James Carbary

Founder at Sweet Fish Media

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How to Avoid the F-Word in Business

James Carbary

Founder at Sweet Fish Media

Full Profile »

If brand equity exists in the B2C world, then is there such a thing as sales equity in the B2B marketplace?

Let’s think of it this way– Coca-Cola doesn’t necessarily care about the perception of an individual consumer that may bring in $100 a year. However, the relationship with the individual head soft drink buyer at WalMart…now that’s a perception they care about.

In the B2B marketplace, especially if you’re competing in a mature industry, the value of the individual becomes paramount. The people involved in the deal often carry and convey more of the value than the brand itself.

That’s what “sales equity” is all about.

We sat down with Tom Cates, CEO and Chief Storyteller at Sales Equity, a Customer Experience platform built to measure complex B2B relationships, expose blind spots, and identify cross-selling/up-selling opportunities.

They’ve packaged a series of tools, industry benchmarks, and patented methodologies to help clients build sales equity, improve relationships, and increase profits.

Tom explained the horrid F-word in business, its impact on sales equity, and how to avoid hearing it from your clients. This is what he shared.

The F-Word

At the end of the day, B2B sales relationships boil down to one question:

Do I want to work with this person?

Answering that question is when your customer decides if you are (or could be) a trusted advisor or are simply a transactional vendor that’s just fine?

There it is…the F-Word in business:


If you’ve ever been in a relationship, you know that fine never means fine.

Same goes for sales. Hearing that your customer is “fine” is the first signal that you’re replaceable. Hearing that your customer is “fine” is the first signal that you’re replaceable.


Your tenancy is limited unless you learn how to take control of the relationship and move up their chain.

Understand Where Your Customers Stand

Avoid hearing “fine” by preventing it. Understanding where you stand with a client is the first step.

Areas you might think you’re covering well could actually be the areas you’re struggling the most.  At SalesEquity, you have the ability to send out questionnaires to your clients and get their feedback on your product or service.

Before you’re able to see their results, you answer the same questions posing as your client. Once you can view all the results, you can easily see your blind spots and where you are missing the mark.

Three questions they like to use are:

  • What’s something we’re doing well?
  • What’s something you want to change?
  • What’s something else you want to tell us?

Notice that the word fine was nowhere to be found.

How to Graduate From Fine to Fantastic

In any industry, there is a level of performance that is average. Let’s call this “the pack.”

There may be nothing wrong with being in the pack, but nothing exceptional about it either.

You’re perfectly average.

The reality of being average is that you could go out of business tomorrow, and your customers wouldn’t care all that much. They would go and replace you with one of your competitors.

For example, think of the insurance industry. Most of us have an insurance broker of some kind– auto, life, home, business, you get the picture.

If your insurance broker disappeared tomorrow, would you care? You might wonder where they disappeared to (Cayman Islands, Switzerland, Kansas?), but most of us would simply find another broker and move on with our lives.

Most of the time insurance brokers do exactly what you pay them to do, and nothing more. This is not how you want to position your business.

The difference between fine and fantastic sales relationships is graduating out of the average vendor role into a trusted advisor.

In this advisor role, your client is 9x more likely to call you first when a problem arises. You will also get 4x more tenure graduating from a transactional vendor to the fantastic advisor.

Tom highlighted the six dimensions of the trusted advisor. They are broken down into “satisfiers” and ”motivators”:


Satisfiers are things everybody needs to be doing regardless of where you stand with your client. They include:

  • Integrity: do your buyers think you’re going to do what you promised?
  • Competency: do your buyers believe that you know YOUR business? Do you have the tools and expertise to do what you need to do?

Remember, you don’t get any extra points for delivering what you promised you’d deliver. You don’t get any extra points for delivering what you promised to deliver.



There’s a difference between satisfying someone and motivating them to want to do business with you. Here are the four motivators:

  • Recognition: do your buyers believe you care about them as individuals?
  • Proactivity: do they believe you bring new ideas to the table? Do they believe you look out for their best interests?
  • Savvy: do your buyers believe you know THEIR business? (savvy is the flip side of competency)
  • Chemistry: do you work well together? Do you click?

Once you’ve got the satisfiers and motivators figured out, how do you become a trusted advisor?

Now Become a Trusted Advisor

Have we whet your appetite enough to become a trusted advisor?

Alright, first things first– integrity.

What are the behaviors that make a person believe someone has integrity? How do you show someone reliability?

Imagine you’re out to a restaurant, the waiter comes over to take your order, and doesn’t take a single note. He may have it all dialed in, but for the next twenty minutes, all you are doing is worrying that your chicken marsala with no mushrooms is going to be smothered in mushrooms.

The waiter didn’t communicate to you that he can be trusted, or that he has integrity. He might have your precise order in his head, but the act of jotting it down is a way he could’ve communicated that he was listening and that things will be delivered as you ordered.

The key to showing integrity is creating value AND communicating it. If you offer tons of value, but don’t communicate it clearly, then you’re going to be at a loss.

In a meeting with your client- take notes, type them up, and email them to your client after the meeting. Ask if they have anything to add or edit.

This transparent communication of value shows integrity and will build trust in the relationship.

Another way to show integrity is to identify your customers’ problems upstream.

Be ten steps ahead on market shifts, audience trend changes, and relevant news that could affect their business, and bring it to their attention.

You will start to become someone they look to for advice and come to solve their looming problems.


The moment your client utters the f- word is the beginning of the end.

It shows that you’re replaceable and expendable. But with the right questions, effort, and integrity, you can go from “fine” to “fantastic” in no time.

This post is based on an interview with Tom Cates from SalesEquity You can find this interview, and many more, by subscribing to the B2B Growth Show on iTunes.