Most often, sales are classified as either transactional or consultative (also commonly referred to as relational).
Put simply, transactional sales are one-off sales with price being the most important factor, whereas consultative sales are long-term investments with value as their core.
In the past, it was easy to identify which product or service called for a transactional approach versus those that called for a consultative approach, but these days many sales reps and C-suite execs alike are asking themselves if consultative selling has a place in the traditionally transactional sectors.
The short answer is yes. But before digging into why and how, it’s important to understand the traditionally accepted differences between transactional and consultative selling.
Transactional selling vs. consultative selling
As mentioned, transactional selling focuses on one-time sales, with the ultimate goal of making the maximum amount of sales from the maximum amount of customers. Think retail, ecommerce, and even automotive or real estate.
This model is made possible because the customers themselves are often the ones with the buying and decision-making power—meaning sales cycles are short. And since price is such an important factor—sales and marketing teams often leverage discounts and promotions to increase sales volume.
When a transactional sale is done, so is the relationship between the customer and the business.
Consultative selling, on the other hand, is a long-term play, with a focus on solving the customer’s pain points and improving their lives or, in the case of B2B, improving their bottom line.
Sales are not one-and-done but rather long-term investments, so sales cycles are generally longer and include many touch points both leading up to and following the sale.
Sales reps focus on building trust with their prospects over time with the overall intention of cultivating a partnership in success.
An interesting way to look at the differences between transactional selling and consultative selling is through the lens of a customer, as defined by bestselling author Roy H. Williams in 2003:
Through this lens, a savvy sales professional will be able to see why consultative selling can and should be applied to traditionally transactional sectors, because the division between the two customer types is no longer obvious.
When the lines between transactional and consultative selling blur
According to Copper’s 2018 CRM and Productivity Benchmark Report, which surveyed over 2,500 sales professionals across a number of industries, “few customers are interested in one-off, transactional purchases. They want long-lasting relationships with businesses that have earned—and continue to earn—their loyalty.”
This goes against the previously held belief that only consultative customers were interested in long-lasting relationships, and it begs the question: Why?
Thanks to the internet, consumers can now shop at the “world’s mall”—meaning they have more options at their fingertips than ever before. Whereas pre-internet it was quite manageable as consumers to compare our options and select the best one (based on price or whatever else was most important to us), now it’s a full-time job.
The paradox of choice illustrates that a little bit of choice is good for our state of mind, but too many is a nightmare.
Not only that, customer expectations are higher than ever, and differentiators such as price, features, and benefits between the myriad options are often very minor. So it’s becoming increasingly important for customers to find a brand they believe in and feel supported by, so they can save themselves the future pain of looking for a new option.
In other words, customers feel overwhelmed, so they yearn for a personalized experience that takes the stress out of their decision making.
Companies that respond accordingly will be rewarded with continued success and a competitive advantage, while those who don’t will fall behind—it’s simply not enough to have the lowest prices anymore.
Applying consultative selling to transactional sales
The value of deepening your relationships with prospects and customers is clear, but logistically it can be challenging to scale.
The five-step consultative selling model offers several approaches that can easily be applied to transactional sales, with the help of some clever tools and tactics.
1. Authentically demonstrate value
While cost has and always will be an important factor in making a sale, value is what builds trust and leads to long-term and repeat customers—and trust is a key component of consultative selling. But how do you demonstrate value in an authentic way (which, by the way, is one of the main things 2,500 American consumers said would attract them to a brand)?
One fail-safe method is through compelling customer stories, in the form of case studies, testimonials, and reviews.
Compostable phone case company Pela does a great job of this, both on its website and nurture emails.
Upon arriving on the Pela site, you’re prompted to enter your email to receive a discount on your order. Doing so triggers an email sequence that mimics the consultative selling model, by:
- Answering prospects’ most asked question: “Why Pela Case is different and why our customers LOVE them.” It’s in the subject line.
