Two Kinds of Consultative Sales Training (and how to suceed at both)


When it comes to the topic of consultative selling (sometimes called “solution” selling, “trusted advisor” selling, “soft” selling, or even simply “the new way of selling”)  there are two very different kinds of training & development programs:

  1. programs for salespeople who are learning to be more consultative
  2. programs for consultants who are learning to be better at selling

The learning (or unlearning) pathway for these two scenarios couldn’t be more different, yet in the sales training world, so often the same learning solution / training program is offered for both scenarios… and various permutations and combinations thereof.

Some of the differences between the above two scenarios boil down to what acclaimed psychologist Susan Fiske says about how people make decisions about each other: it all boils down to warmth and competence.

Are You Likeable, Or Are You Competent?

People (clients) want to work with people (consultative salespeople) who demonstrate warmth — I call it likeability — and competence — sometimes called credibility.   Many salespeople have well-honed likeability skills, but often have a hard time appearing credible.  Similarly, there are many credible professionals out there demonstrate great competency, but they are just not very likeable.

I believe it’s a lot easier to train the credible folks to become more likeable, versus training the likeable folks to be credible…  that’s probably why I love working with geeks on their communication skills.

That said, it seems to me that other than  there is that third ingredient which “solves” both scenarios, and that is the cultivation of values-based, externally-focused intention.  This is a bit of a rehash of my post last November about the warmth/competence dichotomy and the idea that people can be extremely likeable and appear competent, but have the wrong intention (similar to the “self-orientation” concept of Charles Green and David Maister) …and that intention makes all the difference between the person being someone you want to do business with, buy from, work for, or even learn from.

Training Consultants and Salespeople, Together

At the beginning of this post there are two scenarios:  1) the traditional salesperson seeking to succeed in a more consultative-oriented capacity and 2) the traditional consultant (or just plain old subject matter expert / professional) seeking to succeed in a more sales-oriented capacity.  In both scenarios, the learner needs to cultivate a certain intention in order to successfully demonstrate the “other side” of the warmth-competency coin.  Otherwise they will appear to be “faking it” and will FAIL.

In both scenarios, the learner need to cultivate an intention that is “Bigger Picture”… bigger picture in terms of scope (wider and deeper on a range of issues), bigger picture in terms of perspective (mainly client’s perspective, but other perspectives as well) and bigger picture in terms of timeframe (long-term thinking).

The “Bigger Picture” intention is what helps bring together the “warm fuzzies” of genuine likeability with the power of competency and expertise… it is made up of beliefs and attitudes that are characterized patience, open-mindedness, intellectual curiosity, intellectual generosity, empathy, external-focus / client-orientation (as opposed to self-focus/orientation)… a willingness to share, explore and do more.  Both the pure salesperson and pure consultant have too narrow a perspective, although once again, I think it may be easier to cultivate a Bigger Picture intention with a traditional consultant than it is to do with a traditional salesperson.

Recently I had the pleasure of working with a roomful of smart salespeople and smart consultants who were developing their consultative sales capabilities.  This mix — subject-specific professionals combined with salespeople —  worked well not because of instructional design… rather, it worked well in spite of it.  There’s that old saying / book title, “An Ounce of Analysis is Worth a Pound of Objectives.”  Well in this case, the instructor spent a good chunk of time and effort getting to know the people and their world, and then improvised the instructional materials to match them and just did it.  Learning objectives?   There were many… but they were so individualized and so specific, concrete and multi-stepped that I don’t think the term “learning objectives” covers it… it was more like  “a series of individual learning pathways.”

Those individual pathways, combined with the affective domain elements (the intention, as described above) and some careful attention social psychology and group dynamics, is what made the program work… not a static set of classic learning objectives conforming to Robert Mager’s CONDITIONS-BEHAVIOR-CRITERIA definition.

Yes, it’s all well and good that an instructor is pleased with himself… but of course, the eschewing of CONDITIONS-BEHAVIOR-CRITERIA-style learning objectives then begs the question: How to measure success in this stuff?

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About danspira

My blog is at: http://danspira.com. My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on June 4, 2010, in Instructional Design, Learning, Sales and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. your last question is the setting stone of the success of sales consultants!

    i would also add to it “how do you figure out reasons of failure?”

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