We've talked about the advantages for middle market companies of having a consultative sales process. Now let's discuss a few key tips for launching a program in your business.

Practice makes perfect when it comes to improving consultative sales practices

Start with your most successful salespeople. It's likely that your best salespeople are already supporting and helping their customers in useful ways. Find out what they do and what they know that allows them to help the people to whom they sell. Use this knowledge as the basis of your program by creating a simple set of training materials that outline what a salesperson should find out in order to help customers. Detail specific problems that your customers have encountered and how your salespeople helped solve them.

Make the right hires. Not every salesperson is good at consultative sales. When you're hiring, look for people who have the attitude and the intelligence to find and help with customer problems. Review your current sales staff: Some of them will be trainable, some not. If you find a salesperson who isn't very trainable but is still hitting quotas again and again, leave them alone. But if you find nontrainable low performers, you'll probably have to consider letting them go.

This can be a tricky process to navigate through for a middle market company. These types of firms can be small enough so that many employees are close with each other. If you have to replace a salesperson who's been with you for a while because they can't learn consultative sales, it can be hard. Generally, though, working with a small group that you know well makes training and monitoring the shift into consultative sales easier. It also allows for one-on-one coaching of less experienced team members.

Practice makes perfect. No one becomes a consultative salesperson just because they hear an inspirational talk. It takes practice. Pair up good salespeople with those who are less skilled and need more training. Have them simulate some situations where there's a customer problem to be dealt with that your sales team can help solve. Send out salespeople in pairs for a while; those who need more training and know-how will benefit from real-world activity alongside a more experienced salesperson.

Designate a "go-to" person or group. Pick a person who has knowledge about your products and services and a good consultative record. It's OK if this is one of your senior people; it doesn't have to be a full-time job. When a salesperson encounters a difficult problem and needs help, this is the person they should go to for ideas and assistance. This role doesn't have to be filled by one person; a group can do the job, sometimes better than an individual. Make sure that membership in this group is a visibly important role within the company.

You want your sales team to have the capacity to grow and change but still continue to function in a smooth manner. Picking the right leader of the consultative team is crucial. Your chosen leader won't necessarily be your best salesperson, but that person should still have a deep knowledge of your customers and the ability to tackle their problems. Coaching and problem-solving skills are essential to the role.

Communicate with the rest of your company. So far, we've been talking about how to make consultative sales work within your sales team, but if it's going to work to your competitive advantage, more personnel need to be aware about it. Start with making sure that everyone in the company knows about the process that your salespeople are going through. Between all the employees working for your company, there are many points of contact with your customers. Maybe it will be the receivables clerk who hears from a customer that there's a problem.

Tell the world. You're pursuing a consultative sales program in order to serve your customers better, to increase your sales and profits, to beat your competitors, and to help your company grow. Spend some effort making sure that your prospects and your customers know what you're doing. Whether you do a soft launch or a hard launch of the program, talk up its advantages and benefits to your customers. Give the program a name, create some one-pagers with some examples behind the process, and do everything you can to let everyone know about it.

As a midmarket firm converting to consultative sales, it's important to note that, while you don't have the clout of a big corporation, you do have the advantage of flexibility and an opportunity to make a name for yourself. It's a chance to pioneer a different sales method and separate from competitors.

None of the steps listed above are time-consuming or difficult, but each one will go toward improving your company's ability to compete and serve your customers. You'll have better-trained and better-functioning salespeople doing better work, and your customers will be more successful.

What sort of skills and attributes should you be looking for when adding new hires to your consultative sales team? Let us know what you think by commenting below.

Peter Miller is an NCMM contributor and a career entrepreneur who has built sales forces in multiple companies. He is currently COO of Genomic Healthcare Strategies in Charlestown, MA.