Sales is all about kicking butt and taking names. The best sellers get in, get out, land the big deal and move on to the next one. It’s all about putting your strategy for an account first, and everything else will fall in place. Right?
What if we told you that becoming the best seller in the world had nothing to do with antiquated, lone wolf –run-and-gun tactics and everything to do with – drum roll…becoming a trusted advisor to your client?
What is a trusted advisor?
We’re glad you asked. The trusted advisor status is the single greatest achievement a seller can hope to attain in his or her relationships with a customer. It means being brought into the inner-circle, being there when the big questions are asked, and the big decisions are made. In the words of Aaron Burr from the hit Musical Hamilton, you need to be in the room where it happens, the room where it happens. Being a trusted advisor is how you get into that room.
In Not Just Another Vendor, the latest, indispensable book on account planning to come out of Altify, we learn about one seller who took a long time to learn this lesson. Sales were good, but they weren’t great. Sales legend, Todd Adair – MHCL | GE Healthcare – wanted to know how to step things up.
Trusted advisor status came indirectly for Todd Adair
Some are born great,
some achieve greatness,
and some have greatness thrust upon them.
Todd Adair might be something of a mixture of those three. He was certainly born with the right stuff to go from being a bicycle-based book salesman one day to a bonafide sales leader almost the next. He certainly worked hard to achieve that status, but once he found himself in this place of greatness, he realized there was more expected from him if he was going to really deliver for his customers.
This all reached a catalyst in regards to one specific account. By all objective measures, the relationship with that account was going fantastically, generating between 40 and 50 million dollars every year.
“They were accustomed to buying from us,” says Todd. “Obviously, there was competition out there, but I was showing up on a frequent basis, and they were saying yes. From my perspective, I figured, well, they’re buying from me, right? They’re giving me their business. So, they must be getting the value they need.”
But something seemed off to Todd. The more he dug into the particulars of the account, the more he realized a growing gap between his knowledge and the customer’s problems.
“What I didn’t truly understand at the time was, well, why? Why are they budgeting that amount? Why are they replacing that piece of technology today? Why not last year? Why not in three years? I’d never been trained to ask those types of questions.”
Few sellers are trained to ask the right questions
In a perfect world, sellers come armed with the most relevant information, and unique, creative solutions to customer problems they may not even be aware of. That perfect world, however, is not the one we are living in. In fact, it is much more common for a seller to simply pull whatever immediate information is available and shoot that over to a prospective customer in the form of a proposal, then move onto the next big fish.
This is not how real relationships are made.
Instead, sellers need to deeply understand the people they are selling to, and their unique problems.
Becoming a trusted advisor starts with asking these questions
As we’ll see in a bit, changing this hunter-vs-prey mindset in sales is a big challenge. But it can be done. It starts with asking the right questions. These questions include:
- Who matters?
- How do they think?
- What is the current relationship?
- What is the relationship gap?
- How can that gap be bridged?
- What goals, pressures, initiatives, and obstacles are top of mind for key players?
- How do our solutions solve the key challenges facing the account?
The tipping point in Todd’s journey to trusted advisor
Sales leaders often find preexisting mindsets to be the biggest challenge in achieving that trusted advisor status. Inertia is, after all, one of the strongest forces in the universe.
Upon making the realization that there was a great deal about his customers he didn’t know, however, Todd began to battle-down the mindset that had hindered growth in the account.
“I stopped approaching our conversations from a vendor-client perspective,” says Todd. “Instead, I started coming from a curiosity mindset. I told them, ‘Help me understand your business better. You may not be using my technology today, but I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about you.’”
At first, the customer wasn’t sure what to make of his new persona. “Their reaction,” he recalls, “was shock.”
“We’ve been doing business with you for years,” one leader finally exclaimed, saying out loud what everyone in the room was thinking. “Why are you just now asking about my business?”
Now it was Todd’s turn for shock.
“You should have been doing this all along,” the leader continued. “But you haven’t.”
It was a gut punch. But like any good salesperson, Todd is more adept than the average person at bouncing back. “It was a very vulnerable moment,” he admits. “But their reaction fueled a fire in me. I knew at that instant that I was onto something. Now, I needed to learn even more.”
How to Become a Trusted Advisor in Three Steps
While learning this lesson was clearly quite painful (a lesser man would’ve cried, but Todd Adair, is, after all a great man), it can be avoided with the right approach from the start. Todd was able to eventually turn things around and grow revenue far beyond what would’ve been possible without putting the relationship at the heart of the sale.
However, you can follow these steps and learn from him so you approach your accounts with this mindset from the start.
Step #1 – Know your blind spots
Every seller has blind spots. Todd’s was he thought he knew more than he did. This could be yours, or it could be something else. Whatever the truth, it’s up to you whether or not those blind spots remain in the dark, or if they are brought into the light. Challenge yourself: Do you know the answers to “why” questions, or only to “what” questions?
Step #2 – Sometimes, it pays to be vulnerable
While no matter where you reside within the ivory halls of capitalism, competition is part of your day-to-day life. Competing for resources is a daily struggle, defining where you live, where you shop, even what car you drive. Sellers, however, are more attuned to this daily struggle than anyone else.
Because competition is so fierce, it can be very challenging to open yourself up to vulnerability. The only remedy to this is to admit what you don’t know and be open with your customers about how you’re trying to deepen your understanding. Do this with your customers and, like Todd, you’ll be amazed at the results, and the strengthened relationships that follow.
Step #3 – Seek to deeply understand your customers
It’s impossible to deliver real, consistent value to your customer without deeply understanding them. The lone wolf seller firing proposals off all day, every day will never get close enough to this step to become a trusted advisor.
As you move through your account, building relationships with the people that matter, you’ll soon discover the real challenges your customers are facing. As you validate those challenges with your customers, you may even unearth issues they themselves didn’t know they had!
It is possible to become a trusted advisor
While becoming a trusted advisor in each and every account you look to do business with might seem daunting, it is possible when you follow these steps, combined with strong account planning best practices, sales methodology, and the right technology
After all, Todd made the change – you can, too.
“The biggest change for me was that I started trying to identify problems,” he says. “I stopped being afraid to go in and sit down with key stakeholders and just say, ‘Hey, here’s your business as I understand it. Do I have that right?’”
In other words, Todd began to prioritize validating what he understood to be his customer’s priorities. And he always came prepared. “It was one thing to have the discussion, but it was another thing to have a literal document—a piece of paper—that I could bring in that showed explicitly how I saw their business,” he says. “This kind of visual, physical insight map took a lot more work, but it was a game changer.”
Benefits of trusted advisor status – Why it’s the new status symbol in sales
Forget landing your next big deal. Forget your strategy. Forget the Ferrari – “trusted advisor” is the new status symbol in sales. Today’s selling is all about relationships. Putting your customer at the center of everything you do – seeking to understand unique challenges and problems in account is how you earn your seat at the strategy table. This is how you become a trusted advisor. And the trusted advisor status is worth achieving. Sellers who achieve this lofty status gain benefits far beyond any other exclusive sellers club. Benefits like:
- An insider’s view at their customer’s business roadmap and opportunities imminent on the horizon.
- Unparalleled growth opportunities to expand, upsell and grow net new opportunities in new, existing accounts, and from referrals.
- The best possible position to defend from – within the customer’s own veritable fortress of good will to keep the wolves at bay.
Todd’s accounts managed in his new, customer-centric, account planning approach to selling quickly outpaced the traditionally managed accounts at his company – nearly doubling revenue growth in those accounts. The proof is, as they say, in the pudding.