Consultative Selling Tip: Know What Gear You're In

Mike Baer

stick-shift-manual-transmissionSeveral months after my teenage daughter earned her driver’s license, I suggested that it was time for her to learn to drive a standard transmission. Our first lesson involved a short trip to the local grocery store. We stalled, jerked, revved, and jolted our way there. In the store parking lot, she handed me the keys and deemed the experience, “the worst thing I had ever done to her.”

Used to the smooth ease of an automatic, she was adamant that shifting gears was a non-essential and intolerable expectation. Not long after, the very car she deemed un-drivable became her sole source of transportation. Necessity overcame resistance. Within a few weeks of daily practice and light coaching, she soon mastered fluid, seamless transitions into the right gear at the right time. Already a good driver, her awareness and driving competence improved measurably. Learning how to shift gears improved her overall driving expertise.

What gear is your sales team in?

3-gears-hiIn my experience, many sales calls feel a lot like my first trip to grocery store with my daughter. Does your sales team know how to fluidly shift gears in their sales calls? In consultative selling situations, I have found that there are three gears that sales people must engage in to maintain forward, fluid motion in all our conversations: active gear, receptive gear, and observant gear.

Active Gear (Self Referenced)
In this gear you have the ability to organize resources to affect a result and get something done.
Receptive Gear (Other Referenced)
In this gear you listen with the intent to understand. It’s not just accepting what others say but also pushing against those beliefs so you better understand what the client believes to be true.
Observant Gear (Neutral Referenced)
In this gear, you take a neutral, third-party perspective. You ask yourself the question, “What’s really going on?”

The Gear of Choice

The best consultants and sales professionals are strong in all three gears. With consultative selling, Receptive Gear is the gear of choice. There is no good or bad gear, unless your team is hanging out in one gear all the time. Research shows that Receptive Gear is the gear that creates value and realizes opportunity—our next best questions come from what we’ve just heard. This is somewhat counterintuitive.

Having observed hundreds of sales calls, I have noticed that the default gear for the average sales person is Active Gear. In this gear you have the ability to organize resources and get things done. Active Gear is comfortable and feels most productive. And yet, when used prematurely or excessively, Active Gear will strain and potentially damage even our best business relationships. As a sales leader, you’ve no doubt witnessed an overeager team member stuck in Active Gear in high-pitch drone, whipping past openings, chances, and prospective wins.


Mike Baer, managing partner of the FranklinCovey Sales Performance practice, explains the three gears and their function in the sales environment. Watch Now

The Sales Conversation Gear Assessment

As a sales leader, your challenge lies in mentoring your team toward the practical application of proper gear shifting; helping your team to avoid over-revving when downshifting, engaging in receptive dialogue more readily, and finding the neutral, observant gear more easily.

The Sales Conversation Gear Assessment tool is an excellent starting point for teaching this skill. Use this tool as a sales leader with your sales team to begin an on-going improvement dialogue. Click here to download this tool.

This tool can be used in many ways. It can be introduced and tasked in a full team setting, and is equally impactful as a one-on-one teaching tool. Follow these steps to familiarize your team with the tool:

  1. Be sure to have a tool available for each member of your team.
  2. Watch this video as a team.
  3. Review the tips and concepts included on this tool with the group as a whole.
  4. Divide the group into partnerships.
  5. Invite each partnership (2-3 people) to brainstorm strategies for making improvements in each gear. Allow time for meaningful discovery.
  6. Regroup. Invite each partnership to share their best ideas.
  7. Invite each participant to focus on improving their weakest gear by identify two to three strategies for personal improvement.

With awareness, practice, and on-going assessment, you will witness improvement in your team’s sales expertise.


About FranklinCovey's Sales Performance Practice

FranklinCovey’s Sales Performance Practice helps sales leaders evolve their sales teams, enhance performance, achieve sustainable results, and gain the ultimate competitive advantage by focusing on helping their clients succeed. The Reflex Gear Assessment tool is just one in a myriad of tools developed by FranklinCovey. For more information about FranklinCovey’s Sales Performance Solutions, please email:

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