Alan Duncan
Business Training Consultant
Houston, TX

When you’re meeting with a client about a specific task or project, how comfortable are you with attempting to expand the scope of the project?  Do you sometimes feel you are pushing services that the client has not asked for?  Are you concerned that the client might think you are trying to sell something they neither need nor want?  Are you afraid of being thought of as a “salesperson?”

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’ll want to focus on creating a perception of value consistent with that of a consultant, rather than that of a salesperson.

Like it or not, we all sell.  Even if it’s not your assigned role to generate sales of your firm’s services, you probably have to sell ideas or suggestions for improvement from time to time.  Appraisers, with their focus on objectivity, can particularly cringe at the thought of being seen as a salesperson.  Sales does not have to be a bad word.  Unfortunately, the legions of salespeople who have gone before us have conditioned us and our clients to expect the worst of someone perceived to be in a selling role.

Think about your conversations with clients and potential clients and the impression you create.  If the client does not know you, you can find yourself guilty until proven innocent in his eyes.  If the client gets the feeling that you are simply there to sell something, he may think of you as a manipulator.  This is obviously not your intention.  If you begin asking questions, however, and the client doesn’t understand where you’re going with those questions, he may feel like you are asking him to supply you with bullets that you can shoot him with later.  On an ascending scale of value to the client, the manipulator is at the bottom of the scale. Manipulators are looking to enrich themselves without consideration of the client’s situation or needs.

The first mistake is to play the role of order taker in an attempt to avoid being perceived as a manipulator.  You are, at least, one step up in value from the manipulator since there is no intention to deceive.  You adds no real value, however, since you are purely reactive to the client.  In this role, you ask few questions and take the clients’ expressions of need at face value.  The order taker will never challenge the thinking of the client nor attempt to gain a comprehensive understanding of the client’s situation or needs.

The next step up in perceived value is the price merchant, who will try to add value by appearing to be cheaper then the competition.  The conversation focuses on fees and rates, and the price merchant will concede that what is on offer is a commodity.  Other appraisal professionals abound, and a client is spoiled for choice.  Since it may be assumed that professional qualifications level the playing field, the most important differentiator is money!  Business won on price can be easily lost on price.  This is a weak position to sell from.

Higher on the scale is the tell seller – the knowledge master, expert and information presenter extraordinaire.  The tell seller, as the title implies, will dump data on you from a great height and expect that their knowledge and acumen will convince you that they are the professional you should work with.  What is missing is asking good questions and listening to the client’s answers.  The tell seller already knows what you need, so why waste time asking; especially since his knowledge is superior to yours?

So far, these behaviors and roles are consistent with a more traditional and transactional way of selling.  In order to build solid, long term relationships and be perceived to be on a higher level, it behooves us to take a more client focused and consultative approach.

The need satisfier earns the right to ask in-depth, probing questions to gain a clear understanding of the client’s situation and needs.  The information they subsequently present is relevant and offers specific benefits to the client.  The need satisfier is not afraid to explore the project with a view to expanding the scope when appropriate.

Over time, consistent consultative behavior builds the client’s perception of value to the point where the client might use the appellation “trusted advisor” to describe your role in the relationship.

If you draw a line below need satisfier, then the roles and behaviors above the line demonstrate a desire to serve rather than sell.  The results can be the establishment of a long term, mutually beneficial business relationship, where “expending the scope” becomes a moot concept – the client will understand that your intentions are honorable and that you understand that being seen as a trusted advisor can result in repeat and referral business.

How Clients See People in a Selling Role

In a follow-up article in the next issue of Business of Valuation, we’ll take a closer look at moving “above the line” into a more consultative selling mode.

Alan Duncan is a native of Scotland and lives in Houston, Texas.  He travels throughout North America and Europe, helping his clients improve results in the areas of sales, service, management and personal effectiveness.  He has extensive experience in training accountants and bankers in the art and science of sales and service.

Trusted Advisor

Order Taker

Consultative Centric

Tell Seller

Price Merchant


Need Satisfier


Transactional Centric





Alan Duncan
Alan Duncan