Why it’s so difficult to turn your sales team into trusted consultants – 5min read

What keeps sales reps from becoming trusted consultants, despite clear intentions to do so? Research suggests it involves a ‘transactional’ culture, and that sales managers are responsible for changing that.

The road to transactional selling is paved with consultative intentions

Most organisations get it. Putting customer needs and objectives before revenue quotas is more likely to bring in sales and forge lasting relationships with customers. Positioning yourself as an invested consultant, as opposed to someone only interested in doing a transaction, is what truly differentiates you from competitors. But when we get caught up in daily business pressures, these consultative intentions make way for thoughts about quotas, monthly targets, and daily sales reports.

Leadership strategist, Lisa McLeod, says we fall back on transactionality when we find ourselves under pressure, as an ‘unintended disconnect, but a fatal one’.


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Under pressure, we fall back on our culture, not on our intentions

The reason most sales teams don’t live up to their intentions to act as trusted consultants, is because it’s not ingrained into their company culture.

McLeod explains what appears to be confusion between training and culture: much effort is put into training salespeople to be consultants, while transactional cultures persist in everyday activities. Sales teams are told how to be consultants and what consulting looks like during training. But training isn’t the problem. Rather, it’s the fact that the focus shifts back to hitting targets and closing deals during sales meetings and general conversations. Ultimately, salespeople are expected to be what they’re not. It’s not knowledge, but practice, that shapes culture.

‘The great disconnect between what we want salespeople to do when they’re in the field (focus on the customer) versus what we emphasize and reinforce internally (our own targets and quotas) results in mediocre sales performance,’ says McLeod.

What does a transactional sales culture result in? 

Salespeople are left without a real sense of a purpose, other than ‘making the numbers.’

Simply put, McLeod says, ‘When the customer becomes nothing more than a number to you, you become nothing more than a number to the customer – and your entire organization suffers.’ In the same way, when sales executives don’t really care who it is they’re selling to, as long as they’re selling something, their customers won’t care who they’re buying from. Nothing differentiates these salespeople from their competitors, who sell similar or even identical products.

Internally, a transactional culture can have damaging effects on your sales team. These include unhealthy competition between team members, strategy being dominated by short-term thinking, and declining morale.

How do salespeople become consultants?

The question we’re asking is: How do intentions become actions?

McLeod talks about a Noble Sales Purpose (NSP) that drives everything you do: everything. No one needs convincing that prioritising customer needs and objectives are NSPs. But making your NSP the focus of all that you do is not that easy. This is the catch: ‘consultative selling can’t survive in a transactional selling ecosystem’.

Changing a culture does not happen overnight. It’s difficult, but it’s possible.

We’ve found that many of our customers just needed the right sales tool to restructure their selling ecosystems.

Changes needed to happen on two levels: how they record and process conversations with customers to better understand their objectives, and how they approach these objectives as a sales team. Here are examples of how some of our customers – who are field sales teams – are succeeding in converting their intentions into actions, and becoming customer-focused consultants:

No mere ‘courtesy calls’, but service relevant to our customers’ needs

‘It was very important for us to find a way of accurately recording what happened during customer visits, so that follow-up visits could be more meaningful. Access to historical data helps consultants plan their conversations with customers in more detail. Knowing what was discussed with a specific customer before, and what needs to be addressed or revisited since a previous visit, enables consultants to prepare better for their daily calls. They don’t simply go around for ‘courtesy calls’, but can serve their customers with valuable information, relevant to their individual needs. Skynamo helps us with planning and to construct our visits more strategically, instead of simply making courtesy calls.’ – Ernst Gottschalk, Sales Manager at Protekta Safety Gear

‘It’s our business to know your business’

‘Our motto is ‘It’s our business to know your business’ and with the help of Skynamo our reps are able to better serve and sell more to our 3 000 customers, by having more insight into their business requirements. The biggest benefit has been the resulting collaboration within the BED sales team. Before using Skynamo, reps behaved more like traditional order-takers, focused on selling only the products with which they’d had previous success. With Skynamo, reps take on a more consultative role when visiting customers thanks to the additional information they collect and consolidate during visits. We are a far more professional company, and our customers have testified to this. Skynamo has helped all stakeholders within our organisation move to a more co-ordinated and collaborative way of working together.’ – Mike Giltrow, CEO at BED Holdings

Reps are enabled to better interpret and serve individual business needs

‘Not having a clear understanding of sales rep activities effectively means not truly understanding customer needs. We looked to use Skynamo to categorise our current customer base into different market segments to better interpret and serve individual business needs. We need our reps to ask the right questions at the right outlets. With Skynamo, our reps have access to more accurate and regularly updated customer and product information, enabling them to deliver services according to customer needs.’ – Derryn Maclear, Salesforce Development Manager at B2C Premium Drinks


McLeod’s research and conclusion is clear:

  • If targets aren’t met, your business doesn’t grow or might even go under;
  • Targets are more easily and consistently hit when sellers focus on customer objectives (instead of product pitches); and
  • If managers don’t focus on the value to the customer, neither will their sales teams – it is the ecosystem surrounding the seller that’s the biggest predictor of market success.

How can your field sales team benefit from a tool that helps you switch from a transactional to a consultative culture?


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