Do you sell, or do you consult?

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Do you sell, or do you consult?

I’m not sure about you but when I hear the word “sales” or “salesperson” I instantly feel as if I’ll be pushed or persuaded into something. I have always made the comparison to a car salesperson (no offense, of course), like when you are on your way to buy a car, the pressure you feel in your gut that you just know the “sharks” are waiting to feed on you as soon as you drive onto their lot. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve been in sales for most of my career, I just don’t consider myself a salesperson. I’m a consultant, and trust me, there is a difference.

While chasing that sale and the rush of a win is all good and dandy, there is more in it for me at the end of the day than just closing a sale. It is more about building a sustainable and organic relationship with my clients that means more to me. Getting to know my clients, listening to them talk about what is important to them, hearing their frustrations with their current product/service, that makes all the difference in the world to them. Showing some empathy goes a long way, wouldn’t you agree? This is far better than the car salesman approach with clients – sell, sell, sell and don’t be concerned with how it affects your client just as long as you close the sale and meet your goals. Not taking the time to ask questions or dig further into clients’ concerns, comments, stories they tell about their existing/previous experiences. Simply telling a client what they need vs. helping them discover their needs, is the main difference for me.


“Have I got a deal for you that you simply can’t resist…”


When you take the time to build rapport with clients, they open up. Asking them simple questions like; how you are today, how has business been treating you these days (especially in the current times we’re in around the world) or noticing things in their background (in a non-creepy kind of way) and commenting on them. I was on a call with a client and noticed she had a Dallas Cowboys sign in her background, but I could only make out the big blue star initially (I’m a Dallas fan, so just had to say something about it). I asked her, is that a Dallas Cowboys sign behind you? She proceeded to tell me, “Yes, let me tell you about that…”, and then went on to tell me the story of how it got there, and so on. Taking this time, about 4-5mins or so, before we started to discuss her research needs, areas of focus and then advising on ways in which we can help her grow, allowed her and I to build great rapport. It didn’t take much, it was a fun conversation, a refreshing way to start a call, and I gained so much information from her which really helped me learn how I can best advise her on her future projects. All too often I hear clients express they receive such basic information back from their suppliers, nothing consultative or detailed in their response, no explanations, or reasons why they would need to pass on their opportunity. I let clients know I refer to this as the “bid monkey” response to bidding and get a chuckle every time.

It’s also important to acknowledge that what I have to offer may not be a good fit for certain clients, and that’s okay. I’ve had many discussions with clients where what we have to offer may not be their area of focus at the time, but it was still worth the discussion, for the both of us. We focus on online Quantitative research, and they may focus more on Qualitative research, but building contacts and learning about what we both have to offer is beneficial to the both of us as we may stumble across projects where we need each other’s help. I’ve done this many times, received a Qualitative request from a client and instead of simply politely passing on the opportunity and dropping it at that, I offer them the opportunity for me to refer them to one of our Qualitative partners. Clients appreciate this, they remember that you took the time to advise them on an alternative that they can find a solution, even if it doesn’t come from you directly, it’s helpful. Additionally, there may be times where I’ll receive an RFP where the targets are too far from our general profiling to yield meaningful completes. Instead of overpromising and struggling to deliver on your commitments, be fully transparent with clients from the start, they will respect you for it and this is something they look for in a trusted partner, as I’ve been told when I ask, “what’s most important to you when choosing a partner for your research projects?”.

In the world of market research, taking a consultative approach with your clients goes a long way in building sustainable relationships. I see requests daily that are anywhere from “can you reach this audience”, to thorough details provided. There are so many ways a project could turn in the early bidding stages, clients need options, advice on what is possible and at times, reeled in when their requests are too far from reality. For example, requests to reach C-Level titles to take a survey on cloud virtualization implementation at their company. Rather than replying with a polite pass due to targeting C-Level titles, paying closer attention to the mention of “taking a survey on cloud virtualization implementation” is needed here. Why is this the case? Simply put, C-Level titles wouldn’t be the best fit for this project as they wouldn’t have anything to do with the implementation of cloud virtualization at their company, that role is assigned to a software developer rather than a C-Level. Here, roles & responsibilities, far outweigh titles for this project, and taking the time to explain that to clients is very important in making sure you have the right respondent answering their survey.


“Let’s talk about your project together, uncover your needs and discuss ways in which we can help.”


Clients really do appreciate a thought leader and it goes a long way in building long, trustworthy, sustainable relationships. I’ve experienced both approaches myself and am thoroughly thankful when I speak to a consultant rather than a salesperson. I feel as if they genuinely care about my needs when they take the time to ask me appropriate questions, listen to my feedback, show empathy, and talk through their suggestions while advising me on solutions, rather than telling me what I need.


Contact Ann at to learn more about correct targeting for online quantitative research.

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Do you sell, or do you consult?