In the fable of the princess and the frog, one kiss transforms the reptile into a handsome prince. The frog can’t make the kiss happen, he has to convince the princess to bestow this favor on him. Once it happens, the two become very important to each other, their futures intertwined. It seems to me that this kind of relationship is the goal of the consultative selling approach, but instead of us becoming princes, we become our client’s trusted advisor.
Most people believe that if they can simply become part of the client’s inner circle they will turn to them when framing important decisions about their business. This trust will lead to a seamless alignment of our products and their goals. Getting to this relationship is the holy grail of consultative selling.
But the reality is different. To be a trusted advisor means that your client’s goals come before yours. To attain this position, you have to find prospects who like or respect you, you have to listen closely to them and you have to give them fair advice that may not lead to a sale.
Not Everyone Will Like or Respect You
To gain someone’s trust, they have to like or respect you. Being the best is not enough. The client has to bond with you, especially if they are going to discuss matters that are deeply personal or affect their livelihoods.
What makes people like and respect other people is simply not predictable. That’s why it’s critical that you decide who you are trying to reach and what their attributes are. If you’re trying to become the go-to consultant, your selection criteria needs to be tight. As a trusted advisor, intimacy is part of your offering. People are picky about who they are close to. You need to identify the people who will respond to both you and your product.
Listen Twice, Speak Once
That you should listen more than you speak is a given in consultative selling. But if you’re listening only to counter objections, you’re missing the mark. You must listen deeply to your prospect and be able to repeat what they say so they know you get it.
Even more importantly, you have to be able to hear the emotional content of your prospect’s words. What worries them? What drives them? What do they want? The things they are concerned with drive their decisions. This information is invaluable in knowing how to continue the conversation. Any time you discuss your offering, it should be through the filter of what matters to them.
Be An Honest Broker
Being a trusted advisor means being truthful. Sometimes that means recognizing when there is no sale to be had or recommending an alternative.
I was once in a sales call when it occurred to me that the prospect didn’t have a business problem but was actually having a confidence crisis. Instead of using this uncertainty to sell my services, I suggested that he had things well in hand and questioned why he was nervous. A long conversation ensued that didn’t lead to a sale. What it did lead to was more conversation. Months later, we received a substantial contract for planning work. This relationship continues to this day, creating repeat business on a regular basis because it was clear we were going to do the right thing by them.
Princesses Are In Short Supply
You will make your ‘I am not a frog’ elevator pitch many times before receiving the kiss of trust, but it’s worth it. You will come across people that will use you for an education, to check competitive bids or for free work. But as you practice listening, time wasting prospects will become obvious and you will be free to move on in your search for the right partner.
Becoming a trusted advisor is one of the highest honors you can attain. It means you’ve entered into a long term relationship that transcends making a buck. It means you truly care about your client and their concerns. The benefit to you that they will make sure their prince is around for a long, long time.