Are Your Salespeople Vendors, Partners or Trusted Advisors?


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Earlier this week I posted this article about What Customers Expect From Their Salespeople. The Article was reposted on SalesEdgeOne and Andy Rudin, a sales consultant, took me to task on one of my comments.

He said, “The ladder you described–vendor to partner to trusted advisor–bothers me because there are no standards or certifications. Agreed that some salespeople are better than others at the critical skills of trust and relationship building. But I’m not sure that using vague terms brings salespeople closer to what customers want. I’ve been in sales for over 20 years, and I can’t tell you with clarity exactly what a ‘trusted advisor’ is–and I still question whether Trusted Advisor is even possible when a salesperson can make a healthy commission or bonus on a sale.”

Thanks Andy!

I don’t believe we will ever give out certifications on those terms, but if there are no standards in place today, let’s standardize on those terms right here and now.

Vendor – These salespeople are essentially seen as equal or less than the many companies from whom the customer can purchase a product or service. There is no perceived added value so that purchases always come down to price, availability or timing.

Partner – Salespeople (and possibly their subject matter expert team) and customers working together to solve customer problems. These salespeople are seen in a different light from from vendors, and may be able to sell at higher margin because of the value and expertise they bring to the table.

Trusted Advisor – The customer/client calls the trusted advisor for advice before doing anything with anybody. In most cases, there is no competition because the Trusted Advisor is firmly entrenched with mutual loyalty, trust, love, respect and appreciation.

If we can agree on the basics for these three sales types, then we should be able to agree that a Partner is preferable to a Vendor and Trusted Advisor is preferable to a Partner.

Now here is what you can do on your end. Get your salespeople to stop referring to themselves as vendors and salespeople. How far does that get them when attempting to differentiate from everyone else?

Stay tuned to a future article and I’ll write about how you can get your salespeople to sell in such a way as to achieve Partner and Trusted Advisor status.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Is is true that “a Partner is preferable to a Vendor and Trusted Advisor is preferable to a Partner”?

    That implies that all salespeople aspire to “climb” that ladder, but I’m not so sure that clients want that.

    What a client wants depends. Sometimes they want a straight vendor relationships, which I would characterize by “efficiency and cost”, sometimes they want a partner relationship, which I would characterize by “effectiveness and value”, and sometimes a trusted advisor which I would characterize by “transformation and change”.

    All three have an ongoing and legitimate role, don’t they?

    Walter @adamson

  2. @Walter,

    I’m sure that some large companies would very much prefer that the salespeople selling to them never achieve a status any higher than vendor. Of course, the people in those large companies probably have a procurement title…

    Walter, that’s the challenge, isn’t it? Buyers want to control and neutralize salespeople and succeed at doing that with those salespeople who never graduate past transactional salespeople – venors. We want our salespeople calling higher, differentiating themselves, and getting past the vendor label so that we can have more influence on the outcomes.

    The question is, will our salespeople simply do as they say, be subservient, make presentations and give quotes, chase the business down and win only when they have the lowest price; or will they learn to sell higher in the company, impress a top executive with their questions, push-back and challenges, differentiate from the others, and become a partner, not subject to the constant quoting and low margin business that the vendors are subjected to?


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