In the B2B sales world, there’s been a lot of chatter about how relationship selling doesn’t work, how “it’s not about relationships anymore.” Whoa, whoa, whoa. Believe me—it is. The foundation of every great relationship you have in your life is trust. Sales is really no different. For sales teams to be more consultative, strategic, and valuable, they need to become trusted advisors. So how do you build a team of trusted advisors?
In our interview with Anthony Iannarino, the mind behind thesalesblog.com, we learned that the answer is to break that phrase down into its two parts: trust and advice, in that order.
Your sales team must establish trust before anything else. How do they do that?
They’ve got to care enough about people to really help them. This means each salesperson has to have difficult conversations with customers about the things they don’t want to do.
Here’s the reality: if your customers could have changed things on their own and gotten the result they needed, they would have done it. And if your competitor could have given the customer the right insight, they would have done it. The reason salespeople lose a relationship is because they’re not pushing hard enough to break through customer reluctance and be helpful. If you really care about people, you don’t let them hurt their businesses.
You have the uncomfortable conversations, and you take yourself out of the equation. You say, “This isn’t about me. It’s about them; how do I help?”
Let’s say one of your salespeople goes out to see a prospect who is not getting a certain result he wants. He thinks that he should be able to change partners and change prices and get the result he wants: in other words, get it better, faster, and cheaper.
Those three things are never, ever found together. Grownups know this. So the conversation has to be, “Hey, I want to serve you, but here’s what I know: you’re underinvesting in the result you need, and I want to talk about whether it makes sense for you to spend a little more in this category to get results and lower your overall cost. You’re losing money by not solving this problem: you just don’t see that money in the same way.”
Those conversations aren’t fun, but people ultimately hire who they know, like, and trust. Somebody who’s not willing to have hard conversations and think like a business partner can’t build that trust.
The benefits of building trust, by the way, multiply themselves. According to the most recent Edelman Trust Barometer, in the past year, 59% of people recommended companies to a friend or colleague based on their own trust in those companies.
Building trust is paramount, but if you’re going to be a trusted advisor, you’ve got to have the “advisor” part down, too. So what do you know?
In addition to sales acumen, your team needs to have business acumen, i.e., how the client’s and your businesses each work. Business acumen almost means knowing how the general economy fits in with various industries. As Anthony Iannarino told us, “We need to listen to CNBC on our radio as much as we listen to Howard Stern.”
In order to be successful, your salespeople need the ability to affect change inside an organization and to help lead that change. That’s what advisors do. So ask your team, “What do you know about the biggest trends impacting our customers? Why should they be changing to us right now?”
The modern salesperson is super-consultative. He or she is aware of all things impacting a client’s business, whether political, economic, or technological.
(Here’s a great composite resource for keeping up with various industry trends, although of course, you’ll have authorities in your specific industry as well.)
The best sales teams know how to first build trust, and then convey their industry knowledge through advice.
In order to reach the status of trusted advisors, your team has to differentiate themselves from the competition by having the hard conversations and staying completely up-to-date with industry trends.
Relationships still matter in the sales world. If they didn’t, there would be no such thing as a “trusted advisor.”