The concept of being One-Up means you believe your client is One-Down as it pertains to decision-making and the better results they need help producing. It doesn’t mean that your client isn’t One-Up in other areas, and it doesn’t suggest that you are always and forever One-Up, as you are One-Down in all the areas where you lack the knowledge or experience that would make you One-Up.
The only reason you are able to help your client with their decision-making around the better results they need is because you are One-Up, possessing the insights and perspective acquired through the experience of helping other people similarly situated improving their results. Without being One-Up, there is no reason for a client to speak with you at all, let alone take your advice.
Yet, for all the talk about how salespeople need to be consultative, the question from salespeople who are not yet One-Up is some version of “Who am I to tell my client what to do?”
On Telling Your Client What To Do
It can be a bitter pill to swallow, but the word “consultative” means telling your client what they need to do to achieve the better outcomes they need. If the decision the client is considering is important and something they do infrequently, the decision deserves a consultative approach. Your clients don’t know what they don’t know, and unless you address the information disparity that is their lack of experience, you are not creating the value the client needs from you.
The salesperson who isn’t willing to tell the client what to do will find themselves replaced by a salesperson who is One-Up and more than willing to provide a consultative approach. What’s odd about the salesperson that dreams about telling the client to do is that they have no problem telling them to buy their solution from their company, even though they do so without creating enough value to have earned the right to make that ask.
Addressing the Fear of the Decision-Maker
A salesperson that is new to sales is naturally One-Down. As they call on clients and help them pursue their goals and initiatives, they gain the experience that is unavailable to their clients who have little or no experience that would provide them with the same perspective.
Still, there are those who believe the decision-maker, especially one with a C-Level title, is somehow a superior human being, one that doesn’t need any advice or recommendations from a person who lacks the title that would allow them to tell the client what to do. You may not know how a C-Level Executive works, but it isn’t by knowing everything. It’s about making and executing good decisions. Because leaders know they are not experts in everything, they seek out people who are experts in their fields to help them make and execute those decisions.
One C-Level executive I know always asks the waiter or waitress what they recommend, and always takes their advice. He does this because he believes they know what is most popular and what their diners order over and over. You might believe this is a mundane decision, not a decision about their business. It might also be that this C-Level Exec is used to asking people to share their perspectives on all kinds of decisions, finding it improves the decision when someone can share something that improves a decision or a result.
You have no reason to fear telling your client what to do. The only reason you are in the room with decision-makers is because they are trying to make the best decision for their company, and they need the help of someone who can teach them what they need to know to achieve that goal.
Fearing the Wrong Danger
One day I came home to find my younger sister’s boyfriend being violent. He was much bigger and stronger than me. Even though I was afraid to fight him, the greater fear was that my sister would be hurt. I attacked him and paid a high price for doing so. I ended up with a concussion, a black eye, and a busted lip. The lesson here is that you have to face the real danger.
The real danger is for those who don’t believe it is their job to lead their clients through the sales conversation, or if you prefer, facilitate the client’s journey. You also have to tell them what is important to their decision and why certain factors are more important than others. In the end, you have to tell your client what they need to do to succeed. The danger for a salesperson in a complex sale is not stepping over some boundary that doesn’t actually exist, but the fear of not creating enough value for the client to recognize you as someone who is One-Up and capable of being their expert about your industry and the results the client needs.
You should fear the legacy approaches that would have you fearing your clients and the approaches that suggest that you are supposed to provide your client with information about your company and your products and services. You should also fear not being perceived as a peer, the result of being One-Up and knowing your client is One-Down when it comes to the experience they need—and that you can supply.
As a consultative salesperson, you are obligated to provide good advice, great advice, and the recommendations that would speed your client to the results they need and ensure their success.
As the person obligated to help your client succeed, you are exactly the right person to tell your client what to do—provided you are One-Up.