One of the most cliché claims made in our industry is that of being a "trusted advisor." Sure, trust is essential. Clients need to trust in your ability to do your job, and they need to trust in your intentions when giving advice.
But is earning trust brag-worthy? Isn't trust a minimum expectation of the advisor-client relationship?
The real goal should be achieving "go-to" status.
What questions do you want your clients to bring you?
More importantly, what questions are they bringing you now? Not to be an alarmist, but if those questions are limited to insurance issues, your client relationship is in danger.
When asked how they wanted to be viewed, one of our clients responded with the following, "I want to be THE partner my clients go to to ask their toughest questions. I want to help my clients accomplish their intentions."
I LOVE that! Notice, it doesn't say their toughest "benefits questions" or even "accomplish their HR intentions." The commitment is to be the partner their clients go to for help with anything challenging their business.
How cool is that?! Or maybe the idea makes you feel a little uncomfortable? 😳
It is increasingly necessary
If you've been in sales for any amount of time, you know it's more challenging than ever to deliver value to a buyer. Hell, if you were selling a year ago, you see how much more difficult it became because of the pandemic.
The increased challenge to deliver value started way before 2020 though. There are many reasons, but one stands out.
Buyers no longer depend on a salesperson to learn about a product or service.
Not only that, buyers don't want to talk to anyone until they decide they're ready. They will self-educate on their own terms and at their own pace.
It's not that they don't eventually want to talk to a salesperson, but buyers are now way further into the buying process before they go to a salesperson with questions. This means the value bar has been raised significantly for salespeople. The further you've advanced on the value spectrum, the more impactful your eventual conversations will be.
How are you perceived?
If you want to know how prospects/clients perceive and categorize you, look no further than the questions you are asked.
Vendor – "Can you get me a better quote?"
If you are mostly getting price questions, you are viewed as a commodity.
Insightful Seller – "Can you help me effectively communicate my benefits program and deal with compliance issues?"
At this level, salespeople understand the commoditized product offering so well they can help buyers get more value from it than if they bought it from someone else.
Educational path to this level - Instead of studying your products and services' features and benefits, study the problems they solve.
Trusted Advisor – "Can you help me better understand what solutions I should be considering and show me how to use them effectively?"
Salespeople at this level are selling the problems they solve rather than the products. The best at this level aren't even really selling; the buyers trust they can help them make better buying decisions.
Path to this level - Study and implement a consultative selling process that makes the buying process more manageable.
Strategic Advisor – At this level, questions start to become, as you might guess, strategic. "You seem to understand our industry and the current business environment; what can we be doing to compete more effectively?"
These advisors bring a new perspective to the buyer and help them see things they hadn't seen before, like environmental challenges and opportunities.
Path to this level - Study a specific industry or the business environment in general.
Go-to Advisor – At this level, clients pull back their curtain and share their most vulnerable self. You know you've arrived in the relationship when asked, "We have some internal growth pains. Can we talk about suggestions you would have to get past them?"
Go-to advisors have proven their ability to address the challenges and opportunities a buyer faces internally; challenges that buyers don't see on their own, even though they are surrounded by them daily. And even if they do see them, they don't know how to address them.
Path to this level - Study business operations: marketing, finance, strategy, processes, everything it takes to run a successful business.
Challenge yourself to pursue the various educational paths along this value progression. By doing so, you will put yourself in a position to be that go-to relationship for your clients. Talk about a game changer!
You don't have to have all the answers
If the idea of being "the partner your clients go to with their toughest questions" makes you uncomfortable, it shouldn't. Just because they come to you with their toughest questions, it doesn't mean they expect you to have all the answers.
To become a Go-to advisor, you only need to be willing to participate in conversations that lead to the answers.
I suspect you already take this approach in a much narrower way. If you are a benefits producer, you may find yourself in compliance conversations that reach your knowledge limit. At that point, you bring in a compliance specialist. Or perhaps you find yourself deeper in HR topics than you can handle, but you are comfortable with it because you know where to pass the baton.
A problem-solving framework
If you follow the educational paths mentioned earlier, you'll create a foundation that can support a Go-to relationship. With that knowledge foundation in place, the following framework will be an effective way to help your prospects/clients think through any challenge they bring you.
- Define the goal by asking, "If we were sitting here celebrating a successful resolution, what are some of the specifics we would be celebrating?"
This question will provide clarity as to what they want/need to accomplish.
- "What are the PEOPLE issues you need to deal with to achieve a resolution?"
Maybe they have toxic people on the team; perhaps they need new people, or maybe they need to train those they have.
- "What PRODUCT/SERVICE issues need to be addressed?"
Maybe there is a deliverable to be created, upgraded, or even abandoned.
- "Are there PROCESS issues standing in your way?"
It could be they have the answers they need but aren't operating in a consistent, process-driven manner.
Will the complete answer be apparent with these questions? Probably not. However, by defining the goal and evaluating the people, product, and process issues that determine success, you will help the prospect/client find clarity about what needs to happen next.
Your role as a Go-to advisor isn't so much to give specific answers; it's more about asking additional questions to reveal the path leading to the answer.
Is all this necessary?
You could make an argument that this type of progression isn't necessary. I wouldn't agree with you, but you could make the argument. After all, you will win the occasional deal based on price alone. Don't fall into that "easy" trap.
It does take hard work to progress. However, every level you advance towards Go-to status provides exceptional ROI:
- It reduces the amount of competition.
- The buyer becomes less sensitive to price.
- You shorten the sales cycle.
- Your retention rate increases.
- You will find it easier to access decision-makers, and
- The level of credibility you bring to the conversation will grow exponentially.
So, I'll ask you a "not tough" question. Is it worth it to become a Go-to Advisor?
Seems like a no-brainer to me.
Photo by Andrea De Martin.