Sales representative or adviser?

Sell your services and products through strategic advice

By Rasmus Bjørn Aagaard, former CEO and Partner at Twentyfour

There is more significant growth in corporate digitalization than ever before. Companies are investing massively in technologies such as big data, artificial intelligence, and automation to increase competitiveness and efficient productivity. The demand for intelligent advisers, independent collaborative partners, and suppliers for digital solutions are huge.

There is a huge demand for people like us working as digital advisers, sales representatives, and suppliers on the market.

I have invited my amazing partner, the guy who I often collaborate with, who is a process consultant, former project manager, and digital producer, and who is also part of the digital agency world, Kaspar Hansen, to a discussion on topics such as sales, ethics, customer relations, advisory power, and impartiality.

Today, you are getting smarter.

You will understand our view on the area between an adviser and a sales representative. We will navigate between independent advice and sales interest with examples and insights.

With our help, you will be better equipped next time you talk to a sales representative or adviser.

You will understand the differences between being an adviser and a sales representative. We will guide you towards being a strategic adviser to build a long-term relationship with your customers and increase your sales.

Which role would you choose before meeting a customer: adviser, consultant, or sales representative? 

Kaspar Hansen, CEO of Excelerate: “It depends on which stage I meet the customer throughout the customer relationship process. I may have a sales approach when pitching my business to my customer. But, I often see the client daily when working on a project together. In this case, I am seen as a consultant, often in an advisory role.

That process often leads to ‘sales’. We become wiser than we were when we started it. Depending on the project type, it leads to a change of direction or adjustment of time spent, either increasing or decreasing it, but for me, that is not the goal itself. The goal for me, personally, as a project manager, when doing a project with a customer, is to ensure that the ‘setup’ runs as agreed, that we deliver it on time, that we deliver what we agreed on, and that we deliver to the agreed budget.

If my role were a digital producer, I would work either as a substitute for a product owner with the customer or in close collaboration with the customer’s product owner.”

Which role do I choose?

Sales representative, account manager, adviser – these are just different ways of expressing the same.

At Twentyfour, we are sales representatives. And our customers know this. We are there to, hopefully, sell them a good solution. We work with complex digital solutions and not just off-the-shelf products. Therefore, we need to be able to advise on the tasks and produce the business persona. It is crucial that we genuinely understand the needs and pains of our customers. What do the customers want to achieve with their digital solution? What business goals do they have to meet?

We always have to be sharp by asking the right and relevant questions to get to know the customers better. If we do not understand the customers, their goals, and their strategy, then we can not advise them and can not provide a good product and solution.

Could you give an example of your business advice in a sales situation?

The business advice in a pitch is minimal. It’s more our “take” on what we believe is the right path for the customers concerning their company’s direction before we start the pitch. But if we can see that there is something fundamentally off about time, scope, or budget, then it will be reflected and justified in our pitch and project plan.

A classic modern customer is a customer who wants to run an agile project but has not allocated the extra resources internally in their business to succeed in running an agile project. It could be a lack of time or resources for an initial process, typically a series of workshops or meetings. This is all it takes for the project to start with the greatest possible chance of being a success.

Kaspar Hansen, CEO of Excelerate

I have the counseling conversations the most with our potential customers, even though my job is to sell our solutions.

An example could be a customer who comes to Twentyfour and needs a new website built. Here, we need to understand why the customer needs that website:

  • What purpose does the website have?
  • Why does it have that specific purpose?
  • What is the context the website should be built?
  • Who is the target group?
  • How can we deliver the best result for the customer?

These are all questions that do not necessarily have much to do with technology. We definitely talk a lot more business with the customer in the initial dialogue. In this stage, we find out what the customer wants to achieve.

Once we have that in place, we can start mapping the business needs with digital initiatives. E.g., a website with different page types, functionalities, forms, etc. 

What is most important: Good ethics, impartiality, or getting the sale?

That is a good question. Impartiality is not what you buy when you contact an agency. It’s an intermediary who is not financially interested in the outcome and is paid to be impartial. I have never been in an agency where my personal success depended on sales, so I have no relationship with that. Good ethics is probably just something that has to be present. What weighs heaviest for me is the value of what we create – if it is top-notch, everyone wins.

Kaspar Hansen, CEO of Excelerate

My opinion is the same as Kaspar’s. A good adviser should always have the customer’s interests in mind. Even if it means that you aren’t the right supplier for them and end up not being able to sell anything to that customer.

So, while it may not directly translate into impartiality, I would say good ethics and good advice weigh the heaviest. It often comes back ten times! That is because the customer knows he can trust your advice and that you don’t think about your benefits.

Although I work in the agency world and my area of ​​responsibility as a CEO and adviser is to sell solutions, this is only relevant in my world and only if we can provide a solution that can support the client’s business goals or solve a specific challenge. If not, then here’s a new product just for you!

And even if our paths diverge without a purchase, perhaps we can reference another supplier in the market. Then the customer will hopefully remember the good advice and pass this on to their network. 

How would you describe your relationship with your customers?

If possible, I always try to be close to the customer physically, either by working at their location or making room for them here with us, if not all week, then at least several days a week. Having lunch together occasionally can’t be compared to a zoom meeting. For me, it is important to be available, and the outcome it provides is super important for the relationship going forward.

