The sales approach you use in SMB accounts depends upon a number of factors: the culture of your organization, the offerings you sell, as well as what the customer needs from you in the sales process. Knowing when to use a solution sales approach versus a consultative sales approach is a dilemma that many VAR organizations and sales reps struggle with. And the choice you make will directly impact your odds of success. 

Consultative selling can require months to close a sale, typically involving a number of people from both your and the customer’s organization. You employ a discovery process to fully understand the customer’s needs and present conceptual recommendations to determine the right solution. Relationships are built with the customer contacts throughout the sales process.

In solution selling fewer people are involved, with the seller engaging a technical specialist to assist with configuring or designing the solution. The sale frequently can be closed with only one or two versions of a proposal followed by the customer checking your references. In SMB clients, the relationship is often built after the customer has chosen to move forward, as you’re supporting the account.

The culture of your organization

If the culture of your organization is one to watch revenue on a monthly basis, and hold sellers to monthly quota targets, a longer consultative process is difficult. While the eventual sale is generally larger than with a solution sale, it does not always deliver consistent monthly revenue. A solution sales approach, with its shorter, more simplified sales cycle will deliver more consistent monthly revenue.

If your culture values customer relationships from the system admin or office manager up to the business executive and owner level, a consultative approach will foster those relationships. The discovery process, combined with the involvement of multiple people and the conceptual recommendation approach, has customer contacts involved in crafting and elevating the final solution to their own recommendation.

Sales reps quickly find themselves becoming trusted advisors to their SMB clients throughout the sales process.

The offerings you sell

Many sales people believe the offerings you sell dictate the approach to use. This is only partly true. Complex, high-dollar solutions like unified communications and virtualization do require a more consultative approach and a longer sales process. So do many of your prospects first cloud applications. The customer needs more information to choose the right solution, justify the expenditure, and gain agreement to move forward, especially if it is a large expenditure in the SMB space.

Less complex solutions which your prospect understands with relative ease are great solution sales opportunities. The prospect often knows what he’s looking for and will be frustrated if you attempt to engage in a consultative, “let me help you figure this out” sales approach.

Let your prospect’s need for information and education guide which approach you choose.

What customers need from the sales cycle

If you are selling to an SBM prospect who fully understands the technical intricacies of his needs, he’s probably done his research before meeting with you. This type of SMB buyer only needs you to provide solution information, demonstrations, customer references, and your implementation process. For this type of SMB contact, the solution sales approach works well. You can still make suggestions and provide options, but make it easy for him to buy his way.

Where the consultative sales approach works best is when you’re working with business owners and executives focused on business results. They value your recommendations for different solutions and services to consider. They appreciate your guidance throughout their buying process, and hearing how other customers have addressed similar challenges. They value long term relationships directly with you, and probably see their solution as one that will include multiple phases and have a financial impact on the business’ results.

You can employ multiple sales approaches in your SMB accounts. Stay flexible and choose the approach that best matches the needs of your prospects.

Kendra Lee is a top IT Seller, Prospect Attraction Expert, author of the newly released book “The Sales Magnet” and the award winning book "Selling Against the Goal" and president of KLA Group. Specializing in the IT industry, KLA Group works with companies to break in and exceed revenue objectives in the Small and Midmarket Business (SMB) segment.