Flip the Script: How a Shift to Relational Selling Can Help Your Consultancy Win More Business

August 29, 2023
Relational Selling

By: Tissa Richards, Consulting CEO, and Leadership Expert

Growing a consulting firm is challenging. Studies have shown that acquiring a new customer is five times more expensive than retaining current customers. With this in mind, I’m going to give you a few tips to help you land new clients, as well as retain your current customers (and expand your footprint in those accounts) by shifting to a relational selling model – one that will help you improve retention rates, increase lifetime customer value, and win more new business.

Spend Less Time on Your Sales “Pitch” & More Time Listening

I recently hosted a Webinar with Deltek called Tips to Prioritize Client Relationships and Improve Recurring Revenue. We found that over 68 percent of consulting leaders believe the best way to build customer rapport is to “sell to a customer’s unique situation.” It’s great to hear this – but doing that effectively requires that you spend most of your time listening! I shadow a lot of sales organizations and have found that many sellers spend a lot of time selling instead of listening.


“When you go in with a “pitch,” information is flowing in one direction only. Customers don’t want to download an audible version of your white papers or data sheets.”


There is no way to truly understand the needs and dependencies of your clients if you are spending most of your time on an elevator pitch. And there is good data to back this up. Recent sales studies show that top-performing sales reps listen more than they talk in their discovery calls. Conversely, low-end performers speak for more than 70% of the time they are with customers and prospects. When you shift from a traditional “pitch” model to a relational model, you’ll find yourself listening more. This will result in increased lifetime customer value, retention rate, and customer satisfaction.

Bring Less to Meetings Increase Sales

You might be saying, "Tissa, this sounds good, but how do we actually do this?"Let's discuss some actionable ways to help you listen more and switch from a traditional "pitch-focused" sales model to a relational selling model.

Step one is to bring less “stuff” to your meetings. As the CEO and founder of software companies, I discovered – counterintuitively – that we had much more success when we brought less stuff to our discovery and sales meetings. Instead of bringing PowerPoints, laptops, iPads, chargers, demos, notebooks, and leather briefcases to hold all that stuff, we started showing up and just listening to our prospects, partners, and customers.

We found that less-is-more approach allowed us to open up the aperture. By that, I mean we were able to bring the customers' true needs and concerns into focus so we could answer the "so what." What do I mean by that? Instead of showing demos and PowerPoints that showcased our products, we asked questions. We dived deep and asked customers to tell us about themselves – beyond what we could discover on LinkedIn or their websites. We were able to map our capabilities and features to their true needs. And, we were better able to surface critical learnings like who in the organization had the real decision-making authority, cross-functional dependencies, or where we could cross-sell into other areas of the organization. The more we listened, the more customers told us things we would never have been able to include in a “pitch.”

You may be wondering how tackle this “no-pitch” approach in a virtual meeting. I suggest you shut down all programs and applications on your computer. That’s a great way to resist the temptation to show presentations and demos about your company or product. Instead, you can open a digital whiteboard, and capture what your prospects or customers are telling you as you ask questions

Bringing less to a meeting – and listening more – will be uncomfortable initially, but you can spend more time building relationships once you do. An open and unstructured dialogue will give you better insights into your clients' needs and allow you to uncover more opportunities. And you will discover that the most valuable insights and breakthroughs in relationships happen in the open spaces.


How to Shift to Relational Selling

Tips to Prioritize Client Relationships & Strengthen Recurring Revenue

Watch On-Demand


What Questions Should You Ask?

A shift to relational selling requires you to ask more strategic questions than you may be used to. Of course, you’ll want to ask the practical questions such as "What is your organizational structure?" or "How do you measure ROI?" You’ll also want to ask more strategic questions, such as:

  • What should I know about your organization?
  • What are your top challenges for the year?
  • What are the top initiatives for the board and management?

Resist the temptation to pitch, be brief about what you do, and concentrate on conveying only the information that matters.

The Benefits of Relational Selling


“It’s much harder to remove a strategic partner who is key to your success than it is to remove a vendor. You need to position yourself as that strategic partner – and you do that by building a trusted relationship with your customers.”


If you are a traditional transactional seller, you’ll be seen as a vendor and a cost center. And what's the first thing to be stripped away during hard times? A cost! Shifting to a relational selling model will bring immediate benefits. In the short term, you will learn more about your customers' needs from a bidirectional information exchange, and you will be able to better tailor your message to them. In the long term, you will find an increased focus and ability to discover long term land-and-expand opportunities. In addition, you will be able to improve retention rates by becoming a strategic partner instead of “just” a vendor.


About Tissa Richards

Tissa is a sought-after keynote and TedX speaker, the author of “No Permission Required: Unlock Your Leadership Potential & Eliminate Self-Doubt”, a CEO, and Leadership Expert. She speaks to executives and corporations globally, helping them develop critical leadership skills and face emerging challenges. You can learn more about her here. And speaking of relational selling, you won’t want to miss Tissa Richards as she shares the reasons why consulting firms should shift to a relational selling model in our On-Demand Webinar: Tips to Prioritize Client Relationships and Improve Recurring Revenue.