Earning Trusted Advisor Status—and Benefits

By David Yesford, Michael Leimbach, PhD

Many sales leaders urge their salespeople to become trusted advisors—but just telling them to do so doesn’t work, obviously!

And the stakes are high. A Salesforce study showed that 95% of customers say that if they trust a salesperson and company, they’re more likely to become loyal clients.

So what does it take to achieve trusted advisor status—and the rewards that come with it? Let’s explore three key principles that point the way.

1. Creating the Trust in Trusted Advisor

We’ve all seen the pronouncements that “relationship selling is dead,” but salespeople know that trust—the very foundation of relationship selling—is the foundation of strong advisory relationships with customers.

Building trust requires both a mindset and a set of actions. As a mindset, salespeople must truly believe helping customers solve problems is their job. Customers can sense when a salesperson is more focused on making a sale than on the customer’s needs and priorities.

In addition to the right mindset, trusted advisors know how to demonstrate their sincere interest in helping the customer—showing empathy, demonstrating credibility and competence, and anticipating and addressing concerns that the key contact, and his or her stakeholders, have.

In fact, building trust starts before the meeting. The Salesforce study showed that 78% of B2B buyers seek salespeople with knowledge of their industry and needs. The biggest mistake a salesperson can make is asking a customer, “What keeps you up at night?” Customers expect salespeople to do their research and at least have a sense of what their primary concerns might be.1

These actions and mindset help salespeople approach the buy/sell process with authenticity, passion, and positive intentions. Building trust is about who the salesperson is and what he or she does—how the salesperson communicates through actions focused on customers and their needs.

Customer behaviors seem to be saying that they don’t trust salespeople’s intent and don’t see them as credible advisors.

2. Facilitate the Customer’s Buying Process

Sales executives have drilled into salespeople the importance of following a systematic “sales process.” What gets lost in translation is that selling is about helping customers buy—in a way that works for them.

Salespeople who blindly adhere to a specific five (or seven or nine) sales process steps are the antithesis of the trusted advisor. Trusted advisors help customers navigate their own internal buying processes and committees. In short, they help customers buy the way they want to buy, not in the way the salesperson wants to sell.

Furthermore, the customer buying process has changed. Forrester’s “The Birth of the B2B Consumer” report shows that 68% of B2B buyers prefer gathering their own information online before contacting a salesperson.2 A McKinsey study revealed that, on average, B2B customers use six different interaction channels throughout the decision journey, including online sources and communication with sales team members. The McKinsey research showed that as a result of these multiple influence sources, two-thirds of B2B deals are lost before a formal RFP process even begins.3

Facilitating the customer’s buying process as a trusted advisor helps salespeople bring value to the customer while avoiding the downsides of this shifting dynamic in the buy/sell process. Doing so often includes helping the customer:

  • Address the urgency behind their high-priority business issues and defining the problem that needs to be solved
  • See new potential solutions to the problem
  • Determine which elements of any given solution have value for them and which don’t
  • Obtain support for the solution within their own organization and create alignment for action

A seller-centric sales process does not help customers navigate their own complex internal buying processes. Guiding the buy/sell process requires a multi-directional conversation between the trusted advisor and customer stakeholders to understand their key issues and act with urgency.

The best ‘selling process’ does not sell; it enables the customer to buy.

3. Making Sense of Complexity

Since buyers have an infinite—and overwhelming—volume of information at their fingertips, the trusted advisor role becomes helping them make sense of complexity, cutting through clutter to find answers.

Gartner Group research found that customers who perceive the information received from suppliers as helpful were 2.8 times more likely to experience ease in making a purchase. They also were three times more likely to buy more while experiencing less regret. More specifically, customers want sales teams to provide information focused on helping them make the buying decision—as opposed to sharing everything the salesperson knows about every potentially relevant topic.4

While all salespeople take action, many take the path of least resistance, doing what is comfortable or what they think is necessary to make the sale.

David Yesford

David Yesford, Senior Vice President of Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc. and Managing Director of Wilson Learning APAC, has more than 30 years of experience developing and implementing human performance improvement solutions around the world. He brings valuable experience, strategic direction, and global perspective to his work with clients. Mr. Yesford is an active member of the Wilson Learning Global Executive Board, with current responsibility at a global level. Over the years, he has held strategic roles in our core content areas of sales and leadership, as well as e-learning and strategic consulting. He has also held managing director positions in both China and India.

Mr. Yesford is the contributing author of several books, including Win-Win Selling, Versatile Selling, The Social Styles Handbook, and The Sales Training Book 2. He has also been published in numerous business publications throughout the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Asia Pacific. Mr. Yesford frequently speaks at international conferences and summits, focusing on issues such as sales and sales strategy, leadership, employee and customer engagement, brand, and strategy implementation.

Michael Leimbach, PhD

Michael Leimbach, PhD, is a globally recognized expert in instructional design and leadership development. As Vice President of Global Research and Development for Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc., he has worked with numerous Global 1000 organizations in Australia, England, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and throughout the United States. Over more than 30 years, Dr. Leimbach had developed Wilson Learning’s diagnostic, learning, and performance improvement capabilities, published over 100 professional articles, coauthored four books, been Editor-in-Chief for the highly acclaimed ADHR research journal, and is a frequent speaker at national and global conferences. He also serves on the ISO Technical Committee (TC232) on Quality Standards for Learning Service Providers and on the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development Dean’s Advisory Board.