Some salespeople still open the first meeting with a prospective client by sharing their company’s history as a way of establishing the right to be in the room with a decision-maker. They’ll also share the company’s locations and the names and pictures of the people who make up their leadership team. After proving their company is stable and established, they move onto sharing who their clients are, offering the social proof that other companies have chosen to work with them. In the worst cases, the salesperson describes their product or services and how they are different from their competitors. None of this proof accomplishes what the salesperson is trying to achieve. There is only one way you establish your credibility and relevance, and that is by creating value for your prospective client during that interaction.
The Poor Strategy of Pointing Elsewhere
When you believe the best way to convince your dream client that you are credible and relevant is to point elsewhere, you are working against your goal. It is to believe that you prove you are credible, not because you should be believed, but because your company is good. The logos you use to impress your prospective clients will occasionally impress a contact or two, but it will do very little in the way of their preferring to work with you or take your advice. Sharing how your products and services are different might be useful in a transactional sale, or one in which you are given only an hour to present, but outside of that context does nothing to make you a credible source or relevant to your dream clients.
The more you lean on something else to prove you are credible and relevant, the less credible and material you are. The harder you try to establish that you belong in the room by pointing people at something or someone else, the more difficult you make it to believe this is true. More still, you started a call by making your company and your solutions the subject of the conversation instead of your prospective client and their needs, a poor sales approach, and one that is not likely to cause them to prefer you over your competition.
If you want to be credible and relevant, you have to prove that through the sales conversation.
Some of the very best salespeople walk into a meeting with a business card, a legal pad, and a pen. They are subject matter experts with the business acumen and situational knowledge necessary to engage their prospective clients in a conversation about the trends in their industry, their impact, and the implications for their clients. They also possess a strong view of what their prospective clients need to do to produce better results. In short, they know things.
The sales conversation proves the salesperson is credible because they show a command of the facts and establish the context for a discussion around why and how their prospective client should change. They can explain why their contacts are struggling to produce the results they need and how other people have solved those problems. While they may not know as much about their prospective client’s business, they know more about what’s at the intersection of their business and their client’s business.
It is the conversation that proves the salesperson is credible, that they are to be believed. The subject of the conversation is what makes them relevant.
The fact that you work for a good company with a great solution proves nothing when it comes to whether or not you are the right person to advise your dream client on what they should do and why. When the sales conversation is about what, why, and how your dream client should change, you prove you’re relevant because you focus your conversation on what your contacts care about now.
The Relevancy Test
In every new engagement, you have to pass the relevancy test. The unasked questions your contacts are trying to answer is, “Can this person really help us,” and “Is this someone we want to work with,” and “Should I take this person’s advice?” If you know less than your dream client’s about the intersection of your business and their business, you will have a tough time creating enough value for your contacts to answer these questions in the affirmative.
It is no longer enough to know about your company and your solutions. You cannot sell successfully and also be a know-nothing. Instead, you must be a subject matter expert when it comes to the outcomes you create. Without the business acumen and situational knowledge, you will struggle to generate enough value for your prospective clients to agree to move forward with you as a possible partner.
What You Should Do Now
If you want to be more credible and relevant, you might start by developing a genuine interest in business. Successfully salespeople understand business, and they pay attention to what’s going on in the world and understand the context in which their clients are making decisions.
If you want to improve your sales approach, learning why your clients change and understanding how to address the issues they need to resolve requires a bit of work, but increases your value to your clients.
Situational knowledge is different than experience, as one can have experience and have learned very little. Knowing why certain factors should cause a client to do one thing instead of another requires that you notice these things, that you write them down, and that you learn to explain them to your dream clients.
You have to do this work for yourself. No one can give this to you. You can, however, acquire it faster by spending time with people who already have what you want (and in this case, what you need). You can also speed the acquisition of credibility and relevance by intentionally doing the work necessary to become a consultative salesperson and someone whose clients consider a trusted advisor.