Understanding Consultative Selling

By Vanessa Bird / 11 Feb 2022

Business consultant Vanessa Bird shares her soft-sales techniques

Sales and selling are the lifeblood of any successful business, however many of us view selling as unethical, unnecessary or in some way dishonest, especially as we work in medical aesthetics. Author Daniel Pink conducted a survey where he asked people to state the first word that came to mind when they heard the word ‘sales’ or ‘selling’. 80% of those words had negative connotations.1 That’s why so many people resist selling to others – perhaps you or your team believe patients will recoil in horror and run away if sold to, or maybe you feel awkward about how to approach selling without damaging the relationship of trust you developed with your patients? This negative mindset directly affects your ability to provide a more comprehensive treatment plan for patients, restricts clinical outcomes and negatively impacts turnover.

If you are frustrated because your business isn’t seeing the success and growth you hoped for, and you can’t significantly increase turnover no matter what you try, then continue reading to discover ways to change your mindset and find a new style of selling that feels natural and ethical.

Changing your mindset

Before taking any other steps, you first need to overcome your own negative view of selling. You can do this by adjusting your mindset and focusing on your ‘why’. Why do you want to provide a treatment or product that can help this person, other than to increase your turnover? Once you understand what drives you to want to provide a solution, it’s easier to overcome a reluctance to sell.

But how do you discover your ‘why’? Take a step back and reflect! What made you choose to work in aesthetic medicine? Most likely it was a desire to help people feel better about themselves by providing safe and effective aesthetic treatments – what a great motivator that is. Your passion for aesthetics means you are always researching the best new products and the most up to date techniques in order to bring the best solutions to clinic. It feels great to help someone and make them happy, which is essential for job satisfaction. This is your ‘why’.

Remember that everything you do should be done in the best interests of the patient you are treating. You have a wealth of knowledge and experience so why wouldn’t you want to share the latest techniques in aesthetics, the best skincare and the most effective combination therapies with them to maximise their results? How can you share this unless you are ‘selling’ the solution to their problems; a solution that leads to fantastic results and a happy patient? Potentially reducing clinical outcomes because you don’t want to tell patients about a great new serum for fear of being ‘salesy’ is a limiting belief pattern that needs acknowledging so you can move away from it.

The consultative sell

Now you understand your ‘why’, be open to developing subtle yet effective selling skills to get your message across to your patients in a way that feels natural. One of the most effective ways of doing this is by using the consultative sales approach; a type of sales technique where you adopt the role of advisor more than salesperson, and recommend solutions based on what the buyer needs. It is focused on the customer, and your relationship with them, rather than on the product being sold.2

Critical communication skills

If you want to be good at the consultative sell, it helps to hone your critical communication skills. In terms of sales and building those important relationships, being a strong communicator means being not only a good listener, but being good at asking questions so you understand your patients’ needs. When someone shows interest in you by listening to what you say you feel appreciated and good about yourself, so by actively listening we make a conscious decision to try to understand things from the patient’s point of view. Listen for the total meaning and don’t interrupt. What words were used? What is their overall mood? Happy and excited or nervous and upset? Listening for the language used is helpful but understanding how your patient feels about something gives full value to the message. 

It’s also important to use questions to find out more information and to make the patient feel cared for. Summarise what they said by using these questions for clarification. ‘Do you mean you want both treatments at the same time?’ Open questions encourage others to talk, give detail or explain something so by asking open questions we can fact-find and also determine if the patient has understood what we said. Examples of open questions include ‘How does your acne make you feel?’, ‘What part of the procedure do you still have questions about?’ and even ‘‘Do you have a budget in mind?’ Using customer-focused questions help us build common ground and allows us to discover the wants and needs of the patient by showing that the focus is on them.

While we may know this is always the case, practitioners don’t always phrase their speech in a way that shows this. For example, they may say ‘I think you need this product or device because I always get great results with this’, making it seem about them and their expertise. Instead, say something like ‘How do you feel we can help you with this?’ – adapting your language in this way can help them to trust in you and your recommendations.

