The Trusted Advisor
The term ‘Trusted Advisor’ has as many definitions as does the job title Sales Engineer or Sales Consultant but the big difference is that there is no job called ‘Trusted Advisor’. Yet when it comes down to it, every Sales Engineer is told that they need to be the ‘Trusted Advisor’ to the customer. So just what does that mean and how do you get to become the ‘Trusted Advisor’ for a customer? Because I’m writing this blog I’m going to take a stab at a definition; please don’t stop reading the article because you disagree with the definition, but definitely add a comment to the blog. OK, the definition:
An expert in a given subject that works with a customer/prospect to understand their problems and to help them understand how they can solve their problems, typically within the bounds of the Trusted Advisor’s subject expertise and products.
So now that we have a definition to go by, what are the steps for a Sales Engineer to become a Trusted Advisor. I will start out with a short list of bullets then move to a deeper description of each; I have kept this list short only because I doubt anyone want’s to read a 5 page blog and hopefully comments from other experts and opinionated folks will fill in where needed.
- Listen before talking
- Understand your customers challenges
- Understand your customers competition
- Be two or three steps ahead of your customers
Listen before talking:
To me, this could be the first, second and third bullets in my list. When people seek out advice from their friends, the one common theme is that the friend listens to the problem before they try to solve the problem. How can anyone help a customer solve a problem if they don’t even know what those issues are? OK, you may be the expert and already know the issues, but that doesn’t matter. Unless the customer has no idea what their problems are you must let the customers tell you what the problems are that they are facing. Listen to all of them, gently help them quantify how these issues are affecting the team or company. When they get stuck, pull out a few common industry issues out of your pocket and validate them with a good story from another customer that they will connect with. If they agree with these issues you will start to move from being part of a sales team member to someone on their team as an advisor. Please keep in mind that when pulling out issues that are common to a company like the one you are presenting to, that the customer may not connect with that issue or may not be willing to discuss it out in the open. If they disagree; drop that specific issue and move the discussion forward quickly to keep the discussion from going sour.
Understand your customers challenges:
To help someone solve an issue, you need to understand that issue. As a Sales Engineer, this is typically done by learning from previous jobs, other Sales Engineers, or the repetition of helping other customers with the same issue. No matter how you get there, this allows you to be empathetic with the customer and to help them envision a path to a solution. If you don’t understand the problems, a Sales Engineer ends up being just that, a Sales Engineer; someone on the sales team that is simply spewing out features and functions that typically solve a business problem. Customers can quickly notice the difference and will be weary of that person on the sales team verses the Trusted Advisor who is thought of as someone on their team. So if you lack good understanding of your customers problems, spend as much time as possible, with Product Management, Development, Customers, Support, Consulting and other Sales Engineers to get a grasp on the issues and solutions. This foundation will then help you have a better understanding of what your product is doing to solve those customer challenges.
Understand your customers competition:
To take the next step as a Trusted Advisor you need to think like your customer. What capabilities does their competition have that keeps them up at night, what has stopped them from gaining market share, how did their competitors overcome these challenges, and how can YOU help this customer solve these issues. The best Success Stories are the ones about the competition; almost every company has a competitor that has solved a problem your prospect is facing and if your company helped them solve that problem you increased the value of your product in their minds. One of the most powerful drives in business is that of not being left behind. Use your industry and customer knowledge to your advantage to create that fear of being left behind, then show them the solution using your product(s).
Be two or three steps ahead of your customers:
Once you have proven that you understand your customers challenges, it’s time to demonstrate that you understand the challenges they have yet to encounter. As a Trusted Advisor you are aiming for a long term relationship with your customers. By talking about challenges that they may likely face in the future, you set up the type of relationship where you are brought in when they start to see those issues crop up. In my experience, most companies don’t want to address these issues to early on, they have more pressing issues dealing with the problems they are talking to you about in the first bullet. But, if they chose you as a vendor and your implementation goes well, they will likely remember your insight and bring you in early which allows you to be column A and to set the requirement.
In summary becoming a Trusted Advisor takes time and patience. Think like the customer, think how you would act if you worked for that company and you will start to see a difference in how customers treat you and in my opinion you will increase closure rates.