Recently, I was filling my truck up with gas and went into the Shell station convenience store to get something to drink. There I was, standing in front of the open cooler door staring at seven rows of various brands of bottled water. Instinctively, I reached down and grabbed the 2 for $2 generic brand and headed for the door. As I was driving away, I glanced over in the cup holder of the passenger door of my truck and noticed an old bottle of Fiji water left there by my wife, and I remembered her comment about not liking the generic water compared to Fiji. But why? Water is water, right? It struck me how analogous salespeople are to bottles of water in today’s B2B sales landscape and the challenges that sales leaders face in helping them differentiate.

Why? Well, it takes us back to the Shell station. By and large, B2B salespeople today are perceived in their respective marketplaces as no different than bottles of water. A commodity. Is there anything less differentiated than water? The result? Your buyers, when they do choose to make a change, will reach in and pick the cheapest “solution” or continually challenge your sales team to a lower, more competitive price.

Typically, the reasons your sales reps are missing their sales quota has very little to do with poorly qualified leads, an outdated pricing strategy, poor sales collateral or an unattainable plan, yet most sales reps say that’s why they miss quota. The real reason is simple. When a sales rep misses quota, it’s directly due to their ineffective communication within the customer conversation. Period.

The term “Trusted Advisor” may be a bit cliché, but it’s still the goal of every salesperson, and it’s what executive buyers are asking for. Let’s take a look at the following equation we use to define a Trusted Advisor: 

Let’s break down each of the three into the behaviors needed to achieve Trusted Advisor status.

Personal Connection is the ability to demonstrate HONESTY, HUMILITY, AUTHENTICITY and appropriate VULNERABILITY to the prospect or customer. Professional Credibility is the ability to demonstrate KNOWLEDGE, SKILL, CAPABILITY and RELIABILITY.

Add the two of these abilities or characteristics together and divide them by the amount of Personal Agenda on display instead of the customer or prospect’s agenda. Forrester Research also found that executive buyers believe 80% of their time with salespeople is spent talking about the salesperson’s products, services and capabilities, with little to no effort in educating the buyer around insights relevant to their objectives and challenges to those objectives. This behavior scores very high on the Personal Agenda denominator.

As an example, if a salesperson is fantastic, they will score 4 out of 5 on personal connection, 4 on professional credibility and a very low 1 on personal agenda (meaning they stayed focused on the customer’s needs more often.)

If they are the opposite:

Essentially, Trusted Advisors earn both personal trust and professional trust through connection and credibility, and they have a low personal agenda rating because they focus the conversation around the buyer and their needs, not just their own products or solutions. That style earns them the right to be an “advisor” to the buyer.

When a salesperson fails to gain business and ultimately misses quota, it specifically comes down to three areas.

  • The buyer doesn’t trust the salesperson (a “bad gut” feeling).
  • The buyer doesn’t find the salesperson or the company they represent capable or reliable for some reason.
  • The buyer doesn’t see enough value in the solution, relative to the price you are asking.

All three of these areas can be corrected by changing the way the salesperson communicates to the buyer within the customer conversation.

Isn’t it ironic that we ask our salespeople to convince our prospective buyers to change, but we aren’t giving our salespeople a reason for them to actually change the way they have those conversations?

“Your buyers want to work with salespeople who have empathy for them, who understand their roles and challenges, and who can be prescriptive in helping them.” –Mark Lindwall, senior analyst, Forrester Research