Solution selling vs consultative selling in a B2B sales landscape
When pitting solution selling against consultative selling, you’ll quickly notice something—they’re extremely similar.
Both of these selling models include the idea of putting the customer first, working to find the right solution to their current challenges.
And, although both of these models have been around for decades, they’re very appropriate for the current world situation. In fact, the Demand Gen B2B Buyer Behavior Study conducted during 2020 found that the top 2 reasons why buyers choose one vendor over the other are:
- Because they demonstrated strong knowledge of the solution and the business landscape
- Because they demonstrated a strong knowledge of the company and their needs
For B2B buyers in today’s world, demonstrating knowledge by providing guidance and help is much more important than timeliness, or even reviews and references from peers.
So, how can the solution selling and consultative selling models help salespeople in today’s landscape? Let’s dig into:
- What is solution selling?
- What is consultative selling?
- Solution selling vs consultative selling: how are they different at a glance?
- Closing the sale: when to use solution and when to use consultative
What is solution selling?
The solution seller demonstrates actively how the product they’re selling relates to the problems that the prospect is facing. They work to have a deep understanding of customer needs, take everything into account, and make adjustments in their pitch and close based on the right solution for this customer.
This is an especially effective way to sell when your solution involves a complex purchase process, varied pricing plans, or a combination of integrations or add-ons.
What is consultative selling?
Consultative sellers act as guides through the complex terrain of choosing a solution. They start early and work hard to lay a solid foundation of trust by asking the right questions. The level of their questions and how they ask them demonstrates a deep understanding of the industry and the needs of their prospects.
This sales model is in between the wolf and the lamb: a guide with a backbone who offers solutions that work and carries through with their promises.
Consultative selling is rooted in an honest evaluation of needs and a candid, selfless effort to find a solution that works. It’s more than selling a product—it involves developing a strategy and a workflow for success within that product.
Solution selling vs consultative selling: how are they different at a glance?
From the descriptions above, you’ve seen that solution selling and consultative selling are very similar models. So, how exactly do they differ?
|Solution Sales||Consultative Sales|
|Developed in the 1980s||Developed in 1970|
|Assumes the prospect must be educated in the types of solutions available||Takes into account the prospect’s current knowledge of available solutions, and builds on that|
|Focuses on the results and benefits of purchasing and using the solution||Focuses on building trust and developing a plan to solve problems—even if that doesn’t involve purchasing the solution right now|
One way to look at the differences is this—solution selling is a piece inside the world of consultative selling. Consultative sellers do work to sell a solution, but they are primarily working as consultants and coaches for their prospects, not as ‘sales reps’.
Closing the sale: when to use solution and when to use consultative
With so much overlap in these two inside sales methods, how can you use each in the sales process?
Both solution and consultative sellers use a lot of questions during the qualification process. They’ll ask open-ended questions that start with phrases like:
- Talk me through your process for…
- Tell me about how your team does…
- Can you give me an example of…
These questions give them a much deeper understanding of the prospect’s needs and help them find the right solution.
Here’s how solution vs consultative selling differs in the qualification stage:
With solution: When asking questions and digging deeper into needs, solution sellers are ultimately focused on matching those needs to their product.
With consultative: The questions a consultative salesperson asks demonstrate a deep knowledge of the industry and business needs of their prospects. These questions position them as an industry expert.
At this stage, the two sales methodologies start to diverge. Here’s how they differ when it comes to crafting and delivering a sales pitch:
With solution: While listening to the prospect, solution sellers work on crafting a pitch that covers each of the needs the prospect listed and proving their product is the best solution. Their pitch is more adapted to what the prospect wants and believes they need, rather than presenting a new or different way of solving a problem. And of course, the pitch is wholly focused on why their product is the best solution.
With consultative: While listening to the prospect, a consultative salesperson is working out which solutions will work best for the prospect—including the tools, strategies, workflows, and integrations they will need to really accomplish their goals. Their pitch is less about selling a solution inside their product, and more about consulting with the prospect to find the workflow and tools that will actually fill their needs.
Negotiate and close
Negotiating and getting a deal to closed-won is obviously the main objective of any salesperson. But when it comes to consultative and solution selling, the methods of closing the deal can be somewhat different:
With solution: Solution sellers often negotiate to a fault—they are so willing to adapt to the customer that they may end up causing more headaches for themselves (and their product team) than are really necessary. When solution sellers are willing to stand their ground a bit more, they can normally find a happy middle ground where both parties are happy with the solution.
With consultative: At this stage, the consultative salesperson cares about finding the best solution for the customer—even if that solution isn’t what you’re selling. Consultative sellers stand their ground in negotiations since they’ve proven the value of their solution as well as the strategies their prospect can use to get the most out of it. With this model, sales reps stick around after the deal is closed to make sure closed customers are actually accomplishing their goals, and they continue to guide and consult them after they close the sale.
Our own sales team at Close for example has, since day one of our company, always recommended competing CRM vendors when we determined that another tool would serve them better. If you think short-term, this might seem foolish: You'll lose a deal. But in the long-term, it paid off: People remember a sales rep and a company that advised them with that level of honesty. They recommend us to peers, and sometimes when they switch companies or their needs change, come back to us and become a customer.
Don’t choose between solution or consultative selling—use both
All sales models have their pros and cons. That’s why you can’t dogmatically stick to one, or demand that your sales team use only one model out of the many that have been developed.
Instead, each seller needs to decide on the right sales model for them, based on:
- Their unique selling style
- Their market and industry
- Their prospects
- The sales cycle and process of the company
In some cases, using a specific sales methodology makes sense. In others, a mixture of different methods will work better.
The best thing you can do is gain more knowledge about different sales models, and graft the right strategies into your own sales process.
Whichever sales methodology you choose—it all starts with an intimate understanding of your prospects. Who are you selling to? That's why you need a rock-solid ideal customer profile. Check out our guide and templates to easily create your own: