The Selling Psychology behind Consultative Sales

The selling psychology behind consultative sales

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Wondering why consultative selling is so effective? It comes down to science. Psychology actually. But why is understanding how the human brain works so important for sales success? Let’s take a closer look.

Power is in the hands of the buyer – or is it?

With the internet now providing a fast and easy way to research a product, service or a problem without the need to deal with an archetypal “pushy” salesperson, buyers are used to being in control of the sales process. That same expectation has extended to B2B sales and it has led to modern buyers who hate being sold to––and rightly so.

“Consultative selling doesn’t push old high-pressure sales strategies onto the buyer,” says Paul O’Donohue, Founder and Group CEO of SalesStar Global. “Instead, this strategy makes the buyers feel like they are in control of the process.”

Since consultative selling works to enhance client profits, sales reps need to fully understand a business and the challenges it faces. To do that, a salesperson establishes themselves as a trusted advisor, and proceeds to collaborate and consult with the client.

“The client feels like they’re being informed and that they’re making a buying decision as opposed to being sold to,” Paul says.

Pain, gain and buying and selling psychology

Research has found that our emotions are responsible for 85 per cent of our decisions, including buying. With this in mind, consultative selling actively looks to create emotional engagement with their customers to increase buyer motivation. How? By exploiting the part of our brain that houses our primitive emotion centre and higher mental functions in one place, the limbic system. This is done through two key emotional drivers: pain and gain.

In a B2B sales context, pain can come in the form of a problem that is costing a client’s business (money, time or more business for example), while gain might come as an opportunity to grow their profits.

“Research also tells us that pain is four times greater than gain,” says Paul. “So if we find the problem, that is if we find the pain, then we’ve just enhanced buyer motivation four-fold.”

Pain or gain is not a new concept in the world of sales. However, what sets consultative selling apart from other sales strategies is the method consultative sellers use to find and trigger emotional responses from their clients.

And that method? It’s actually been around for a while; 2,500 years in fact.

Socratic questioning

Over 2,500 years ago, Greek philosopher Socrates used carefully structured and open-ended questions to help his students distil complex ideas, probe problems and implications, and arrive at their own self-drawn conclusions. This line of questioning is what consultative selling uses to this day, to great effect.

“A good salesperson knows that if we simply tell a customer they have a problem, the customer probably will not believe us because they’re suspicious of our motives,” says Alex Chan, Head of Learning and Development at SalesStar Global. 

The reason why the Socratic questioning works so well is two-fold. First, it helps prospects discover a problem, and uncover the impact and the consequences if things don’t change. Second, because the problem is self-realised (with a bit of guidance), it creates a greater emotional state, which leads to high levels of motivation, rather than defensiveness.

“Consultative selling works on the basis that when you use Socratic questioning, the customer goes on a journey where they arrive at the conclusion themselves, without you actually telling them that what they’re doing is wrong,” says Alex. “It gets them really emotionally involved, and motivated to change the status quo.”


If you’re looking to increase your sales, your sales team should start embracing a consultative selling strategy. Download our FREE eBook: Stop Selling, Start Consulting. 


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