Developing Your Consultant Mindset | TPD Consultants
When I think about explaining how to master sales, I think back to a music teacher who used the most interesting—and memorable—method to help me internalize the required mentality of a successful jazz musician. He said, “Pull out a book, it doesn’t matter which one, and read a sentence from it out loud. Then try to play the rhythmic aspect of the sentence back to me on the drums.”
I had to consider a few things: What does the sentence sound like musically? What is the phrasing, what is the emphasis, the emotion I’m trying to convey?
Needless to say, I had to adapt to a whole new way of analyzing the world. And this musical challenge forced me to look at my instrument as an extension of my voice and not just something that made noise.
A career as a sales consultant requires the same mindset.
You might think being a sales consultant is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from traditional sales, but you couldn’t be more wrong.
If you want to make the jump to sales consulting, strap on in because you’re in for a bumpy shock to the psyche.
What does it mean to be a consultant?
A consultant is a person who advises and guides individuals and businesses. You’ll notice that definition says nothing about sales. That’s intentional.
You see, a good sales consultant doesn’t actually sell anything—they just gently help buyers down the sales path until the buyer feels like the purchase was their idea all along. That might sound manipulative, but it’s really not. People are going to make purchases in an effort to solve problems with or without the help of a salesperson. That’s just life. Manipulative sales come in when we start trying to sell the same thing to every single buyer as though they each suffered the same pain points.
Take it back to music for a moment.
Let’s say there are two musicians. They’re both extremely talented in their fields, they’re both professionals, and they’re both worthy of your money. Musician #1 has a few songs they love to play, but they only play those songs. Now granted, they play those songs better than anyone else, but if you ask them to play something new, they won’t do it. It’s their way or the highway. Musician #2, on the other hand, plays on request. They might have to take a peek at the sheet music or consult lyrics on their phone, but they’re happy to work with their clients to bring them the music that speaks to their needs.
Who’s going to make more people happy? Who’s going to be bringing home more money at the end of the day?
What you have to understand about this scenario (and about sales in general) is that Musician #1 didn’t do anything wrong. They have a successful, proven strategy and the people who gravitate towards that music will stay reliable customers. The trouble is, Musician #1 is screwed if that audience dries up because they don’t know how to pivot. They don’t know how to improvise.
Great sales consultants, like Musician #2, are pivoting and improvisatory masters. They understand how to problem-solve and they’re comfortable living in ambiguity.
Shifting from solutions to problem solving
Every successful product and service on the market is a solution to a problem. Otherwise, no one would’ve bothered to make it. Take, for instance, many “As Seen on TV” products. While we love to make fun of them, someone, at some point, did need an automatic, motion-sensor, one-handed toothpaste dispenser you can install on your bathroom wall. Maybe they were disabled or didn’t have the coordination or energy to unscrew a toothpaste cap due to a chronic illness. And for its intended audience, that product is amazing. It can solve a pre-existing problem.
The issue is when an inflexible salesperson starts telling everyone that they need that product. The minute you start pushing an automatic toothpaste dispenser on folks who don’t have a toothpaste problem is the minute you forfeit your credibility.
How does this tie into our thesis?
Being a good sales consultant is understanding that no one solution makes sense for every buyer—so you need to start with the problem and work from there.
For instance, if you’re trying to sell smartphones and an elderly customer walks in to switch from a flip phone, you’re not going to lead with the latest data storage space or video rendering—no matter what your script says. This customer isn’t trying to create professional content videos for TikTok, so that solution doesn’t actually solve anything for them.
Instead, you find out what they need. Why are they switching from their old phone? Did their old phone break or are they frustrated with certain features? What do they wish their phone did or didn’t do? The answers to these questions will always narrow down the product field. People may not know the product they want, but they know the problems they have. If this customer says “I want the least expensive version of something that can allow me to FaceTime my grandchildren,” then boom, you know what to grab.
Is it the most expensive item you were trying to sell that day? No. Is that cheaper sale better than scaring the customer away with overwhelming features and price points? 100%. Additionally, by creating a relationship, you snagged a loyal customer. Who knows? Maybe the grandkids will need that new, expensive model come Christmas.
Margaret J. Wheatley once said, “The things we fear most in organizations – fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances – are the primary sources of creativity.” (1)
Trouble is, those fluctuations, disturbances, and imbalances are the challenging parts of consulting and sales (https://taylorpdavis.com/your-sales-challenges-and-each-solution-2022-guide/) that send most reps running for the hills. And I don’t blame them. Ambiguity and uncertainty are messy, uncomfortable feelings that most of us would rather ditch for a nice, tidy sales script.
But when it comes to consultative sales, fortune only favors the brave.