- Immediately leveraging its customers’ words to demonstrate value and trust.
3,500+ customer reviews is no easy feat, and the sample reviews included in the convey genuine satisfaction.
If you don’t have any customer stories yet, start sourcing them. According to Vidyard, these are the three things that make an effective customer story:
- Choose a credible interview subject—someone who will resonate with your audience while also demonstrating authority.
- Ensure their story is believable, and that they can talk specifically about how your product or service helped them achieve success.
- Get the necessary permissions sooner rather than later. There’s nothing worse than spending weeks preparing a kick-butt customer story only to discover the customer’s legal team is not on board.
Pro tip: Don’t make things difficult on yourself—or your team. With a few tweaks, a single customer story can be used throughout the customer journey. For example, notable quotes can be used in top-of-funnel-advertising, whereas metrics-driven case studies can be used in the decision phase, and step-by-step how-we-did-it tutorials can be used in the post-purchase phase.
2. Start—and nurture—conversation
Engaging in more one-on-one conversations when you’re not used to it can feel time-consuming at first, but it allows you to start building relationships with your (future) customers early on and demonstrates a genuine desire to address their unique needs and challenges.
Getting a customer on a call is the best way to do this, but it’s not always realistic for high-volume transactional sales. In this case, it might be beneficial to install a chatbot on your site, to automatically answer common FAQs and triage qualified leads to the sales team.
Drift is a great option, since it leverages conversational forms to collect and qualify leads, so even though it’s a chatbot, it doesn’t feel like a chatbot to your prospects.
Best of all, Drift integrates with most CRMs—either natively or using a webhook service like Zapier—so qualified leads are automatically synced to your contacts and dropped into your pipelines.
Once leads are synced to your CRM, you can then progress through each step of the consultative selling model—starting with research and ending with a win.
Copper CRM allows you to create custom pipelines, giving you visibility into where your prospects are in the sales process.
Pro-tip: During the probing questions phase of the consultative selling process, ensure you’re taking detailed notes in your CRM. This will help you craft more personalized communications between you and your prospect, as well as provide internal team members with vital information should they need to step in at any point.
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3. Discount sparingly, position intelligently
Transactional sales are often made using tactics like FOMO, BOGO, and other catchy, hard-to-say-no-to deals. These types of promotions can be great for sales volume, but they also devalue your offer and create a cycle of discounting that can be hard to break free from.
By positioning yourself and your company as experts—dare we say thought leaders—in your industry, you create social currency that people will pay for without a discount.
Take Apple, for example—a company that rarely discounts its products. It achieves this by combining cutting-edge technology with industry thought leadership (along with some pretty impressive marketing campaigns). The result is a customer base so loyal and obsessed that it’ll wait overnight to get the next big product—and pay full price.
Recently, Apple began addressing accessibility in technology—something no similar company is doing intentionally and on a large scale.
Not only does this position Apple as leaders in technology, it also positions the company as leaders in diversity and inclusion.
As such, Apple’s products will appeal to those directly impacted by accessibility (or lack thereof) as well as those who value inclusion and accessibility. For these people, price becomes just a piece of the total value of their purchase—social impact and improved accessibility being the other pieces.
Pro-tip: Beyond creating and curating compelling content that shows thought leadership and authority, another great way to do this is through consultative selling—specifically the consulting part.
Go beyond simply educating your prospect about your product. Share your knowledge with them and show them why they should partner with you rather than buy from someone else.
The way forward is relational
The consultative selling model might not be the right fit for every type of business, but all businesses can glean important lessons from its core principles.
If you remember just one takeaway from this piece, it’s that there are other ways to demonstrate value than by offering a lower price than your competitor.
Based on recent research, the most impactful method may be through intentional relationship-building. After all, behind every website visitor, every lead, every prospect, and every customer is a living, breathing human being.
You can continue to bait them with profit-shaving coupon codes, or you could consider winning them over—for life.