Hello, friends . Have you ever had a prospect go dark on you?
Not just any prospect. One who you are certain needs your product? Whose needs align perfectly with your product’s capabilities?
For the one you are thinking of, do you have a sneaking suspicion that it was something to do with you? With your relationship, or lack thereof?
Did you focus in on improving your relationship-building skills? Do you feel like Linus from Ocean’s Eleven, trying to figure out how to avoid a blunder you aren’t even aware of?
I’m not a natural salesperson. But what I am good at is the trusted advisor role. It’s why I was in consulting for much of my career. It’s why I’m able to sell. People trust me.
People buy from friends, it’s true. Why do they buy from friends? They buy from friends because of trust.
What is this Trusted Advisor ?
A trusted advisor is someone who earns the trust and confidence of their buyer. This opens up opportunities otherwise closed to you. It’s not just about being likable.
Here is my dead-simple framework for becoming a trusted advisor:
People naturally follow authority. Sales management often tells you to find things like industry-specific case studies. This signals to your buyer that you know about the buyer’s situation.
But consider this difference. My mom is a nurse by profession. After one of my daughters had a surgery, my mom had a concern about the prescribed drug dosage. Did I listen to her advice? You better believe I did! I know she has years of training in drug interactions.
Am I going to listen to her advice about data architecture? No way. No authority there! Sorry, Mom!
Authority is more than case studies. It means you build up credibility on a topic of importance.
That is the main intent of the Datateer Amplify newsletter, to help you quickly build knowledge about data strategy and modern data architecture. Would you like more info on a certain topic?
As a buyer, I know that you are here to push your product. But the more I feel you actually care about my specific situation, the more I am going to listen.
Think about someone who unexpectedly remembers your name and things about you. We often call this building a relationship, but that isn’t quite enough.
Caring is different than relationship-building ability.
Back to the example of my mom. She's not just any nurse. She's proven she cares about me. I have no doubt.
Unfortunately, we don't get years to build up the type of relationship where our prospects know we care.
For me, Caring often comes down to simply spending more time. More depth in my followups. Taking time to arrange an introduction properly. Finding truly relevant resources to their unique problem. Getting creative with solutions.
Think about your recent interactions with anyone in a service role. Like calling into a customer service line, ordering fast food, getting a ride from Uber or Lyft.
90% of the people are doing their job. 10% truly put an effort into you as an individual. You can feel the difference, right?
Authority + Caring = Trusted Advisor
If you want to read the definitive guide, it’s in The Trusted Advisor.
The data product landscape is crowded. Very crowded. VC money has been cheap, which means a LOT of founders got funded. That makes niches more competitive. It means more sellers, pushing more products.
But buying has slowed, making everything even more competitive. We all know that we can’t just push product. People can smell desperate sellers a mile away.
But trusted advisors solve problems for their buyers. My aha moment on this was from reading Solution Selling. The key idea for me was that people don’t buy products, they buy solutions to their problems.
Listing your product features is one thing. Understanding the problems
And trusted advisors outsell other reps by 2x-3x. 88% of buyers say they only buy from trusted advisors. 79% of buyers say they only interact with trusted advisors.
Won’t It Take Too Much Time?
If you are churning through leads and getting enough closed deals, you don’t have time to be a trusted advisor.
If your leads are unqualified, being a trusted advisor will waste time.
But, if you have a chunky middle, get after it. Here’s what I mean. Your leads might generally skew to mostly unqualified or mostly ready to buy. Or, most of your leads may truly be in the consideration stage and are looking for solutions.
If you have a chunky middle, the trusted advisor role will be great for you. The time you spend following up and building authority will be worth it.
The trusted advisor relationship is solid gold for prospects who are in the middle.
Here are some techniques I use to become a trusted advisor.
Know the Modern Data Stack!
This is number 1, the most important part of this article. Here is the pattern I see time and again: a prospect finds a product they like. Then they realize they actually need 8 or more products to build a data stack.
This leaves them confused and frustrated. Be able to explain the modern data stack. Help them understand categories of products and how they complement yours and each other. Be able to explain a progression or maturity they can go through (vs buying all at once).
This is by far the best way to build authority when selling data products.
And, you have a secret weapon. I write this blog for you. What would you like to know more about modern data analytics? Any question is fair game. We will go do the research for you.
Genuine curiosity about your prospect’s business and situation will lead the conversation places you didn’t expect it to go. Let them talk. Ask them to clarify and dig a little deeper.
Contrast that with pitching product features.
Genuine curiosity has led to some of my best customers
Have an opinion
There is a difference between a trusted advisor relationship and a yes-person.
I’m always concerned about coming across as thinking I’m smarter than the other person. But if I don’t have an opinion, that’s somehow worse.
So I usually couch things through stories of my experience and what I have seen. I let them know their situation might be different. By doing this, I respect their opinion, while letting them know that I have a lot of experience solving or observing the problem they have.
Most people don’t write good summary follow-up emails.
Most people don’t look for and share articles that are adjacent to their product but address the core problem.
Most people don’t do a deep capability-to-need mapping, even if informal.
There are things you can do that are valuable to the buyer that are outside of pushing product.
Often a prospect wants a long list of things that I cannot provide. I often play “What if” as in what if you had a product that solved all of those things?
Then an honest discussion of what my product or service can provide. And then open brainstorming about how to fill in the gaps.
Brainstorming or solutioning together builds caring and authority.
I don’t know
I’m sure you have heard this before, yet so many people seem to forget this. I know I do.
“I don’t know–I will find out for you” is powerful. It shows you care about them having the right information and are not willing to make up an answer to keep things moving. It also shows you “know people.” That builds authority.
The best book I’ve ever read on this topic is not even about selling. Patrick Lencioni’s Getting Naked is a book for consultants who want to be trusted. Here is a visual from the book. Even reviewing it years after reading the book, I see so much value in being authentic and vulnerable with people. Highly recommend.
- The Trusted Advisor by David Maister
- Solution Selling by Michael Bosworth
- Getting Naked by Patrick Lencioni