Salespeople, Are You Truly a Consultant?

I still wonder if the lady at the tanning salon really understood the meaning of the title embossed on her name tag in bold letters: Tanning Consultant. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Stay with me here as I really am going to connect this for you B2B sales people, inside sales and account managers.  Trust me, I have a (pretty good, I think) point. 

Now, back to my story.

I’m pasty white. You know, the person you worry about when you see them at the beach. I have three skin types – white, red, or peeling. I start with all of this to explain my first trip to the tanning salon. Before you judge me, I had a perfectly logical, even medical reason for visiting the salon. I was working on a little base before heading to Hawaii in the middle of winter. I even had a prescription: tan 3 times before leaving on my trip.

I was greeted by a really tan teenager, a little too tan, who has that stare. You know that look adolescents sometimes have when forced to talk to us parental types. But out of the corner of my eye, I see her name tag. Awesome, I should be fine! She’s a consultant! 

I quickly explain my dilemma, knowing she would praise my strategy.

“How long do you want?” She asked, beginning her consultative interview.

“Uh, uh…not really sure. I’m kind of new at this. What do you recommend?”

“We just put in new bulbs,” she warned.

Great, sounds exciting, I thought… but not sure what that means. She can tell I’m confused.

“Tans faster,” she said, staring. Waiting on me like I now know what to do.

“How long do you think I need? I’m not that dark,” overstating it a bit.

“Depends. Some people go for 10 minutes and some people for 30.”

Clearly I wasn’t getting any help. I was surprised because her name tag clearly read: Tanning Consultant. I’ll try one more time. “Well I just don’t want to get burned.”

“You could use this lotion.”

“What does the lotion do?” I asked, now more confused.

“Some people like it.” She offered as little explanation as possible. I was clearly on my own.

“Let’s just go with 10 minutes.” I acquiesced.

“Booth 5.”


Anyone familiar with tanning may be able to guess how this worked out for me… 

After the blisters went away, every layer of my skin peeled off. I spent the first 3 days in Hawaii hiding from the sun. For one simple reason: I was in charge of determining the best solution. I owned the problem – and I had no clue what I was doing.

She didn’t own the problem for me, as the subject expert. 

Maybe they should change the title on her name tag…?


Salespeople Should Own Their Customer’s Problem

Consultative Selling or Sales Consultant is a title that gets thrown around a lot. It’s just a better label. But what does it really mean to be a sales consultant?

In every buyer-seller interaction (B2B or B2C), there is a problem to be solved and someone owns that problem. Whether it’s the best way to get a little base before heading to the beach or determining the solution to inefficiencies in operations, someone has to own the problem. And there are only two options: the sales rep/ account manager/ consultant, or the customer. 

If you are a consultant, regardless of what your title is or what the customer says, your desire and approach to every interaction should be to own the problem, not just be a dispenser of information.

If you’ve gone through sales training or consultative sales training, you know the following is true. 

A consultant leads. A consultant looks at all aspects of the problem, related or unrelated to what they sell, and does everything in their power to determine the best path forward for their customer. 

If the customer owns the problem, then you are simply in a support role: a resource to gather data, answer questions, educate, provide pricing, get coffee, etc. Which is fine, if you have plenty of customers and no competition. 

In your next meeting with a customer or prospect, ask yourself a few questions: 

  • Who is leading? 
  • Who is more invested in the outcome of this initiative, you or the decision-maker? 
  • Are you looking for other solutions beyond what you offer to ensure the best solution? 
  • What would you do if you owned their company? 
  • Do you know how your solution fits into the bigger picture, impacts the whole organization?

The answers to those questions, not your business card, will reveal your true title.


What Next?

For more great info on account management and OtherCentered® selling, check out our online programs for sales reps like you.


As Co-founder and CEO, Tom’s primary role is to create content that helps people live, sell, and serve more effectively. Find him on LinkedIn

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