A catchphrase you are going to hear a lot in the sales field is “trusted advisor.” This cliché is thrown around like it is a simple thing to acquire; as if introducing yourself as a “trusted advisor” is enough. What does that mean and what does it take to be a trusted advisor? It takes time in front of as many prospects as possible. I’ve seen the best salespeople establish themselves as a trusted advisor early in the relationship by standing shoulder to shoulder with each prospect. These professionals achieve a higher level in less than 10 minutes by illustrating three components:

  1. Respect
  2. Empathy
  3. Wisdom

These are simple ideas with significant impact. Here are some pointers:

Respect — Given

Approach prospects with respect. This seems reasonable and apparent, and I know you know this, but sometimes our excitement and passion for selling causes us to overlook basics like showing respect for their time, their business, and especially their existing processes and purchases. Creating fear, uncertainty and doubt is not a good way to instill respect, let alone trust. Respect starts right from the initial call. Honor your client’s time by not blathering on about your company and asking him about his story.

Ask relevant, open-ended but not leading questions. Take handwritten notes and refer back to confirm your understanding — this shows respect. Tapping away on a laptop during a meeting is a distraction and disrespectful, even if your prospect agrees to you taking notes in this manner. Avoid the use of standard sales or interviewing techniques — clients have seen every single one, and you show disrespect every time you pose a leading query or obvious “trial close.

Warning: Just because you give respect does not mean you will earn respect. That’s a key: respect is earned. As a selling professional, you are expected to give respect first, without expectations. Do so.

Empathy — Through your prospect’s eyes

Selling is about listening. Professional selling is about responding versus reacting. Forcing yourself to see your prospects’ challenges through their eyes gets your mind into the game, identifying challenges and illuminating how your solution helps solve their problems.

For instance, say your prospect is a real estate office and a big national organization moves in a couple buildings down the block. How would you feel? Or put yourself in the prospect’s shoes as you read through your service/lease agreement when you stumble upon the automatic price increase clause. How do you feel when you discover a “gotcha” in contracts you sign (cable, mobile, car lease)?

Wisdom — The key

Once empathy and respect have been covered it is time to show your value. Your empathic skills will reveal your prospect’s feeling of concern — is it lowering costs or increasing sales? For instance, most small businesses are looking for better cash flow, not necessarily cost cuts, so if you’re going into a presentation ready to claim 30 percent savings you’re going to miss the target.

Busy C-level folks are looking for more efficiency in existing processes. Criticizing existing business methods is a minefield — don’t do it. Speak in terms of “quick paperwork processing,” “ease of installation,” “deep training” and “project management of installations” — position your company as the easiest to work with when things go wrong. Executives understand that not all projects go smoothly. Assuring, through example, how your company attacks a problem head-on, communicating the entire time, goes further and might be worth three to five points on your deal.

Utilizing examples of how current customers solved similar problems by partnering with you is a great way to impart wisdom. When talking about these past successes, you do not need to name drop (another classic sales technique.) Simply mention how a “current client” was experiencing similar problems

Tying it all together — a kaleidoscope of styles

Some sales trainers talk about the subservient sales person — those who sell through “serving” the customer. We all serve the customer, but is the master/slave relationship really what we want? In a way, it is a good thing — when you’re selling cars or stereo equipment at Best Buy (not that there is anything wrong with that.) Your career will blossom from down the street hardware placements to fulfilling and profitable engagements when you are viewed as a peer.

is an entrepreneur and founder of the notorious destination site TheDeathOfTheCopier, where he comments on all things imaging, the rise of managed services and the advance of business technology. A prolific writer and frequent speaker, Greg shares his passionate, unique – and often provocative – view of technology and people, addressing the impact of digital on 21st century business. His 2014 book, Death Of The Copier, offers a controversial summary of the early days of Managed Print Services and the not-so-distant future of the hard copy industry. Reach out to Greg at greg@grwalters.com.