A number of years ago I listened to a series of CDs (remember those things?) by Zig Ziglar. By this point in my sales career I had participated in several sales courses and began feeling I was being shown the same information presented in different forms.

I truly wanted a fresh approach to selling and needed concepts I could share with my sales staff to help them be more successful. Having written a book report on one of Ziglar’s books way back in high school, I decided my company would invest $150 into one of his CD series.

As I listened to the CDs, I found several nuggets that I knew I could use when training my salespeople. But one truth stood out among all others. It was the concept of figuratively moving from across the table from the prospect to coming alongside them. The goal was to partner with them to meet a need or solve a problem they have.

Consider what your true task as a salesperson is. Is it to convince your prospect they should purchase your product or service? Absolutely not! Your task is to meet a need or want that your prospect has. No matter what you sell- IT service, appliances, carpet cleaning, telecom, automobiles- it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever sell a prospect something for which they have no need or want.

Knowing that every prospect has a need or want, your first task is to find out what that need or want is. Within the sales process, uncovering the prospect’s need or want goes by several different identifiers. I like the term, ‘needs assessment’ because that’s what I’m doing when I’m asking the prospect questions. I’m asking what their needs (or wants) are. I’m assessing where the gaps are in their business or in their life.

Only after I understand my prospect’s needs or wants can I begin to connect the dots between the need and what it is I have to offer. Do I need to launch into a big sales pitch? No, I don’t. All I need to do is begin demonstrating how my product or service specifically meets the needs or wants the prospect has expressed having.

The word for this process is called consulting. Why consulting? Because consultants by definition are people who approach a problem with a new perspective, ask the right questions to discover where the problems lay, then recommend a solution to correct the problems. If the solution meets a businesses’ needs and helps them become more successful at whatever it is they do, the consultant has been successful.

Here’s the application of the concept:

Imagine you aren’t actually selling a product or service. Sure, you have extensive knowledge of products or services but your job isn’t to sell them to the prospect. Your job is to meet with the client, learn their specific needs, then make the best recommendations that would solve the needs of the client. If all you were paid for was understanding the client’s needs and making recommendations that meet those needs, wouldn’t that be a lot of fun? You would spend your whole day just helping people– something that’s a driving force for successful salespeople.

That’s the best kind of sales. Spending your whole day meeting with prospects or clients, learning about their needs, then making recommendations that meet their needs. Salespeople who do this successfully find that clients don’t groan when they get their call but instead drop everything to take the call.

Your job is not to sell your product. It’s to make a recommendation that happens to meet your prospect’s needs through a product or service your company produces.

Here are a couple of examples:

If you’re a salesperson who has learned that a prospect’s data storage system is bogging down their efficiency, your job is to propose an alternate storage system that transfers data efficiently to help make the client more productive. If you’re a salesperson who has learned that a prospect hates the carpet in their home because it’s old and dated, your job is to propose carpet that matches their taste and gives their home the updated feel they’re looking for. You’re meeting needs. You’re solving problems.

You get the idea.

Certainly selling is much more complex than simply being a consultative seller. But if your entire approach is based on (figuratively) moving from across the table from the prospect to coming alongside the prospect to help them solve their problem, you’ll gain traction with the prospect because of the incredibly valuable by-product that’s created– trust.

When a prospect is convinced that your primary interest is in helping them solve a problem or meet a need, your recommendations are more warmly greeted because your motivation has opened a level of trust.

Does this approach work? I had a salesperson who would go into every sales meeting and after some initial small talk, one of the first things out of her mouth was, “Mr. Smith, I appreciate you meeting with me today. Before we chat I just want to let you know that I’m not here today to sell you anything. My only goal during this meeting is to learn how I can help you and your business be more successful. Once I understand your needs, I’m going to make a recommendation that may or may not include my product. The decision to accept my recommendation is completely up to you. Does that sound fair?”

It’s important to note that every time she stated those words, she stated them with genuine conviction and sincerity. She understood that her role was as a consultant and as our most successful salesperson, her sales results reflected her commitment to that role.

Want to see your sales increase? Move around to the other side of the table so you are working along side your prospect. Make it your goal to find out your prospect’s needs and learn what problems they have that you can solve. Make a commitment to become a consultative seller.

Happy selling!