The Trusted Advisor Relationship: What Is It, and What Should It Be?

For the past months, maybe a year, I've been hearing sales groups talk about the need to become Trusted Advisors (I'll call them TAs). I suspect that the problems cropping up in the sales arena these days ? the increased length of the sales cycle, the increased levels of competition - are leading sales management to base their initiatives on being of true service to prospects, as a way to seem different from the competition.

But by everyone attempting to become TAs, and by not changing the basic skill set ? or belief set or outcome - of the sales force, sellers are doing more of the same, but with a different name.

Sorry to be so blunt, but let's look at the facts here.

1. So long as you are trying to sell your product, the entire discussion with prospects will be biased: the questions will be biased, the help you offer will be biased, the prospect's responses will be biased.

2. Buyers won't trust a sales person they don't know. They can't, which means interactions will have to occur over time, and at the mercy of how the long it takes the prospect to trust you.

3. The criteria that buyers will use to take advice from a sales person is dependent upon many mysterious factors that you can't know up front. Therefore, you'e flying blind as you were before trying to be a TA.

4. If everyone is attempting to be a TA, what differentiates anyone? And what if the prospect is getting conflicting advice? What if the prospect is getting the exact same advice ? through several different sales people?

5. If you are only asking questions around the area that your product supports, how can you truly advise a prospect who lives in a complex system ? which all of us, and all of our prospects, do?

6. How can you truly be offering advice if you cannot know the entire internal fact pattern that has created and maintained the buyer's problem over time?

Net net: this seems to me like just another buzzword.

THE CURRENT BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT

Let's see what needs to happen before you can actually call yourself an advisor. First, you'll need to understand the system that your buyers live within.

Your buyers are facing many new challenges these days. Their competition (or in the B2C area, the range of products offered) is so complex that they have to manage a world-wide competition with competitors that they don't even know. To remain competitive and fresh, the prospects need to initiate frequent innovation that will potentially bring in new business partners, support new initiatives, and manage change as quickly as possible.

As a result, there is a continual flow of new decisions, new decision makers, new initiatives, new rules, roles, norms, and problems that need to be managed that have not been in play before now. And the prospect may or may not be familiar with the full range of issues that will affect him and that need to be managed.

I recently called a client's prospect on a very large, long-term sales effort that had been going on for years. It seemed the prospect needed the service badly and it was costing them large sums of money as a result of not adopting the seller's product. My client's people were very professional, knew all of the problems attached to the perfect solution, and were offering very high quality advice as TAs.

And yet the decision was dragging on, and through different managers as people came and went ? without a decision being taken. Everyone even tried to go around the problem and the immediate players, to no avail. When I called, it became apparent that there was an entirely different 'soft' problem ? a human problem - that had nothing to do with the specifics of my client's solution, and no one had addressed that problem at all. Yet so long as it continued to remain unresolved, the sale wouldn't happen.

My client was doing a fine job of being a TA; the team of sellers have been entirely knowledgeable, professional, and very supportive of their prospect. They had even become friends over the years. But they weren't managing the real issue ? one that no one had recognized.

For some reason, when you see a problem that your solution can fix, you think the only decision that your prospect needs to make is whether or not to purchase your product. In reality, deciding on your product is the last decision that will get made, after the prospect figures out all she needs to attend to in order to design a solution acceptable to all of the internal elements.

HOW A SELLER CAN ADVISE

Given the type and number of number of decisions the prospect needs to make, you can now make a real difference to your prospect by helping him recognize all of the internal elements he needs to manage before you pitch your product.

Until now, you've concentrated your assistance on that area that your product can support. But think about systems for a moment: a system is a conglomeration of all of the elements that determine the status quo. To flush it out a bit, I'll use the RIPP model ? Relationships, Interventions, People, and Policies.

Relationships include: vendors, partners, stakeholders.

Interventions include: boards, media, market forces, mandates, policies.

People includes: roles and job descriptions, management and leadership styles, values and beliefs, and personality issues.

Policies include: rules, history, norms, goals, initiatives, and time frames.

The above comprise the systems elements that live within every system, defined here in human terms, and included in personal relationships, corporations, sole-proprietors, and every group or team in every industry. You have all of the elements of RIPP in your family, your primary love relationship, your work, your team. And until or unless all of the elements are addressed, any change would create chaos.

Systems don't like chaos, and they try to fix things internally before they are willing to come up against any areas of discomfort within the system. In other words, prospects will try to fix their problem themselves before they make a purchase with a new vendor. Remember that your product is not what they seek ? they merely seek to solve a business problem in a way that will cause the least disruption.

So even if your product is the perfect solution, the prospect will be unable to make the decision to purchase it until she has examined and rejected all familiar fixes.