Dealing with objections

Objections happen at all stages of the sales journey, even when carrying out a consultative sales process, and are usually an emotional response to something heard, a misunderstanding, or used as a way to slow down the process because the patient feels too ‘rushed’ into making a decision.

Remember, objections are a natural part of the decision-making process and can actually be a sign of interest – often you only ask questions if you’re interested in knowing more. Occasionally you may encounter ‘false objections’ which tend to happen early on in a patient relationship or sales journey. False objections aren’t really genuine objections and are often a knee jerk reaction as they don’t want to feel rushed.

It is usually an objection to your approach rather than to what you are saying. Examples of false objections include ‘It’s not the right time’, ‘Send me some information’ or ‘I need to discuss it with my partner.’ Whether it’s a genuine or false objection, you can utilise the above critical communication skills to smooth over the process and show you’re acting in the patient’s best interests.

  1. Listen. Are you clear about what the objection is? You cannot address it unless you understand it.
  2. Acknowledge. Summarise the objection back to the patient and acknowledge their point so they know they’ve been heard.
  3. Respond. This is another opportunity to sell the features and benefits of your product or treatment, demonstrating why it is the right solution for their needs, or put forward other solutions the patient may feel more comfortable with.
  4. Ask for feedback. ‘Are there any more questions you’d like to ask?’ If other objections pop up, you can retrace your steps and respond to them accordingly – it also shows that you value what they have to say.

Handling price objections

Price objections develop if your patient fails to see the value of what you’re offering versus the cost, so be sure to talk about the benefits in relation to wants and needs. Build value by highlighting any additional extras included in the price, how long-lasting the results will be or how preventative treatment now will save money in the future. 

They are paying for your experience, high-quality products and clinically-proven treatments, so explain this to them. If they understand why your pricing is higher and that lower prices elsewhere may be down to less experienced practitioners with substandard equipment or products, they will be more accepting of your pricing. Be open and honest about pricing and provide two or more options to accommodate different budgets. Once they understand the benefits and how your service is of value to them, they will emotionally connect and they will move forwards.

Buying signals

Patients start to give signals when they are ready to buy, and this can happen at all stages of the consultative sales process. You need to learn to recognise these signals and engage with them, rather than taking the hard sell approach and pushing at the end. For example, they may begin to interact more, asking questions and wanting to see before and after photos or testimonials. Or, it can often be as subtle as positive body language, leaning forwards, increasing eye contact, nodding and changing their energy to something more positive, excited or enthusiastic. Be open to these subtle signals. Noticing their buying signals should give you confidence to start moving towards the next stage of the process, known as ‘closing the sale’.

Closing the sale

Remember, when you are using a consultative selling style the selling has been happening at all stages of the journey, so this final step isn’t the hurdle you think it might be. If you’ve used critical communication skills and consulted throughout with the patient, closing the sale should be a natural next step. Avoid directly asking them if they’re going to buy what you’re selling and instead act as if the customer has already decided to buy (if they have given you the signals outlined above).

Say something like ‘Would you like me to check the diary and book you in?’, or perhaps ask them to select their preferred package, for example whether they want the injectables package or the energy-based package. This is known as ‘the alternative close’ where you are offering an ‘either-or’ solution. A decision made for one or the other is a ‘yes’ to the sale.3 You can even ask whether they wish to pay by cash or card – when they tell you how they wish to pay it is their way of saying yes to the sale. Often, a simple ‘When would you like to start?’ is all that’s needed and your patient will appreciate the no-pressure approach.

Start your new sales journey!

Utilising the consultative sales approach means that prior to closing the sale you will have carried out a thorough consultation, established patient wants and needs, offered a number of possible solutions and helped them decide on their preferred choice. This means that the process flows naturally and is not high pressure – rather, the sale is the destination you both reached together. When you close that sale, your business and your patients will thank you for it.

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