August 6, 2012

Salespeople acting as “trusted advisors” might be frowned upon by some corporate sales training professionals, misconstruing the term to mean taking a roundabout, feeble approach to selling. This is erroneous — the whole point of advising the client is to ensure they succeed in their endeavors by making the right purchasing decisions. If a particular company’s product or service truly provides the best solution, then obviously that is what the buyer should happily get involved with, and it is the salesperson’s job to help lead them to this decision.

An excellent summary of the correct mindset that should be adopted by a corporate sales training program comes from a report by Baylor University’s Hankamer Business School: “A [trusted advisor’s] distinct role is to help a client reduce uncertainty surrounding decisions for which the client is responsible.” Bingo!

Here is how to use the trusted advisor approach in sales:

The first step is to learn to listen.

A salesperson who simply charges in offering solutions and assumes she knows what the buyer needs, and what he will respond to, will end up with egg on her face more times than not. Corporate sales training professionals should keep in mind that the only thing which drives a purchasing decision is what is real to the buyer, not the saleswoman.

The only way to discover the reality of the buyer is to listen to them. The pro salesperson doesn’t allow pointless rambling, however, but steers the prospect to discover what she needs to know to make an intelligent offering.

Ask the right questions

Once a business problem or opportunity is discovered, questions should be used to reveal the need with the highest potential for motivating action.

• “In your opinion, what is causing the problem (or is behind the opportunity)?” Questions along this vein help the prospect narrow down the root cause of the issue while illuminating potential solutions for the salesperson.

• Next, any variation of the following should be asked to establish an emotional connection: “What are the consequences to your company, and to you personally, if the current situation drags on?” Whatever he answers, it will increase the sense of urgency to act in the buyer’s mind. If the salesperson demonstrates genuine empathy towards helping the buyer address their personal stake, the odds for a closeable sale increase.

Ask for the business — you’ve earned it!

The magic of acting as a trusted advisor is that in the process of discovering the high-potential need, a deeper level of rapport is built. Giving someone the opportunity to talk about their problems, while lending a sympathetic ear, tends to do that. Here is where the trust is built, and the buyer expects to be offered some sort of a fix to their problem — so do it.

If the buying decision is delayed, following up with more questions can glean more data and open the door to another closing opportunity.

• “So I can zero in on the capabilities that would separate us from the competition, can you tell me who you are considering besides us?”

• “What do you look for when choosing a new solution provider?

• “Who will make the buying decision?”

• “Is there anything else I need to know?”

Sometimes the solutions have to be creatively structured to fit the buyer’s exact needs, but this is only discoverable by establishing rapport and trust to get the buyer to open up with the real data needed to close the sale.

To sum up, corporate sales training programs might benefit greatly from creating trusted advisors that build relationships instead of hard-selling prospects.