Just like our trusty Musician #2, if you’re not willing to try new things and make a few mistakes along the way, you’re going to struggle to connect with different types of clients.
If you want to be a sales consultant, start getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.
What qualities should a consultant have?
Not everyone is suited for every job. I certainly don’t have expertise in everything. (If I was, I think my world domination plan might be a little further along.)
You don’t have to be good at every sales job to work in the sales industry. However, in order to be a sales consultant, there are several characteristics that you need to succeed. Luckily, if these don’t come to you naturally, you can almost always develop them.
Curiosity gets a bad rap in many industries. Traditional sales even smacks down curiosity because it frequently leads to people trying new, creative ideas to help people rather than sticking to the guidelines set in order to make money.
Not in consulting.
When it comes to consulting, curiosity did NOT, in fact, kill the cat. It actually got that cat the employee of the month award.
As a sales consultant, it’s your number one job to help your client. Only you can determine what that means. So freedom doesn’t only extend to your sales strategy. A good consultant wants their client to be happy—even if that means referring them to another company.
How do you make your clients happy? By being curious enough to not only learn about them but to learn about solutions outside your product sphere. After all, a true musician is always reaching out and exploring and practicing in pursuit of new art.
In today’s climate of personalization, you could argue that any salesperson needs to be agreeable, but it’s even more crucial in a sales consultant. If you’re taking your focus off the products and putting it on your client relationship, you better be someone that client wants a relationship with.
I think Brian Tracy said it best: “Successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others. Unsuccessful people are always asking, ‘What’s in it for me?’” (2)
A great sales consultant should feel like a mentor. Your clients shouldn’t want to have you over for Christmas dinner (although kudos if they do), but they should trust everything you say. If they don’t, then you’re wasting precious time trying to earn trust when you could be focusing on building a relationship or exploring different solutions.
Plus, to be perfectly honest, no one wants a service from someone who isn’t approachable, no matter what industry you’re in.
If Yo-Yo Ma sat up on stage just glaring at you, you wouldn’t care how accomplished a musician he is—you’d just want your money back (and maybe an escort out of the theater).
Patience (and Persistence)
Did you know 60% of customers say no FOUR TIMES before saying yes, but 48% of sales reps never make a single follow-up attempt? (3)
That means 48% of sales reps missed out on 60% of their potential sales due to nothing more than a lack of patience and persistence.
I get that you want the sale. We ALL want the sale. But humans are fickle and indecisive—even you and me. Have you ever stared into the distance when someone asks you what you want for dinner? That’s a low-stress decision and half of us panic and just blurt out “FOOD!”
Now take that paralysis and apply it to a purchase worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Terrifying, isn’t it?
A great sales consultant knows that pushing is the death of a relationship and certainly the death of a sale. It’s not a failure to get a no. It is a failure, however, to drive someone away because you decide your time is more important than their money or concerns. Give people time. Your first time listening to a song is nothing like the 5th time. There’s always more meaning and motivation to uncover.
Whether you’re striking out on your own or working for a sales manager, sales consultants always need to be leaders in their own work. When you’re shooting without a script and working with lots of different personalities, you don’t have time to double check your decisions with another leader. You have to trust your gut and forge ahead.
That doesn’t mean you can’t prepare or seek guidance outside of your active sales, but if you’re in the middle of a client meeting, you can’t pause to ask someone what you should do or say. It’s up to you.
After all, a professional musician would never leave the stage mid-song because they forgot what they were doing and needed someone else to fill in. You’d never come to a show of theirs again—and they know it.
Sales consultants have to do it all, so put on your leadership cap.
The 6 elements of a consultant mindset
It’s been years and I’m still sure I learned more about consulting from music than I did from any sales experience. I’m not knocking sales experience (yours or mine), but it’s important when you start shifting to a consultant mindset that you realize your past might actually be holding you back.
Traditional sales isn’t sales consulting. It never has been and it never will be. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you can recognize old thought patterns and behaviors that might not be suited to your new approach.
With that in mind, let’s throw out the old assumptions and explore six crucial skills for a true consultant mindset.
To be a better musician—in jazz or any genre, for that matter—I forced myself to listen to other players on the bandstand more closely, individually and as a whole; so that I could better understand what they needed from me to complete the piece and to make great music.
This is a must for the consultant mindset. If you’re not listening to what your prospects and clients are saying, you’ll never find a way to solve their problems—because you won’t have a clue what those problems are. Instead of spending half your brain power on what you’re going to say when your client stops talking, just listen. Trust me, it’ll make everything way more harmonious.
With jazz, it starts with song forms. You need to be well-versed (no pun intended) in the structure of how harmonies form the backbone of a piece. For example, a 12-bar blues is one of the most common chord progressions in popular music and consists of a I-IV-V chord progression. On top of that, endless improvisation is possible. But if you don’t understand the structure and do your homework, you’ll be lost.
