By Landy Chase
Over the last
twenty-five years I have heard more than my share of bad ideas when
it comes to effective selling. Here is the worst one that I have
ever come across: “Don’t be an unpaid consultant”.
I was recently
reminded of this when I was asked to participate in a phone
conference involving one of my clients. The company had a number of
their senior executives together for a meeting, and they asked me if
I would be willing to join their group for a teleconference during
my lunch hour.
Here’s the “catch”,
if you prefer to think of it that way: there was no offer of payment
for my time; this was “free work” in the form of giving advice. Yes,
I was being asked to be the Unpaid Consultant. And, as always, I
welcomed the opportunity.
You see, I strongly
disagree with the idea that you should avoid being an “unpaid
consultant” when you are in sales. In fact, in my opinion, you
should do just the opposite. You should strive, every day, to be the
Unpaid Consultant. Here’s my rationale.
Customers form their
strongest relationships with people who give the most value. In
today’s selling environment, what you sell – be it a product or
service – is, in itself, the least valuable thing that you offer. In
fact, it is probably viewed by most buyers as a commodity. Whether
you are a car salesman, a financial advisor, a copier rep, a lawyer,
or a plumber, customers can get what you sell from dozens of other
people who offer the same thing. In a me-too world, good advice –
ideas that help customers to make better decisions – trumps, by a
wide margin, the value of your “wares”.
Which brings me back
to sales people. The highest compliment that a customer can ever pay
you is to confer upon you the title of “Unpaid Consultant”. To want
your opinion when they are not buying. To value your knowledge
enough to want to take advantage of your expertise.
Examples: If you sell
automobiles, to get your opinion on which of a competitor’s two
models is a better choice for a child going to college. If you sell
newspaper advertising, whether you would recommend radio or cable
television as a better investment for reaching a target audience. If
you sell printing, your thoughts on whether a new ink is appropriate
for a packaging project that doesn’t actually involve you.
The point is this:
people don’t ask for input from those whose opinion they do not
value. When a customer asks for your advice under these
circumstances, the message is loud and clear: they view you as an
expert. Give the request your very best effort, every time. I assure
you, you will be rewarded many times over.
Among my vendor
relationships, there is a small group of vendors whose advice I
place a high value on. These are also the people with whom I do
eighty percent of my business. One of these is my CPA.
I have utilized this
same professional for my business for over ten years. She is in
private practice and lives five hundred miles from my office. Yes, I
could find another CPA who is local to help my business – in fact, I
could line them around the block seven or eight times. I could also
save money by doing so – her fees are higher than most of those in
So why do I swear
loyalty to her? It certainly isn’t because she provides bookkeeping
services and prepares financial reports. That’s a commodity – any
CPA firm provides that.
No, what I value is
her mind – her ability to analyze my business and make
recommendations that help me to manage it. To me, this is
irreplaceable. Yes, much of her time with me is billed, but many
times her advice is unbilled, as well. She is a very good sales
person (she cold-called me to get my business) and has excellent
interpersonal skills. She is a good listener, and even puts up with
my annual whining during tax season. In other words, she understands
the value of being the Unpaid Consultant. If I changed my CPA
relationship, I would not have her to work with anymore – and that
idea distresses me greatly, as you will see.
A couple of years
ago, her business had grown to the point that she sent all of her
clients, including me, a form letter informing us that she was going
to have to trim her client list to lessen her workload. In other
words, some of us were going to have to go.
My reaction to this
announcement? Sheer panic. I called her immediately. I begged to
make the cut! I pleaded. I stammered. I reminded her that I have a
simple business and am easy to work with and always pay on time and
… and…and…you get the idea.
She laughed and
assured me that I had nothing to worry about; her focus was on
reducing her workload with more complex businesses that were taking
a lot of her time. Relieved, I hung up the phone.
Then I thought – Wow!
I am the customer, and here I am begging this vendor: please, please
- continue to take my money! Does this describe the relationship
that you have with your customers? How valuable are you to them? Do
they depend on you for giving them direction, or are you an
In my business, every
time that a sales person asks me, “what would you like to do?”, I
want to say “why are you asking me? I thought that you were the
expert.” I never say that, of course, but it is what I am thinking.
Don’t ask me for
my opinion; I’m paying you for yours. Be confident and assertive.
Tell me what you think I should do. In other words, be the Unpaid
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