The further up the pyramid, the greater the need for values based (consultative) selling

Consultative Transactional Quotient

Consultative salespeople are different in their behaviour from Transactional salespeople. It is important to analyse and determine what type of sales approach better fits your business – a transactional sales approach for one-off, commodity type sales, or a consultative approach for your more complex, longer-lead time sales?

Value selling, or consultative selling, occurs where the customer doesn’t know precisely what they want to buy but knows what they want to achieve. The sales person’s role is to work with that customer collaboratively (or ‘consultatively’) to create a solution to their problem. Inevitably, this type of selling requires building relationships, sometimes over a long timespan and so that ability to build and nurture customer relationships is a critical skill for the consultative sales person.

Customers who are looking for a solution to their problem are likely to be less price-sensitive than customers who know what they want to buy.

The flip side of value or consultative selling is transactional selling, where the customer knows precisely what they want to buy and therefore the sales person’s role is to communicate the value of the product or service. This is often a shorter sales cycle as it will be made up of a series of transactions and there is less need to build relationships.

The Great Market Potential of Voluntary Benefits

To understand the potential of the voluntary market, consider that, according to a 2011 analysis by McKinsey & Company cited in Benefits Selling magazine:

  • Voluntary premiums are growing as much as 10 times faster than employer-paid premiums.
  • Voluntary benefits are estimated to contribute more to industry profits than employer-paid plans by 2015.
  • Furthermore, according to LIMRA, the marketing research arm of the insurance industry, 30% of U.S. employers are considering adding a voluntary benefit within the next two years.

Given the uncertainty over health care revenues and the economy, more benefits brokers today see sales of voluntary – employee-pay-all – products as key to their future success.

Selling voluntary, however, is new territory for most brokers. According to a survey conducted by Eastbridge Consulting Group in March 2012, over 70% of benefits brokers said voluntary sales account for less than 10% of their total revenues.

Top brokers say that taking a consultative vs. a transactional approach to selling can help.

What is Consultative Selling?

In his book, “Rethinking the Sales Force,” Neil Rackham explains that a fundamental shift has occurred in the marketplace:

As customer choices have increased, both as a result of competition and because products and services are increasingly customized, understanding the customer has become an ever more important element of successful selling.

Rackham describes the three “pillars” of consultative selling:

  • Helping customers understand their problems and opportunities in a new or different way;
  • Showing customers new or better solutions to their problems;
  • Acting as advocates within provider organizations.

Differences Between Product and Solutions Selling

CEB Global’s Corporate Executive Board, 2012 – – has identified Voluntary Sales as a third era in the evolution of selling based on delivering “customer insights.” Here are some identified differences between product selling and solutions (or consultative) selling:

Product Selling Solutions Selling
Nature of the sales conversation Lead with features and benefits Lead with questions
Ideal sales rep profile “Talking brochure” Interrogator
Key stakeholders to engage Decisionmaker Coach/advocates
When to engage When customer assesses options When customer understands needs
Flow of information Customer places order Customer coaches on how they buy

Nelson L. Griswold, one of the benefits industry’s leading authorities on consultative selling and cross-selling voluntary benefits points out that employers are hungry for guidance and direction on benefits and will eagerly engage with a broker who can drive their benefits strategy.

Re-frame the Conversation

Speakers at this year’s Benefits Selling conference offered this advice for brokers:

  • Connect employee needs into one seamless program for the employer – through one carrier or by integrating with a third party administrator.
  • Focus on state-of-the-art benefits administration and enrollment innovation, taking the employer out of the middle.
  • Focus on employees’ overall needs regarding health and wellness, retirement savings and income and protection from catastrophe.
  • Have a broader knowledge of benefits, not a siloed, specialty approach.
  • Expand relationships beyond benefits decision makers to a team of stakeholders (finance, communications, marketing, procurement, etc.) Bring them together for discussions.


Eighth Annual Benefits Selling Expo, May 9-11, 2012.
Griswold, Nelson L., “Are You Driving the Benefits Strategy? Employee Benefit Advisor, August 2011.
Griswold, Nelson L., “Cross-sell Voluntary with a Consultative Approach,” Employee Benefit Advisor, December 2011.
Rackham, Neil & De Vincentis, John, Rethinking the Sales Force, McGraw-Hill, 1999.