What Is Consultative Selling & How To Use It Online

by Brian Farrell March 5th, 2013 


Consultative selling, also known as personal selling, is an approach where your sales team has in-depth discussions with potential clients before positioning products.

It emerged decades ago and is now one of the most popular selling methods.

At its core, sales consultants conduct a needs analysis, where they ask their prospect lots of questions. They then offer something of value and end their meeting with a recommendation that satisfies their clients needs.

It's generally not manipulative, and not high-pressure, as the salesperson's role is to assist rather than push products.

For example, a retail jeweller could train clerks to ask visitors "what brought you to the store today?" instead of "can I help you?"

The former often elicits a response that tells you exactly what they want, i.e. "looking for a new watch" or "repairing my rings"; the response to "can I help you?" is usually just "I'm looking".

It's a mini needs analysis and you can now recommend a solution!

I Use My Site To Answer, To Assist

Stay away from pushy, high-pressure sales language and answer predictable questions instead.

A lawyer or plumber can easily create 20 or more frequently asked questions, and then answer each in a blog post. Each of those posts contribute to the needs analysis going on in your prospect's mind. It also builds trust.

I Use Live Chat Tools

Another technique is through the use of website "live chat" tools.

Remember, to be consultative, you've got to make the chat function smarter.

Change the chat language from "how can I help you?" to something more descriptive, akin to the jewellery store example above.

Social Media

Social media can also be used in a similar fashion.

Tweeting your blog posts, using hash tags sparingly, to help create awareness.

You can also have complete interactions, from needs analysis to close; all over social media.

Refine Their Search

After you've used your blog to conduct a needs analysis, the next thing is to refine your prospects search for a product.

You do this online by suggesting they download in-depth whitepapers, listen to recordings or watch videos. Use any or all of them to add value.

Prospects shouldn't feel pressured to buy at this stage. You still don't know what they want, and you can't force a solution that isn't needed.

Instead, you help them explore options, things that they did (or didn't!) know they needed.

Recommend Product Solutions

At this point, you can start to recommend products and solutions.

You can even do this at the end of your whitepapers and videos by suggesting a product that goes much deeper or a more complete solution at the end of your messages.

So, direct visitors within your content to look at specific products or services. And then ask for the business. Or suggest a transition from online to an offline, personal conversation.


Consultative selling online gives your visitors good value for their screen time without feeling premature pressure to buy.

When used correctly, it's the most effective technique for converting prospects into paying customers.

If you like this post, you might also enjoy The Keys to the SEO Sales Pitch: Preparation and Clarity

Brian Farrell

Brian Farrell is sales leader, author and social seller. He's also the founder of FIND the CLIENT - a sales consulting organization providing interim sales leadership as well as training, recruitment & sales coaching for B2B sales organizations.


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2 Responses to “What Is Consultative Selling & How To Use It Online”

  1. Bryan Clark says:

    I'm not sure if you've ever read "The E-Myth" but the author discusses how big box stores (think Best Buy) forced their sales people to ask open-ended questions in order to elicit customer response rather than the typical "yes" or "no" they'd get when asking the customer, "Can I help you with something?" In the book he said the stores received a huge bump in sales numbers (I forget the actual number) just from asking things like, "Have you been here before?" – instead of their typical "yes" or "no" type questions. That's right on par with the ideas in your post and I do believe that conversation marketing is the "next big thing."

    • No, I haven't read it. And you're right, conversational selling / marketing certainly is the next big thing. The story I referenced about the jewelry store was real — my mom worked there and both she and the store clerks all greeted customers with a "Can I help you?" When I suggested the subtle change, store sales increased, repair orders increased. Beautiful in its simplicity!