Pusher, Consultant, or Trusted Advisor: Which One Are You? (The Answer Might Surprise You)


In a crowded, oversaturated market, making your business stand out is not only the secret to being heard above the noise, but it’s the key to retaining clients longer, commanding higher margins, and building a business with value. In the promotional products business, the typical evolution of a successful distributor moves through three distinct phases. Which phase are you in? 

Product Pusher

 Known in the pejorative as a “trunk slammer” (a throwback to when promo peddlers sold product out of catalogs going door-to-door), the product pusher is the physical equivalent of spam. Mistaking supply for demand, the product pusher thrives on cheaper prices and flash-in-the-pan trends (like fidget spinners). The product pusher sells the latest products to a fickle client base and typically has very high customer turnover. Clients do not engage with the product pusher to solve a problem; the product pusher is sought merely as a resource. And when that resource becomes too costly or unreliable, the client moves on to another source. The relationships are fickle, short-lived, and, in the era of 4Imprint and Discount Mugs, it is not sustainable as a business model for the long term. 

Consultative Seller

 A consultative seller has a deeper understanding of their clients. The customer has learned to rely on their problem solving for sourcing, customization, and their advice on when and how to use the right promotion for the greatest return. Perhaps they are involved in complicated materials management, like a company store, or intricate importing. They are also “idea specialists,” they are creative as it pertains to merchandising. Many distributors mature to this middle category, but a consultative seller still falls prey to the age-old problem: lose a buyer, lose the account. They are not necessarily solving business problems, but they are solving complex product and sourcing problems. Their processes enable them to take complicated purchasing methods and simplify them but often the processes are the focal point (and not the client and their needs). Though they do have a solid system for delivering product and a deeper understanding of their client than a product pusher, they lack the insight to carry them into the most coveted phase of the client relationship, the trusted advisor. 

Trusted Advisor

 The trusted advisor has achieved elite status among promotional products professionals. These sellers are strategic contributors to their client’s success. Beyond product, these distributors find challenges within their client’s needs, solve problems, and give their client a definite advantage over the competition. Advisors understand their clients’ industries, following news, trends, and disruptions that affect their customers so that they can provide situational counsel. Their processes are streamlined to create the least amount of friction possible so that they, and their clients, can focus on solutions. These advisors deeply understand their client’s needs. They are experts in particular verticals and are culture integrators, people who understand the competitive landscape of their clients and provide solutions (both internally and externally) that resolve problems.  The question that separates product pushers and consultants from the trusted advisors is this:  

Are you a customer expert or a product expert?

 Being a product expert is merely table stakes. Clients expect you to have a strong command of product, sources, processes, and logistics, it is the bare minimum requirement for doing business on any sizable scale. The secret is in client specialization. Often, distributors end up selling everything to everyone and they don’t spend enough time defining who it is they sell to best and why.A customer expert hones their craft by asking the right questions that help earn them a seat at the customer’s table for strategic insight into winning. It’s a coveted position and one that is earned by learning about a client’s needs in an intimate way. In our next post, we’ll share the questions that will help you uncover challenges with your clients and earn you a seat at the table, but for now, take your top ten clients and ask where you stand in their mind.Are you a product pusher, a consultant, or a trusted advisor?
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