If you have ever read anything about creating the ideal salesperson, you will have seen discussions on becoming a Trusted Advisor. They all make it clear that this is something to aspire to, something that can be achieved by you knowing things, through your business and commercial acumen and, of course, your relationship skills..
I agree 100% but my concern is that the phrase is in danger of being turned into something that the salesperson achieves, as opposed to something the buyer bestows. To put it bluntly, I do not believe you can go on a training course and come out a Trusted Advisor. However, you can acquire the knowledge and skills to become a Value Creator and then, through effective execution of those skills and added experience, you can reach the position where customers consider you to be their Trusted Advisor.
Let me explain.
With the advent of the more knowledgeable buyer, the traditional feature and benefit salesperson, operating in a transactional manner, has been superseded by self-serve web-based procurement solutions. Beyond that, the solutions-oriented salesperson who added value by highlighting how their products and services solved identifiable problems, has been reduced to an RFP responder, as the buyer can do most of the solution-oriented discovery activities themselves. As has been highlighted by many a researcher into sales, if we do not do something different, then the salesperson will become obsolete.
Rather than add (or sell) value associated with our portfolio and packaged solutions, the ideal salesperson should be looking to create value, i.e. help the buyer uncover risks or opportunities associated with their current situation, as well as explore how, by working together, the risk could be mitigated or the opportunity grasped. To clarify, this is a business-oriented discussion about the buyer’s situation, preferably without talking about the seller’s company or offerings, beyond using examples that highlight the potential risk/opportunity that similar organizations have faced.
The language I use with clients is that we create value in two areas:
- We help the buyer identify reasons to change from their current situation. These reasons are based on sharing insights that highlight the potential risk that the buyer may face if they remain with the current service in place. Or, the opportunities they may be missing out on if they do not change. This should be a quantifiable business conversation that, where possible, links a financial impact to the identified risk or opportunity. As a Value Creator, the salesperson is not only trying to help their champion within the client, they are also providing them with sufficient insights and stories to use to generate consensus amongst the influential stakeholders to agree to consider change.
- Having gained consensus to change, then the question is, “What do we do differently?” Again, the Value Creator shows how an alternative approach can mitigate the previously identified risk, or deliver the promised outcome associated with new business opportunities. This is not solely talking about specific products, it is discussing the holistic approach that will ensure the buyer achieves their desired business outcomes - it is all about the buyer, not the seller.
If correctly done, the Value Creator can take the buyer from a position of, “I am happy” to one of, “We need to change and this is what the ideal change would look like”.
Then we can start to focus on who they buy from. Because we have been at the forefront of influencing the stakeholders’ reason for change and what they should change to, we have been helping them write their future RFP document. We have not been selling - we have been advising. We have not been adding value through our in-depth product knowledge and wide portfolio. Instead, we have been creating value by sharing insights and facilitating business conversations
Now, you may be thinking to yourself, haven’t I always done this? I have used my skills to translate identified issues into addressable needs, then positioned the value of my solutions against those needs and differentiated myself via the value we add as the best supplier.
Yes, you have been doing that. But, everything you have been doing is from the seller’s perspective. You have looked for problems you can solve, you have mapped your offerings to those solutions and then looked at how you could add value via your solution. There is nothing wrong with this, but at no stage have you created value.
Once you start creating value with your customers, then you are on the journey to being a Trusted Advisor, but how do you know when you have had that status bestowed upon you by your customer. In my opinion, the flip comes when your relationship changes from you reaching out to create value and instead the customer reaches out to you for advice. A true Trusted Advisor relationship exists when the customer rings you up to ask, “Can you help me understand if my current service is the optimal service for me to achieve my business outcomes?” They trust your advice to the extent that they see you as the ‘go to’ source to help them set strategy.
So let’s not conflate being liked by your customer (being a great solution provider) to the target level of Trusted Advisor where you create value at every interaction.