• Clare Burlingham

Salesperson or trusted advisor?

It’s nearly 20 years ago since the book The Trusted Advisor was first published. Written by three consultants and business school gurus, Maister, Green and Galford, it became a seminal work in the professional services and consultancy industries. It introduced the idea that the addition of trust to a client relationship raises the worth of the advisor beyond just their skills and knowledge. Furthermore, it proposed that the earning of trust is something that can be learnt and practiced and outlined a practical model for advisors to use.


Fast forward to 2021 and this concept of the trusted advisor is equally valid today, in even the most transactional of sales roles. Building trust should not only be reserved for complex, long-term, multi-faceted client relationships. It should be right up there on day one of even the most basic of sales training.


“Trust must be earned and deserved” says The Trusted Advisor. But knowing how to go about earning it won’t necessarily come naturally to all new recruits. Just like empathy and collaboration, it can be taught. And by giving it priority, alongside skills like effective questioning and prospecting, you are immediately giving your sales teams an edge.


The inclusion of methods for building trust in their training encourages sales teams to think of the customer as a person, not just a deal or a target. A person who has requirements, just like them. Even if it is a relatively “simple” transaction like selling a car, the customer wants to know their requirements are understood. If the rep can show they understand and respect the customer’s requirements, then that customer is much more likely to grow to trust that rep, and ultimately choose to buy their new car from them.

Indeed, they are also more likely to come back to that dealership for their next purchase. Car buying is often perceived as a one-off, but anecdotal evidence suggests that a positive, trusted experience is frequently shared with friends and colleagues, and often results in further, referred enquiries.


So now your teams understand how to find out their buyer’s needs, what else can they do to build trust? Maister, Green and Galford tell us that “To become trusted, advisors must be credible and reliable.” To be credible, the sales team need to have done their homework. They need to know about their industry, know in detail the products they are selling, and understand fully the terms upon which they can arrange the sale.


To be reliable is of course simplicity itself, but it can reap rewards with trust building. Teach your sales teams to always do what they promise - and do it well.


We know it’s not rocket science, but it can be easy to think that trust is something that will naturally evolve. But by elevating its status in a training environment, right from the outset, we are reminding sales teams about the human element of selling. We all prefer interactions with other people that “get” us. And we all prefer to work with someone we can rely on.


Isn’t it time we turned all our sales teams into trusted advisors?