You don’t want to be a vendor. The word suggests that you offer something for sale, like a vending machine. You also don’t want to be a preferred vendor, even if that means your dream client gives you more of their business than someone else.
It might sound—and feel—better to be described as a supplier, another word that suggests the transactional relationship, one in which you supply something that your clients or prospects need. Adding the word “preferred” to the supplier is no more flattering than adding it to the word vendor.
You are not going to have any of your clients call you their “trusted advisor.” The way that you know you occupy this space is the way your client engages with you. When they describe you to other people, they might use the word “partner,” an indication that you are something more than a vendor or a supplier.
What Makes You a Vendor?
What makes one a vendor is a sales approach centered on selling a product, service, or solution, believing the most outstanding value you can create is to tell your company’s story and pitching the solution. You might call this approach transactional, or you might recognize it as an approach that doesn’t create much value for your clients, with an exception for the client is trying to buy what you sell.
If you are easy to do business with and what you sell works well for your client, you might move up a bit to the preferred vendor. There is no requirement that one sell using an approach that requires value creation for the client, but its absence and the lack of value makes you easy to beat in a contest against better salespeople with a modern approach.
What Makes You a Supplier?
A supplier is a level above the vendor. The difference may be that the supplier sells something more strategic, including something complex enough to be considered a solution. You will find purchasing agents and professional buyers tend to use words like vendor and supplier as a way to ensure that you recognize the nature of the relationship, or more accurately, the lack of a relationship.
Being a preferred supplier generally seems to be a term used when you perform where other people have struggled and failed, often due to the client’s constraints, and your success entitles you to more of their business. Someone can use this term to describe you even when you are something more, only because that’s the word their company uses to talk about the companies who help them with the things they need.
What Makes You a Trusted Advisor?
Even if your client is going to refer to you as their trusted advisor, there are signs that this is the space you occupy. You make it more likely you become something like a trusted advisor or strategic partner through your sales approach. An approach that centered on the relationship and insights that help your client discover something about themselves and their business, something that allows them to move their business forward.
The role of a consultative salesperson requires that the salesperson knows something the client doesn’t know or doesn’t know as well as the salesperson. They have some expertise, business acumen, and situational knowledge that allows them to fill in the gaps in the client’s knowledge and experience.
Older approaches to sales that focused on finding dissatisfaction still have some part of the truth about selling, but the truth is partial. Trying to talk someone into believing they have a problem worth solving isn’t as powerful as an approach that provides your prospective client with the context that helps them recognize the need to do change. It also provides the implications of doing nothing in the face of a world of constant, accelerating, disruptive change.
Signs You Are a Trusted Advisor
When your contacts call you before they make a decision or to get your view about a certain problem they are struggling with, you have evidence that you are something more than a vendor, supplier, or salesperson.
When your contacts call you to ask you for advice on things that are entirely outside of your domain, you have further proof that you are at least consultative, and likely a trusted advisor, proving you have both the intimacy and the proven discernment your client values.
The more your client initiates the contact with you, the more it means your relationship is valuable enough to your client that you receive a phone call, a call that your vendor competitor isn’t going to experience. Relationship selling still matters.
As you have new ideas and new initiatives to pursue with your clients, the fact that you only need to ask for a meeting to share your ideas is solid evidence that your relationship and the results you have helped them produce is enough to get your concept a mostly unfair hearing, one that is biased towards a yes, even if your timing is off. It’s always good to be in front of your clients when it comes to the next initiative.
What you want from your sales approach and your execution is an absolute right to the next opportunity, project, initiative, solution, or transformational change. You want to work on delivering strategic value, something I describe as Level Four Value in Eat Their Lunch: Winning Customers Away from Your Competition, giving you the upper hand in any contest.