Becoming the Trusted Advisor to your Prospect

by Dani Kaplan
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Becoming the Trusted Advisor to the prospect is an essential factor in building the relationship. Most people buy based on trust and the comfort level with the individual with whom they are dealing. When it comes to buying software and services, very few people buy based on the lowest offering they find. The decision about whom to buy from is often made based on trust at a gut level.

The Trusted Advisor role:

During my initial conversation with a prospect I discuss my background as a computer consultant and my role as the Trusted Advisor. When I ask the prospect for their business requirements, I explain that despite the fact that I have the notes of the IBM Rep who referred me, or the Web inquiry notes sent to me, I like to have the "raw data" since a lot can be lost in translation. This results in instant communication and the foundation for the mutual trust between us is established. When I speak with the prospect for the first time, they qualify me and I qualify them by asking if they have a budget set aside for the software project. If they don't wish to disclose it, or don't have a budget, I give them an estimated amount of what it will cost. If the prospect assures me they can afford it, I ask my support team at the software house I represent exclusively to send the prospect their information kit that includes my published articles. Encouraging my prospects to do their software research, I recommend that they read my published article "Choose the Right Software for your Company" which describes the necessary steps to take when looking for new computer software, since purchasing software is a major decision and requires careful planning.

My next step in establishing the mutual trust is to ask the prospect to prepare a list of their business requirements for me that will be addressed at the demo. Using the new car analogy I tell them that every car looks beautiful in the showroom, and so does every demo I have seen. Having their business requirements' list enables us to give a "workshop" style demo rather than a beautiful "slide show." I attribute having such a high closing rate to working exclusively with two people at the company I represent. Besides being friends and colleagues, we share the same business ethics that makes us a winning team. A football game is won or lost based on team effort and coordination. No matter how good the quarterback is, if his team does not support him properly, the game will be lost.

Business cases describing my role as Trusted Advisor to my prospects:

Case Study # 1:

Meeting this Company President for first time was an unpleasant experience. A few minutes after we met, he said: "I hate computers and I don't trust computer consultants or software houses." Next he told me the following story:

  1. "My computer issued $900,000 credit to a major department store instead of invoicing them and my accounting department did not catch it. This resulted in waiting nine months for the invoice to be paid and credit returend."
  2. "As a result of inaccurate computer information, I have in my warehouse obsolete inventory that is worth 2 million dollars and will never be sold."
  3. "Today I received a $45,000 penalty from one of my major clients because of EDI compliance errors."

Showing me this bill the President said: "this is the tip of the iceberg; now you know why I don't trust computer consultants and software houses. Explain to me why you are different. The only reason you are here is because my Trusted Advisor recommended that I should meet you." Trying to establish the mutual trust between us, I told the President that I had seen sad cases like his since 1980 when I established my consulting firm, and after resolving such issues I became the Trusted Advisor resulting in the CEO's and CFO's meeting me for lunch or dinner.

The first suggestion I offered the President was to sell his $2 million worth of obsolete inventory on the Web as a "fire sale" which would enable him to recuperate between $200,000 to $400,000 in revenues, free up space in his warehouse, and lower the operating cost to maintain it. Hearing my suggestion was a turning point in our relationship and the mutual trust was on the way to being established. After taking a long time to make up his mind, the President finally agreed to buy our software, telling me that he trusts we can help his company after getting excellent reviews about our software.

Case Study # 2:

One day I got a call from an IBM Rep telling me he had a prospect who wanted to spend $30,000 on new Web E-Commerce despite the fact that he needed completely new Supply Chain Software. Reading the Rep's notes, I realized that the prospect had severe inventory control issues and suffered from a large amount of returned items due to inaccurate shipments. When speaking with the prospect who was the Company COO, I told him that we can develop the Web E-Commerce that will increase his sales, but asked him how he was planning to maintain proper inventory control to support the increased volume of Web orders and insure the accuracy of shipments. Hearing this, the COO asked: "when can we meet in person?"

At the meeting together with the COO and the Vice President I work with from my software house, he told us that before we give him the demo he wanted to visit one of our clients near his office. The visit to our client went very well and the COO was pleased and asked us to give him a demo. When I asked him to read my article and prepare a list of his business requirements for us, he said: "I read your article and I agree with what you said. At the demo I would like the following issues to be addressed:"

  1. Processing very large orders on a timely basis.
  2. Improving my inventory control in the warehouse.
  3. Establishing order shipment controls that will eliminate the high returns I currently have.

Giving a "workshop" style demo, the Vice President addressed the COO's business issues, showing him how our software would eliminate his current issues. At the end of the demo the COO said: "based on what I have seen, your software will help me improve my operation and achieve my business goals." The following day the COO emailed and asked me to thank the Vice President for giving him a "workshop" style demo rather than a "slide show." After I finished reading the email I called the COO to thank him. Seeing the title Dr. in front of his name, I asked him what kind of a Dr. he is, assuming he got his PhD in law or philosophy before joining his family business. To my surprise the COO said: "I got my PhD in Computer Information. Your friend gave us an excellent demo addressing our urgent business needs unlike other software vendors who wasted my time showing me a `features and functions slideshow.' Now I would like to see one of your clients who has excellent inventory control and very accurate shipments since these are my major problems." Based on his requirements, we recommended that he visit one of our clients whose CEO wrote a testimonial letter saying: "using the software, errors have dropped by 80%. At the same time, product scanning in shipping at the packing station has enabled us to increase shipping throughput by 60% and reduce errors to an accuracy of 99.95% on order lines shipped."

After visiting our client, the COO felt confident that we had the right solution for his company and bought the software. Besides being happy that we had won a substantial deal, the Vice President and I were very proud of the fact that the COO, who had his PHD in computer information, had chosen our software because he felt it was superior to other software he had seen and that we were the right choice for his company.


The difference between a Sales Person and the Trusted Advisor is a fine line that can easily be crossed. Many people feel that by providing information they become a "free consultant." On the contrary, I believe that providing the prospect with as much information as possible establishes the mutual trust that results in becoming the Trusted Advisor and leads to winning the business since most people prefer to buy from people they trust and respect.

Since 1980, Dan Kaplan has worked with corporate executives to improve purchasing, increase warehouse and distribution efficiencies, and implement software solutions that result in substantial savings and productivity improvements. To lower your operating costs, reduce your warehousing and distribution business's quote generation process from 3 weeks to 3 hours and invoice cycle from months to one day, go to