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As a sales trainer with Sandler Training, I spend a lot of time talking to my clients and I get paid to work with them in four areas of their business: Strategy, Structure, Staff and Skills. Because I spend hours talking to them, I learn quite a bit. And despite that fact, they still manage to surprise me with the questions they ask me.

Recently a client of mine asked me to come out and speak to his customer service team, a group of people I had never met and he had rarely spoken about. At the end of my two-hour presentation, as he was walking me to the door of his facility, he suddenly looked over at me and said "Thanks for coming out. It will be great for the Customer Service Reps to use the same language as the Sales Team—by the way, do you know a plumber?"

I answered his question and gave him the name of a client who just happened to be a plumber. Then I asked him a question. "Why ask me for a plumber?" "Simple," he said. "Every time I get something from you I end up with more value than I bargained for. More importantly, if you do not know an answer, you tell me that. That leads me to believe that if you recommend a plumber to me, that plumber is going to be a good one."

Take a look at your business card and ask yourself what it is that you sell. If you are a copier salesman, you probably spend quite a bit of time talking about copiers; if you sell web services, you probably spend hours discussing SEO, SEM or whatever your niche is. Here is the challenge: the goal of sales is not to be a vendor of a product or service. The goal is to become a trusted advisor to the clients you serve.

"Fine," you say. "Everybody knows that, but what does it mean?" Well, the definition is pretty simple. A trusted advisor is a person relied upon by their clients to have expertise in not one, but in many areas of a business. A trusted advisor is the person who gets a phone call about a question clearly outside of his specific area of responsibility, simply because the decision maker values his judgment and perspective.

Here is a quick test. Over the next 14 days, keep track of the number of questions your clients ask you about products, services and issues that they are facing—ones that your company does not provide a solution for. In other words, if you are a copier salesman, count the questions that have nothing to do with document management. If you are a web services professional, you count the questions that do not involve the internet. The higher number of questions, the better job you have done making yourself a highly trusted advisor. The lower the number the closer you are moving to vendorville.

Times are tough, and the economy is giving buyers an excuse to be even more selective about who they work with. But one thing has always and will always be true in sales: trusted advisors keep their accounts while vendors get replaced

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