Ask any salesperson if they would like to be their client's trusted advisor and you will find few rejecting the opportunity to claim that moniker as their own. Having found approximately one-hundred percent of your sample agreeing they aspire to that preeminent title, ask any of your sample what is required to earn the title and you will no doubt hear something or another about helping them solve their problems.
Let's set aside this conversation about what makes one a trusted advisor for a moment and look a the linear sales process and the starting point that is "qualifying". The idea behind qualifying your prospective client is to avoid spending time with people and companies that are unlikely to buy. Regardless of the qualifying flavor you prefer and the horrible first experience it creates, the thrust of the conversation is to determine whether or not the client has a problem.
For many decades, the thinking behind qualifying is to avoid trying to sell to someone who does not already have a problem. Somehow, someone attached the idea that the person who gives you advice as to how to solve a problem is a trusted advisor. This suggests that telling a leader what they should have done before they started to experience the poor results they are struggling with is the high watermark for salespeople.
The Trusted Advisor Is Proactive
Let me propose a new and different standard for what makes one a trusted advisor, a definition that would require a different approach, one closer to the true meaning of a trusted advisor.
A leader makes a strategic decision for their business. The result of the decision creates a major problem in their business, one that comes with reputational damage and causes a decrease in the firm's value as measured by the analysts and the stock market. After botching the decision, the leader decides to seek advice on the decision they made. A would-be trusted advisor shows up to tell the leader how they got the decision wrong and how to start picking up the pieces. Until there was a problem, this would-be trusted advisor didn't have any real need to offer the leader their counsel.
One may argue that the trusted advisor may still be able to help the leader who made the poor decision turn their business around. But a truer and more accurate view of the responsibility is the trusted advisor would be one that prevents the leader from making the poor decision in the first place. Even if the would-be trusted advisor is able to help the leader recover from the catastrophe they created, the damage has already been done. The leader has lost reputation, results, investments, revenue, profit, and time.
A Leader Doesn't Always Know They Have a Problem
The idea that a leader has a clear and perfect view of their future, one that allows them to see around corners and anticipate all challenges they may encounter in the future and how best to address them, is false. There is little doubt that leader knows their business and their industry well enough to occupy their perch at the top of the organization, but it's also true that the leader, like all of us, doesn't know what they don't know.
Because you are One-Up, your experience provides you with experience and knowledge about your company, your industry, the trend lines, the changes in the environment, and the forces that will cause your prospective clients to have problems in the future. Some of these looming challenges may cause problems soon, while other, more systemic challenges will cause long-term issues.
It does no good to consult the oracle after you lose the battle.
The Trusted Advisor Brings Prevention
Instead of waiting until your prospective client suffers the poor results they are running headlong into, being a trusted advisor means helping them recognize the future problem and how to avoid it altogether.
There is little doubt it is more difficult to help a client change before they experience the poor results that might create the "burning platform" that would compel them to change. In an environment of complexity and uncertainty, poor decisions tend to come with a high price, which is one of the reasons decision-makers who struggle to make sense of things often decide to do nothing, hoping things don't get worse, only to find that their results are degrading over time.
It is better to help your client change before the outside world requires it of them. It's also better to help your client change on a timeline of their choosing than it is to wait and be forced to do it on a timeline that is forced on them. The fact that it's more difficult to help clients change before they have a problem doesn't remove your obligation to prevent them from ever experiencing the problem so many salespeople still believe is necessary to help their client change.
The Problem-Solution Problem
The reason most salespeople need a problem is so they can sell their solution. Because they have only ever been taught and trained to seek a problem their solution can solve, they lack the ability to provide the counsel, the advice, and the recommendations that a trusted advisor would consider the real "solution," if we must continue to use this word.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with helping your prospective clients with their problems, waiting until they are already experiencing poor results is a dereliction of duty. In the past, I would have told you that being a trusted advisor requires both "trust" and "advice," but now I would add that this is only true when you "offer the advice proactively."