One of the milestones of moving from a newbie to a seasoned veteran is your ability to present yourself as a colleague to your prospects. One catchphrase I’m sure you’re hearing is “consultative selling.” The phrase is a bit disingenuous as it refers to giving prospects advice on how to best utilize your offering when solving business problems. Indeed, consultants (i.e. advisors) receive compensation for knowledge shared, not the number of devices placed. The word “consultant” infers an air of neutrality without bias. You are advising. A sales manager, on the other hand, is extremely biased — there’s no neutrality in sales.

The best way to gain your prospect’s trust is to offer advice without expectations. For instance, when a prospect has an issue with their fleet of trucks, selling them a 50 ppm device isn’t going to help them get the oil changed. On the other hand, because you’ve been asking all your other clients and prospects about their businesses, and you know one of your contacts repairs trucks for a living — and is good at it— you can simply forward their contact information to the prospect in need. Do things like this without expecting a payback, and you’ll be on your way to being seen as a trusted advisor in no time.

The concept is simple, but there are many characteristics to consider when becoming an advisor. Here are three of the most important:

  1. Knowledgeable— In addition to uncovering needs, increase your knowledge of general business.
  2. Engaging— Practice conversational dialogue utilizing open-ended questions. Be friendly, honest and vulnerable.
  3. Confident— Somewhat self-explanatory, but this means more than just sharp clothes, chunky watches and the company car.

Knowledgeable

The first issue is overall knowledge. To be an advisor of any sort, one must have and be willing to share insight that others do not yet possess.

Talk with every prospect and client with the intent of being familiar with their business and day-to-day operations. Most of what you’ve learned in college, unfortunately, isn’t as useful as you might think. The controlled and sterile university environments present interpretations of what good selling is or should be. Sure, there is a quantitative nature to selling, data that can be sorted and mathematical functions applied. But this is only a small component of the overall process.

Selling is more art than science.

Here is a somewhat controversial suggestion: Stop reading “How to Sell” books for at least six months. There is no fresh or new approach presented in today’s sales improvement programs. The truth is, learning in the field is superior to every mode of sales instruction. Nothing beats the trials and tribulations of face-to-face conversations.

Your goal is to observe and retain as many examples of business models possible. Take notes. Handwritten notes.With drawings. The best way to level up your business knowledge is to get in front of as many organizations as possible. Fortunately, the world of sales not only offers you the opportunity to do so, it demands it.

Engaging

I know, I know, your family and friends say you were meant for sales because you’re a “people person.” That’s great. I hope it’s true. Because being friendly, jovial, interested and interesting will get you further down the sales funnel than you think. Along those lines there’s also something called empathy, or the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Putting yourself in prospects’ shoes and reviewing your offering from their perspective is valuable.

Ask open-ended questions instead of questions that have a “yes” or “no” answer. And when your prospect answers, be quiet. Most important is the ability to listen without speaking after asking a question.  Work on asking three separate queries before answering any exposed concerns.  Just three.  In essence, listen 50 percent more of the time than you speak.

Everyone likes to tell their tale; you know this to be true. Invite them to tell theirs.

Confident

Believe me, every prospect in the world can sense when a rep is faking it. It’s some sort of universal, sensory perception. What is even more intimidating is that prospects easily spot the difference between a seasoned professional and somebody just starting out. Don’t try to bluff your way through a presentation.

There are baby steps you can take to build your confidence quickly. One is to learn how your products and services impact the company’s current clients. For example, what advantage will a 45-page-per-minute device have over a 35-page-per-minute unit device beyond speed? Why do customers partner with your company, beyond knowing your friendly service technician’s first name? What difference does your company make? Arm yourself with information so you are confident and prepared for the sale.

Experience is the crucible of confidence. Fortunately, your fiery baptism will move quickly. You’ll be in the learning state with your first cold call, appointment, and presentation, but in just 90 days, your acumen could be enhanced 100 percent.

Certainly, use those first few paychecks to upgrade the wardrobe and take advantage of the perks your new benefactor offers ­— when you achieve the confidence, you’ll want to look and be the part. But a word of caution: Prospects easily sense an overconfident and smug “selling professional.” Don’t be one of these people. Sales gets a bad rap more from conceited, chunky-watch wearers than vulnerable, inexperienced newbies.

Your journey is just beginning. Focusing on developing these three basic characteristics will position you as a true advisor offering relevant conversation and meaningful solutions. Oh yeah, and bigger commission checks.

Greg Walters

Greg Walters

is an entrepreneur and founder of the notorious destination site TheDeathOfTheCopier, where he comments on all things imaging, the rise of managed services and the advance of business technology. A prolific writer and frequent speaker, Greg shares his passionate, unique – and often provocative – view of technology and people, addressing the impact of digital on 21st century business. His 2014 book, Death Of The Copier, offers a controversial summary of the early days of Managed Print Services and the not-so-distant future of the hard copy industry. Reach out to Greg at greg@grwalters.com.