The point is, the more you know about the fundamentals, the more adept you are at playing any form with musicians on the bandstand.
Sound familiar? It should.
You need to be over-prepared for every meeting you have. While I understand some salespeople feel they work better by “winging it,” the truth is, you will always perform better by putting in work before the moment comes. This means knowing all your facts and figures to better educate your prospects and clients about your products. If you take the time to do your research and prep work before the meeting, you’ll look and sound as effortless as Charlie Parker.
A huge element of jazz is improvisation (and free-form improvisation). This is when you have a tonal center, and you’re playing a mood or a melodic idea. The beauty of improvisation is how much you learn to truly collaborate with others and perform better independently at the same time.
A classical musician is a master at being able to read music and play devilishly complex pieces. However, some struggle mightily if you ask them to riff.
Sadly, this happens too often in sales. Too many sales managers say, “Here’s your sales script. Call 100 people, say this, and I expect a 20 percent conversion rate.”
If that strategy hits quotas, great, but I suspect it frequently misses the mark.
To become a great salesperson, you have to embrace the unknown. If you notice your deck is falling on deaf ears, you need to know how to pivot to grab people’s attention again.
If you want to know how to master sales, revise how you approach your job. You’ll be surprised how a change to the way you view your responsibilities can lead to more wins for you and your company.
If you’re in the middle of a jazz concert and you realize that you and another musician want to go down two completely different melodic paths, you can’t just fight in real time. Not only does it make unsatisfying art, it also ruins the experience for the audience.
Being a collaborative musician is no different than being a sales consultant. If conflict arises, it’s never about winning; it’s about finding common ground. Remember, your client doesn’t have the same skin in the game that you do. A competitive nature can be motivating, but at the end of the day, your client can just always walk away and not purchase anything.
You need to be able to peacefully manage conflict, negotiate to a middle ground, and maintain a healthy relationship.
Granted, that’s not all on you. If your client refuses to budge when they want a $2,000 product for $12, just let them go. There’s a difference between conflict and just plain unreasonable behavior.
Exploration is a crucial part of the musical process, but when you’re up in front of an audience, you have to be moving somewhere. You might not know exactly how you’re going to finish a jazz piece, but you know generally where you want to end up and how long you want the piece to be.
The worst thing you can do as a sales consultant is waste time with your clients by not having a plan. That plan could just be “get to know my client better,” but there still needs to be a plan. Otherwise, you’re just chatting and going nowhere.
Look for the fine line between a soulless questionnaire and a night on the town. It’s there. Each and every conversation with your client should move the sales process forward—even if your client doesn’t realize that’s what’s happening.
Trust me, if you have time in your workday for pointless conversations, then you’re not making the sales you could be.
We’ve discussed the importance of preparation, but if you’re doing hours of prep and then leaving it at the door, you’re wasting time and money.
If you’ve practiced a piece for a performance, why on earth would you switch to a piece you’ve never done as the curtain rises?
It’s the same in a sales consultation. If you have persuasive data prepared, don’t throw it in the shredder, USE IT. People adore facts. They don’t always know they adore facts, but they do. Facts ground us in reality. It doesn’t matter who you’re talking to, an opinion is just an opinion and it’s unstable.
Facts are stable. Authoritative. Especially recent ones. If you can throw in a statistic like “8 out of 10 prospects prefer email to any other form of communication,” then no one’s going to leave your conversation and contact a client by phone. (4)
Hint, hint, by the way.
The point is, stick to the facts and let everything else flow. You’ll create a pretty stunning work of art.
Become an expert sales consultant by hiring an expert sales consultant
In the wise words of Liston Witherill, “The key to selling more is not selling at all.” (5)
That’s a tall order for someone who quite literally works in sales, and I get it.
Making the mental shift from a sales mindset to a consultant mindset is no easy feat and you shouldn’t have to do it alone—I certainly didn’t.
Interested in sales consulting for your business? Click here to learn more! Contact my team today to start your mental journey from sales struggle to consulting genius.
- Margaret J. Wheatley, https://www.amazon.com/stores/Margaret-J.-Wheatley/author/B000APA88O?ref=ap_rdr&store_ref=ap_rdr&isDramIntegrated=true&shoppingPortalEnabled=true
- Brian Tracy, https://www.briantracy.com/
- The Importance of Sales Follow Ups, https://www.invespcro.com/blog/sale-follow-ups/
- Rain Sales Training, https://www.rainsalestraining.com/blog/infographic-30-sales-prospecting-stats-and-what-they-mean-for-sellers
- Liston Witherill, https://www.linkedin.com/in/listonwitherill/