Kaspar Hansen, CEO of Excelerate

Both as CEO and Partner in Twentyfour, but also personally, my primary focus is always to create good relationships.

We build solutions for people. My most important task, as I see it, regarding all customer relationships is to listen to them. Ask lots of questions, and show interest in everything they deal with. It is vital to establish a trusting relationship.

This is where we can get in-depth with the customer’s challenges and pains and become sharper at delivering a workable solution.

What do you think makes a counselor particularly good?

I will probably be a little unpopular here, but I think that a good adviser is 100% impartial, and therefore, it is rare to find a good adviser in an agency. A good adviser is only an adviser, otherwise, if they are not impartial, there will be a conflict of interest.

If you, as a customer, are aware of the conflict of interest, then that is something else. And then, of course, the counselor must have a range of skills that qualifies them to advise others.

Kaspar Hansen, CEO of Excelerate

There is a list of personal qualities one must master to be a good counselor. First and foremost, you must be able to listen to the customers’ needs and put yourself in their place.

It’s also important to be clear and transparent in your communication. In this way, the customers know when they can count on you, which matters you can advise them on, and what is not within your area of ​​competence.

It is not dangerous, to be honest in your work. On the contrary, it creates trust and credibility because you know what you can do. But also what other suppliers and solutions can do.

Not only for optimizing your own sales opportunities but also to advise the customer on the perfect solution, even if only a few parts, or the entire project, is handled by another supplier.

And here, we can discuss Kaspar’s statement by emphasizing that a good adviser is only an adviser and not a supplier.

So is a good adviser “just” an adviser?

As long as there is transparency in where we come from (agency) and how we advise the customer (concrete solution) combined with an in-depth insight into other solutions on the market, and openness about solutions that are beyond our competencies, then I would say that it is good advice. This is a difficult balance since you want to end up selling something to the customer.

But, if your advice and what you want to sell do not create value for the customers, I would recommend wearing the adviser role, not the seller role, as it always turns around.

A happy and satisfied customer who receives good advice returns and buys more. A dissatisfied customer who has had a bad experience doesn’t. 

How often have you experienced sending a customer into the arms of another supplier? 

It happens from time to time, but the agencies I have at have been branded strongly within a specific area, so customers know what they are about. But it has happened before that our customers have asked for help in choosing an ‘app agency’ or asking about the best companies in a given category, and they have received my recommendation on another supplier on the market.

Kaspar Hansen, CEO of Excelerate

An example of a similar customer situation in Twentyfour, where we bring other suppliers, partners, and even competitors into specific tasks, is when we move into, for example, the content and communicative expression of the digital solutions we build.

When we have finished building a digital solution, content must be poured into the solution. That could be beautiful and well-placed pictures, texts, and videos that explain the message our customer wants to convey.

At Twentyfour, we are not (yet, at least) experts in delivering content to our customers. Just like we don’t do marketing for our customers executed in, e.g., Google Ads, Facebook ads, and SEO optimization.

There are many agencies and companies that are specialists in these fields! And we are more than happy to assign them projects to make the customers’ solutions completely perfect.

An empty website without content is worth nothing; it is very important that what we build comes to life. So it is a synergy that must be united. We often do this by referring to partners that we recommend our customers to contact.

We are very keen on having some strong partners in other agencies, freelancers, and specialists, as we know that we can not be equally skilled at everything. No one can. 

Five tips on how to act as a strategic adviser if you are a sales representative:

  1. With a strong and validated experience base, you stand strategically strong when you bring your professionalism and knowledge into the relationship with the customer. You know more than the customer about given products, services, and other solutions on the market. Always stay up to date on market developments. This is one of your strongest cards. 
  1. Help the customer create a strategic foundation for their company’s growth by spending plenty of time on the clarification phase by asking all the relevant questions, including the company’s requirements and business goals, the company’s mission, vision and KPIs, the company’s target groups, and competitors landscape.
  1. Do not fear the “stupid and obvious questions”. You are the “stupid one” if you do not dare to be honest about something you have not fully understood but pretend that you did understand. It is often the unspoken that creates the most hassle further ahead.
  1. Dare to present the customers with other solutions than they demand. It’s not necessarily the solution the customer thinks is the right one that meets their needs and goals.
  1. Spend time creating a relationship with your customer. It’s important for mutual trust and long-term cooperation. Often the customer pays for the consultation and advice as much as the solution itself, and that part of the sale is born out of trust and credibility, just as the reference from the customer is.

The best sale is when a customer is referred with a positive reference, thereby laying the groundwork for mutual trust. Remember that good advice is never wrong, not even when you send your customer in a different direction in case you are not suitable for the task.

About Kaspar Hansen

Kaspar is a digital consultant, project manager, and project methodology nerd focused on human interaction in both customer and team relationships.

Kaspar Hansen is the founder of Excelerate, which connects students with companies through collaboration on their main or just regular thesis.

Excelerate is for bachelor’s and master’s students who want to reach out to many more companies. At the same time, Excelerate can help companies find academic talents that fit into a future job position in that specific company.