Sales Lessons: The Value of Advice

Recently my son, who lives in Boston, told us about a trip he was planning to New York, where he would meet up with a friend from Kansas City. As he was chatting about his travel options, my Dad Mode (aka Mr. Fixit, I Know Best) kicked into overdrive. Add up the costs of the flights, the Uber to and from airports, the cost of coffee in the airports, etc., then do the same for the train, compare the data and voila! The choice would be obvious.

Because I am Super Dad, I started to do this for him — in my head, I made a running tally of the costs (even though I hadn’t checked), the time each would take (even though I hadn’t checked), and the hassle factor (airports!). I quickly came to a conclusion and shared my advice — strongly. After all, I only wanted the best for my son. And as Dad, I define “the best.” Now, I honestly believed I had the right solution, so with great conviction and passion, I sold MY advice … HARD. Note: it’s been two weeks, and I have no idea what he has chosen or if he has decided yet. Note 2: not everybody wants/needs my advice.

What’s this have to do with sales? Glad you asked. I was “selling” him on my “solution.” I knew it was the best one (based on my context). However, in hindsight and a moment of honesty, I may have missed a few things. Some essential things: Does he like flying more than the train? Would he want to see some things along the way? Did he have enough time to consider driving and see those things? What’s his budget? (the cheapest isn’t always the best, even if our wonderful ROI Pitch claims it is). Was he traveling alone? And on and on it goes … .

Sales lesson 1: Slow down, Skippy.

I jumped straight to the close. I skipped understanding what he wanted, his journey, and his outcomes and immediately started pitching what I determined to be The Obvious Best Choice. Instead of dad, what if I was a commissioned travel agent? And what if my comp plan didn’t include a way to get paid for train tickets or car rentals? The “obvious choice” would then be to arrange the plane ticket, right? Unfortunately, this is the method that many in sales use. Find a need (and do an abysmal job of it), pitch a solution (from within their commission-earning offering), and then try to justify it (close hard). And this, my fellow revenue generators, is why so many either fail or “succeed small.”

Sales lesson 2: Succeeding small is slow failing.

Now, imagine the same travel advisor spending time developing the relationship and uncovering what is important, only to realize that what they offer isn’t the best option. They tell the client that she might find a road trip more enjoyable and desirable than they thought. Wait a minute — do you mean that I might need to suggest that what I sell isn’t what the client should buy?! Yup, that’s precisely what I am saying. You CHOOSE to lose the “small win” (commission on the airfare) because that’s not in the client’s best interest. Small wins get in the way of greater success. Small wins are simply slow failing.

Sales lesson 3: Winning big always creates even bigger benefits for the customer

Yes, I just suggested that you dissuade a prospect from something that will not create the best outcome for them. That is exactly what “trusted advisors” (the highest-earning sales professionals) do. After asking good questions and actively listening (discovery, right?), that same travel agent suggests a different hotel at the destination. Maybe even a couple of extra nights along the way to see some sights. A tour package at the destination, show tickets, etc. Very quickly, their reward (commission) doesn’t just go up a little bit; it multiplies!

Or maybe the client chooses the cheapest option that results in little or even zero commission. A few months later, that client decides to take a month-long vacation to an exotic location; who are they going to call? Exactly. The funny thing about being the “trusted advisor” is that it takes trust and advice. And sometimes that advice is to not buy from me.

Lesson 4: Small commissions are a result of small values

Quick commissions and premature deals will ruin your career. They may keep you in the game, but you’ll never leave the minor leagues. Understanding the real needs and desires of the client will take you to YOUR destination, one where you succeed big. Earl Nightingale said it best: “Your rewards in life are in direct proportion to your service.” The more value you create for your customer, the greater the reward. It is that simple.

Wrapping up, none of this is rocket science. Nothing I mention above is new or revolutionary or a clever repackaging of what the sages, pundits, and gurus are so skilled at charging for. It’s simply fundamental truth. Truth that was shared with me over three decades ago. It’s the truth that I am sharing because I believe in the power and the responsibility of earning the right to become a trusted advisor. Trust that’s earned. Advice that’s helpful.

If you’re interested in learning more about how simple this is and why it’s so rarely done, let me know in the comments or connect with me on LinkedIn, and I will share the No. 1 secret to sales success (hint: it has something to do with your pipeline).

is executive vice president of InkCycle Inc. He is an industry veteran with more than 25 years of sales and marketing experience. He is an active member of the imaging industry as an author, trainer and speaker. Contact him at