THE LENGTH OF THE DECISION

What's stopping your prospect from examining these elements sooner? To start with, it's hard to notice something wrong when everything feels normal - much like a fish being unaware of the water it's swimming in.

Have you ever looked at pictures of yourself from years back and noticed things like extra weight, a bad haircut, a questionable outfit? when at the time, it all seemed fine? What about at your job, when you've followed the same rules or routines for a period of time until they are changed, and you notice that it's much easier in the new routine ? and wondered why you didn't change sooner? What about relationships ? those friendships that are so difficult but continue under force of time, but when they are ended, you wonder how you ever maintained them?

It's difficult to see all of our own internal, personal idiosyncrasies, as our current state seems rather fine as it is or we would have changed it already. Remember that systems include all that is - the good, bad, and ugly. But it probably does not look good, bad, or ugly because it just 'is' and feels normal that way.

We don't question our natural state unless some new information or idea or activity gets us to step away from our comfort zone and see a wholly different view. It's only then we realize that a change needs to happen. But note that we keep people and systems around us that will continually reinforce our world view, as it's too difficult to consider the possibility that we're wrong.

And so it is with our prospects. They live in a system that just 'is'. They can't see what might be problematic since it feels normal. As an outsider, you might be able to see a problem, but in reality you have no idea how the problem became created, how it is maintained, what connections are important for the working of the entire system, and you're basically on the outside looking in.

THE JOB OF AN ADVISOR

If you want to become a true TA for your prospect, use your connection to navigate your prospect through all of the internal decisions she needs to make before she can even think about designing a solution [see: People Do Not Decide Emotionally].

Become a guide through the buyer's system. Forget your product, and lead the prospect through the rules, the roles, the initiatives, and the relationships that need to be examined before anything new will happen. They need to do that anyway ? with you or without you ? if they are going to decide to do something new and make a purchase. They certainly won't make a decision to purchase anything until or unless they've discovered their own answers and design their own solution. The time it takes prospects to make a purchasing decision is the length of the sales cycle. They don't care how long it takes ? they'd much prefer it was quicker rather than slower. They could use some help: it might as well come from you. Then you would be a true Trusted Advisor: to do that, you'll have to forego selling.

Sharon Drew Morgen is the author of NYTimes Best Seller Selling with Integrity. She speaks, teaches and consults globally around her visionary sales method, Buying Facilitation.

http://www.newsalesparadigm.com http://www.sharondrewmorgen.com 512-457-0246 Morgen Facilitations, Inc. Austin, TX

In The News:


New York Times

For Apple, iPhone Roars and iPad Whimpers
Wall Street Journal
Despite what new Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri characterized on the analysts' conference call as "new product rumors" pushing customers to hold off on potential purchases, iPhone sales were at the high end of Apple's expectations, he said.
Apple Reports $7.7 Billion Profit on Strong iPhone SalesNew York Times
With sales sputtering, Apple's iPad looks to IBM allianceReuters
Will Apple's Larger iPhone Kill iPad Sales?Bloomberg
Forbes -Apple Insider -Re/code
all 1,497 news articles »

OnWindows.com

Disappearing Act: Xbox Sales Plummet While Microsoft's Other Devices ...
Forbes
That said, Microsoft can't hide the fact that sales have been so tepid in 2014, it's been working through channel inventory and manufacturing barely any new consoles. Consider these stats: In the prior quarter, Microsoft reported 2 million console ...
Microsoft reveals Surface Mini writeoff, phone salesThe Seattle Times (blog)

all 71 news articles »

USA TODAY

June Existing Home Sales Hit Highest Pace Since October
Forbes
Sales of existing, or previously owned, homes last month rose 2.6% to an annualized, seasonally adjusted pace of 5.04 million, the highest pace since October 2013, when the pace was 5.13 million. However, June's sales pace is still 2.3% below the 5.16 ...
Existing-home sales hit fastest pace since Oct.USA TODAY
Existing-Home Sales Hit Highest Level Since OctoberWall Street Journal
Wisconsin home sales rebound in JuneGreen Bay Press Gazette
Cincinnati.com -Bangor Daily News -ABC News
all 243 news articles »

Forbes

The Golden Arches Lose Their Shine: McDonald's Profit Falls As US Sales ...
Forbes
Is it time to officially declare that Quarter-Pounders are out and burritos are in? On the heels of Chipotle's better-than-expected second quarter results — the fast-casual chain reported a 17% surge in same-store-sales — competitor McDonald's ...
McDonald's Profit Slips as US Sales Lag AgainNew York Times
McDonald's profit slips as US sales continue to sufferU.S. News & World Report
Wall Street grills McDonald's on plans to improve salesMarketWatch (blog)
Bloomberg
all 224 news articles »

