeople who engage in excessive small talk, demean their competition or simply "pitch" their offering with scores of features-per-minute all exhibit traditional traits that will drive today's highly-demanding prospects away.

The traditional sales role should be eliminated. Today's sales professionals must become trusted advisors filling a consultant's role regardless of their product or service. They can no longer "pitch" their product. Instead, they must:

  • Ask questions
  • Listen to answers
  • Provide sound recommendations and advice.

Sometimes that may even mean facing the difficult reality that their solution isn't the right one for every person who is in front of them. They may also have to determine whether the prospect is the right one, long-term, for their organization.

Consultative Selling Requires Sales Professionals to Focus Every Ounce of Attention on the Needs and Wants Their Customers

Today, in order to advise a prospect appropriately about the implementation or use of your products or services, you must provide objective information about how to make a buying decision for the product or service. And it must appropriately meet the prospect's needs and wants.

Only after identifying the prospect's needs and wants can a consultative salesperson discuss the product or service and its application to the client.

How to Implement Change

Training a traditionally-minded sales team how to be consultative is no easy task. Part of the problem rests squarely on the shoulders of the sales management team. According to a survey released in Sales and Marketing Management Magazine and conducted by Equation Research, sixty-five percent of sales managers say they focus on building volume rather than finding more profitable customers. Sixty-three percent say they neglected personal skills development. Both of those statistics reveal startling tendencies toward traditional sales techniques rather than consultative sales strategies.

In order to see maximum return on your bottom line, adequate sales training, evaluation and compensation must also accompany structural changes to your sales force. In other words, a unilateral decision to transition from traditional to consultative selling will fail.

Remember, training is only one component of a successful transition. The most positive effect will come when training is coupled with follow-up and reinforcement components that extend beyond the classroom and into the field. Too often, sales-driven organizations believe that an annual sales conference and (supposedly) weekly sales meetings will be sufficient to upgrade the knowledge and skills of salespeople. While those are important pieces they do not, by themselves, complete the puzzle.

Author's Bio: 

Will Brooks helps clients make the most intelligent investments in sales and sales management hiring, training and coaching. Now, you can gain more insight into contemporary selling strategies that helped 99% of The Brooks Group's training participants see increased sales volume. Download Will's free special report, 21 Biggest Myths In Sales at & discover how professional selling has changed and what you need to do!