How to Become a Trusted Advisor to Your Customers

In sales, as in life sometimes, you’re either valued or you’re forgotten. After you’ve made a sale, do you want to be vaguely recalled as “That person who sold us something that one time,” or would you rather be known for your expertise, dependability, work ethic, follow-through and trustworthiness?

Customers have two mental buckets for thinking about sales professionals. In one is the order taker, or vendor. Vendors are interchangeable. They’re like taxis when you need them: They’ll take you where you want to go, then you’ll get out and never know that taxi from the next one you take to get from point A to point B. The following characterizes the vendor:

  • They have zero understanding of the needs of the customer
  • They do not focus on connecting with or developing relationships with customers
  • Their sole aim is to close the sale, with no consideration of customer needs
  • They do not challenge the customer’s thinking or offer options and alternatives
  • They offer no insights or ideas on the application of products or services

In the customer’s other mental bucket is the strategic partner, also known as the trusted advisor—the person they can turn to with questions, or for problem-solving, or for advice, or as the individual they call upon when they need to purchase a solution. The trusted advisor is known for:

  • Possessing a complete understanding of customer needs (both known and unknown)
  • Putting the utmost importance on connecting with and developing relationships with customers
  • Making customers’ needs the No. 1 priority in the sales process (to the point of being willing to walk away from a sale)
  • Always being willing to challenge the customer’s thinking and offer options and alternatives, no matter how strong customer’s opinions are
  • Always seeking to offer insights or ideas on the application of products or services

The Cost to You

So are you a vendor, or a trusted advisor? The good news is, the choice is yours. Because you and only you are in control of how you’re perceived by customers. But it all depends on your approach: If you treat a customer like just another transaction, they’ll likely treat you as just another vendor. When this is the case, there is no chance of building a productive rapport. Not only that, but the customer will focus on a single factor, price. And when price is the basis of your relationship, the cost to you is that you won’t retain customers over the long haul. It’s simple. When you’re no one to them, sooner or later some other no one will come along and offer a better price. Then—boom—instead of retaining the customer, you won’t even be part of their mental retention.

In other words, you get what you pay for when customer relationships are treated in the “fast food” fashion, like a disembodied voice ordering a burger and fries into a clown’s mouth. Sales is a people business. There’s no self-checkout, no phone tree, no “we are experiencing longer than normal wait times.” In this age of automation, one thing remains the same in sales—people
sell to people. Vendors can come close to being widgets. But as trusted advisors, we’re good stewards of our customer base, and we keep our people skills sharp.

Communication, Communication, Communication

As a trusted advisor, you will stay in touch, positioning yourself to be there for the customer, whether you expect to make a sale or not. Check in with them. Show interest in their business. See what projects are in their pipeline. If you’re on top of all that, you can offer your expertise—you might have something to share that would be a value-add for them, and you can discuss ways you and your company will be able and ready to deliver solutions. But don’t fake your interest. Be genuine. Be yourself. You’re in this business for many reasons, but one of them is your desire to problem-solve. The customer has an issue and, hey, you have a great solution. Right?

The Future Begins With History

They always say you should live in the present. But sales is different. It’s the vendor who lives in the moment: making a quick sale, moving on to the next one, making that sale—or not—and moving on again. If you would rather be a trusted advisor than just some glad-handing, Jane or John Doe sales drone, never put a transaction ahead of your relationship with your customer. Trusted advisors may seize the moment, but they know their history and they always have the future in mind. As a rule, they place greater value on the customer relationship than on the commission check.

Trusted advisors have clearly defined priorities that help keep customers on the right path. At the point of making a sale, be certain you’re assisting the customer in understanding the urgency of their needs. Be sure as well to define clearly the problem you’ll be solving for them. Through our research, we’ve discovered that more buyers than ever are scouring the internet prior to meeting with salespeople. Part of your job is to help them sort out and make sense of the data blitz that is the web. You’re also there to translate that information so that it makes layperson’s sense to the customer. Far from being a chore, this is a great opportunity to help customers navigate around the information-clog of the internet, which has muddied their decision-making process. This is the perfect time for you to tout the benefits and plusses of your products and services and how they’ll dovetail perfectly with the customer’s needs.

A trusted advisor is more than a salesperson. The term is synonymous with “strategic partner” because they’re allied with customers in the common cause of carrying out best practices for business, now and down the road. Trusted advisors are not only there pre-sale, but post-sale as well, because they hold themselves accountable for outcomes following a sale. As a trusted advisor, make sure your customers understand and appreciate that—along with the many other things you bring to the relationship.