Is Moving From Vendor Up the Ladder Scary to Sales Executives?


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This is actually the third article on this subject. Last week I posted this article which contains a link to the original article.

Last week, a reader left this comment:

“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?”

Thanks reader. I like your three word descriptions of the three labels! But let’s cut to the chase…

I’m sure that some large companies would very much prefer that the salespeople calling on them never rise to a level beyond vendor. Of course, the people we are talking about in those large companies probably own a procurement title…

Buyers want to control and neutralize salespeople in order to get the very lowest price. They usually succeed at doing that with salespeople who are unable to sell effectively enough to ever be viewed as anything other than transactional salespeople or vendors.

Most companies want their salespeople to call higher, differentiating themselves, and getting beyond vendor in order to have more influence on the outcomes. Of course, there is an enormous gap between directing them to do so and their ability to execute. That gap includes credibility, expertise, relationships, their ability to speak the language of the executive they are calling on, a better financial understanding of business, the ability to carefully listen and ask questions, sell consultatively and solve problems.

The question is, will our salespeople simply do as the buyers say – be subservient – and make presentations, provide quotes, chase the business down and win only when they have the lowest price? Or will they learn how to sell higher in the company, impress a top executive with their questions and push-back and challenge the executive’s thinking, differentiate themselves from their competitors, and become a partner or trusted advisor, not subject to the constant quoting and low margin business that vendors constantly deal with?

So why does this concept scare people? It means they have to change their thinking, coaching, training, direction, positioning and more. But the scariest part is that some companies will never be anything but vendors because they don’t have any value to add, they don’t have products or services that are any different from their competition, they don’t have salespeople that are capable of doing anything other than presenting, quoting and chasing, and that does not bode well for the future of their companies. THAT is scary!

There is a place for vendors – from the buyers’ persepctive. But from our perspective, there should also be a place for partners and trusted advisors.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Dave: First, thanks for the mention in your previous blog (#2 in this series).

    I agree that deeper buyer/seller relationships often lead to dependably better sales outcomes than perfunctory ones. But the labels you’ve offered serve as shorthand for complex patterns of buyer and seller behaviors. Unfortunately, much is lost in translation.

    “Trusted Advisor” is destined to fail because:

    1. Sales culture and compensation aren’t aligned with it. It’s hard for anyone to be a ‘trusted advisor’ with a quota sword dangling over his or her neck. Sales VP’s talk a good game, all in one breath: “we want our salespeople to earn a customer’s trust. Now here’s your revenue goal . . . ” Oops. Hard stop right there!

    If you can find “trusted advisor” in that, let me know. And I’d be an idiot as a customer to get sucked the notion that a commission-driven, bonus-earning salesperson will be my trusted advisor. Honest, OK. Ethical, maybe. But trusted advisor? I don’t think so.

    2. You can’t be a trusted advisor without parity. But salespeople aren’t coached to look for it. To your point, is asking for parity–scratch that–demanding parity– what scares sales executives? Most don’t know how to insist on it. They think of “trusted advisor” as a title, like a switch that a customer throws that will ignite a sales relationship from which dollars will flow like manna from heaven.

    Until salespeople recognize that transparency, honesty, and candor must be received as well as given, they (we, really) are stuck in a subservient role, endlessly waiting for Jim-the-prospect to tell us whether we’re a contender for his company’s business. “We’re open, but Jim sure isn’t. . . .” That won’t work for anyone.

    3. Mentorship? What mentorship? “Go forth and be your prospect’s ‘trusted advisor,’ but don’t look for me to advise you. I don’t know how. Oh, did I mention what happens to you if you don’t make quota? (see #1 above).” What a cultural quagmire! No wonder salespeople churn as much as they do. Bottom line: not enough sales leaders have the talent to identify, nurture, and reward trust-building behaviors. Few have the capabilities themselves.

    As leaders and managers, what we ask salespeople to do in building trust and how we reward them are often diametrically opposed. It sucks if you’re a salesperson, it sucks if you’re a sales manager, and it sucks if you’re a customer. Until we change the culture of selling, and the compensation methods that fuel it, salespeople won’t be ‘trusted advisors.’

    For me, a salesperson who can truly be a trusted advisor is one who doesn’t need the money, or who is not impacted by a prospect’s decision not to buy.

    Forget about “trusted advisor.” Salespeople who have “positive intent” (credit to Mahan Khalsa) will instill trust. Those who focus on honesty and providing value will win my respect.

  2. Thanks Andy – Great points!

    So does that mean you cannot be a trusted advisor to your clients since they are paying you for your advice?

    My clients pay me – a lot – and I know they view me that way…I’m fairly certain that is why I am asked to sit on their boards…


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