A salesperson's most valuable role isn't selling—it's protecting clients from unseen dangers.
Becoming a Trusted Advisor to Your B2B Clients through Threat Assessment
A salesperson's most important role as a trusted advisor is protecting clients from threats to their business.
Ask any salesperson what kind of relationship they want with their client, and to a person, they will respond with the term "trusted advisor." In practice, most who aspire to this have a way to go before they can claim that moniker. You need your client's trust, and you need to provide the advice that will help the client to make consequential decisions, the kind that can help them pursue their outcomes.
The Most Crucial Duty of a Trusted Business Advisor Is Threat Evaluation
Much of the time, your contact will trust you, as you have done nothing that would cause them not to trust you. But looking at how most salespeople sell, you would recognize that the salesperson offers no advice or recommendation, outside of buying their solution from their company.
Until you offer your advice, you don't really know if your client trusts you or not. If your contact takes your advice, you have their trust; but if they don't, your trust may be limited by the context of the decision.
A would-be trusted advisor is often unaware of a trusted advisor’s most important role: protecting your client from threats to their future results. Those who have not yet proven their status as trusted advisors also fail to recognize that clients downgrade salespeople who cannot deliver valuable advice in this area.
A trusted advisor warns their client of something that could be harmful. Failing in this work is to fail at being a trusted advisor. It is no good to come around to help clean up after your client has experienced a negative outcome and the ensuing damage. You could have spared your client the negative event had you warned them of the threat while they could have prevented it from impacting them.
Signs That a Client Does Not Have Full Confidence in Your Counsel
Day-to-day advice salespeople offer isn't typically difficult for a client to act on. However, your role becomes all the more important when the advice you offer requires your client to make a significant change to how they operate their business. Because you see the dark clouds circling your clients before they do, your clients may find it easy to ignore your warnings. When your relationship is built on trust, your client is more likely to consider what you are saying and take steps to prevent the storm from harming them.
Imagine a scale that measures trust. It starts with clients having high levels of trust on advice that is easy to execute with little to no risk. At the highest level, clients must have enough trust in your advice that they are motivated to make a serious change initiative, one that is difficult to execute and poses risk to their business. It is easier to have trust on little changes than on larger issues, so how your clients respond to your advice on big changes indicates how much confidence they have in you.
Two Stories Demonstrating Clients' Reluctance to Fully Trust Advice
One client moved into my city, and we sat down to help him understand what he would need to do to succeed in the current environment. The owner was incredulous, rejecting the data that should have helped him to see the challenge. He had a facility in another state, and he believed the same model would work anywhere. We explained that if he replicated the same model in the new city, he would fail in September of that year. He stubbornly shared that he would not fail.
In September, one of his managers called to ask for our help, but it was too late. Because the client failed to make key change in time, they lost these major clients to a competitor. He closed the business down and went back to the city where his company was located. Meanwhile, we picked up a new client—the company that acquired his customers. This loss could have been avoided.
Another client failed to take our advice for three years. Finally, I explained that if they didn't change, they would not make it through the fourth quarter. The client called me for a meeting, and we argued about what was true and what wasn't. This company had just picked up four large clients, but they lost them just as quickly because they failed to address a threat to their business. The business was acquired by a larger competitor.
The hundreds of companies that trusted us took our advice and succeeded in the same environment as these two companies. Because they trusted us, it was easier for us to make change together, even if we had to start the conversation about the threat long before others could see it.
How to Analyze Potential Risks and Hazards for Your Clients
The role of trusted advisor requires you to be able to see around corners, looking for anything that might threaten the client's business and results. This threat assessment requires a certain type of salesperson. This type reads widely, looking for trends that might cause their clients to struggle or fail. This salesperson also conducts regular research, always paying attention to the environment and threats on the horizon.
The sooner you can identify a threat, the sooner you can start making the case to change so you can avoid it. A serious threat may require more time and more conversations to make your case. You want to provide your client with as much time as possible to pivot out of the way and defend against the threat.
Initiating Threat Assessments for Your Business Clients
I imagine this is the first time you have considered doing this work for your clients. You can start your assessment by looking at the areas that will allow you to identify the threats, be they legislative, technological, political, economic, environmental, or societal.
As you work through identifying potential threats, you are looking for those with implications that may harm your clients. Once you have identified the relevant threats, you will need to brief your contacts and confront them with what is looming.
You should provide the data and research citations that prove that you and your client must start making plans to avoid the threat. If you want to be a better partner to your clients, you need to do what few others will take the time to do this important work. Do good work and keep your clients safe and profitable.