Reuters

Harley-Davidson Lowers Full-Year Guidance on Disappointing Q2 Retail Sales
Forbes
However, the Milwaukee-based motorcycle manufacturer's stock fell by over 5% just after the announcement of quarterly results as the company lowered its full-year shipment guidance on less than expected retail sales. Worldwide retail sales remained ...
Harley-Davidson Upstaged by Polaris in Motorcycle SalesWall Street Journal
Harley Sinks as Annual Shipment Outlook Cut on SalesBloomberg
UPDATE 3-Harley-Davidson cuts outlook on weak US salesReuters

all 126 news articles »

TIME

Apple Sees Surging iPhone Sales, but iPad Sluggish
TIME
At $19.8 billion in sales, the iPhone comprised nearly 53 percent of Apple's total revenue. iPhone sales were down compared to to the second quarter, when the device sold 43.7 million units. The period between April and June has historically been a ...


Vancouver Sun

Canada Retail Sales Climb in May
Wall Street Journal
April's data were revised upward to indicate retail sales advanced 1.3% versus the earlier estimate of a 1.1% gain. In volume terms, retail sales in May rose 0.4%. On a year-over-year basis, retail sales rose 4%. May's result marked the fourth advance ...
Canada Retail Sales Rose 0.7% in May on Automobile RecordBloomberg
UPDATE 2-Canadian retail sales up 0.7 pct in May to new recordReuters
Canada Retail Sales Increased 0.7% in MayNASDAQ
RTT News
all 61 news articles »

Retail Trade Group Reduces Annual Sales Forecast
ABC News
The figures include sales in stores and online but exclude automotive sales and sales at gas stations and restaurants. Online sales, which account for about 6 percent of total sales, are expected to rise about 10 percent this year, according to the ...

and more »

Home sales in central Ohio fell in June as inventories remained scarce
Columbus Dispatch
During the month, 2,856 homes changed hands, down 3 percent from the previous June for the sixth consecutive month of year-over-year declines. The persistent combination of low sales, high prices and a lack of homes on the market has led some experts ...

and more »

Wall Street Journal

Whirlpool Hit by Falling Sales Outside US
Wall Street Journal
The Benton Harbor, Mich.-based maker of washers, refrigerators and other home appliances blamed lower sales in Brazil and China, rising material costs and higher spending on marketing and new products. "The second half will be much better than the ...
Whirlpool cuts outlook as China sales plunge ahead of mergerReuters

all 53 news articles »
Google News

How to Revive a Dead Lead

It's easy to spend days, weeks, or months speaking with... Read More

Selling with Purpose

Selling With Purpose What is it about selling that makes... Read More

Sales Letters - How to Write Them

You could just send out your brochure to potential customers... Read More

Voice Mail That Sells

As a business owner, I receive my share of sales... Read More

Picture Yourself a Winner

In the work place, the amount of good things that... Read More

Six Simple Steps for Getting More Applications

When I first started out as a loan officer, one... Read More

Do Your Customers Buy On Price Alone?

Here are four simple things you can do to take... Read More

Incentive Dilemma:

Manufacturers and distributors are rolling out more sales incentive programs... Read More

Sales Brochures - 9 Steps to Success

Even in this day of websites, many customers want to... Read More

5 Tips to Choosing a Direct Sales Business

With hundreds of direct sales companies out there, how do... Read More

Where to Find Mannequins for Sale

Any time a clothing store opens or expands, they must... Read More

Exporting to Europe: Not the Challenges You Think

If you plan to do sell your product or service... Read More

How to create your own Unique Selling Proposition

Why would a prospect buy from you rather than from... Read More

5 Ideas for Writing Effective Sales Letters

Sales letters, sent via e-mail or snail mail, are an... Read More

Define Your Best Customer

To be more effective at developing relationships, one should always... Read More

A Look at Child Mannequins

Not all mannequins are made to look like full-grown adults.... Read More

Color Psychology Will Make Or Break Your Sales Success

Color psychology is the biggest question I receive on a... Read More

How to Sell Your Products Without Competition

Selling your products at shows can be difficult when you... Read More

Create a Magic Connection with Clients, Leads, and Business Associates Part II

Part I of this article explored how strategies of Neuro-Linguistic... Read More

What is a Pitch?

I've been training in countries outside the U.S. recently, and... Read More

Who Takes Your Money

Your business is making profits, but where is the cash?... Read More

Why You Buy, Part Three

Still more discoveries from the recent studies in behavioral economics:Over-Valuing... Read More

Selling Against Goliath

Selling Against Goliath?How to Take on the Big Guys and... Read More

Asking The Right Questions

On an introductory call, how do you gather all of... Read More

10 Amazing Product Selling Formulas

1. Sell your products at a wholesale price to retail... Read More