Inc Magazine Gets it Wrong on Consultative Selling

wrongInc. Magazine ran an article on its website that I just can’t ignore.  It’s making my blood boil.

Why Consultative Doesn’t Work is irresponsible writing.  Forget for a minute that those of us in the sales development space (he calls us pundits) have been trying to help companies and their sales teams transition from a transactional to a consultative approach for years.  Transactional selling no longer works unless you are content to be the low-cost leader.  The article’s author, Geoffrey James, says that consultative sellers strive to become trusted advisors and companies don’t need “some smart**s who kibbutzes from the sidelines.”

James does not tell the entire story.

He fails to mention that the top 26% of all salespeople rank that high because they do sell consultatively.  The smart-asses are some of the remaining 74% who think they are selling that way but simply ask a few lame questions prior to plunging ahead with their ill-timed demos and presentations.  They are still selling transactionally.  They are the ones that appear to be smart-asses because they are making the claims and recommendations without benefit of having had a meaningful conversation with their prospects.

James is guilty of one of the most common misunderstanding in all of sales – that consultative selling requires salespeople to act like a consultant.  Not true.  Consultative selling, when taught, practiced and applied correctly, is primarily about listening, responding with thoughtful, intelligent questions, helping a prospect to recognize their compelling reason to buy, and in the process, differentiating yourself from the competition.  If the customer/client then trusts you enough to seek your advice on matters in which you are an expert, all the better.

The other problem I have with this article is that rather than propose an alternative selling approach, James suggests that salespeople should be able to fill the function that a manager would have served if the product or service was being handled in-house.  Are you kidding me?  Granted, some services that are outsourced could be done in-house but 95% of the time this is simply impossible. Think about some of the core services and products that nearly every business, your business, purchases:

  • Health Insurance and 401K
  • Business, Auto and Professional Liability Insurance
  • Commercial Real Estate
  • Office Supplies and Furniture
  • Copiers, Printers, Computers and Business Equipment
  • Telecommunications and Internet
  • Business Software and Applications
  • Postage and Shipping
  • Janitorial
  • Security
  • Utilities
  • Legal and Accounting
  • Vehicles
  • Memberships
  • Marketing, Advertising and Public Relations
  • Payroll
Out of the many products and services listed above, the last two are the only ones that some companies attempt to do internally – and they tend to do both ineffectively and inefficiently.  So salespeople, positioning themselves as experts that could manage the above functions, makes no sense.  However, salespeople positioning themselves as experts who could help companies better understand what they really need, based on more effectively understanding why they need it, can make better recommendations and further differentiate themselves.
Geoffrey, you have written some tremendous articles over the last several years but you should un-publish this one.