It's the holy grail of Professional Services – to become a trusted advisor to your senior clients. To be viewed – and sought out – as a source of valued advice and support.
In this short video I review the key steps you need to take to become a trusted advisor and valued partner to your senior clients.
How To Become A Trusted Advisor: A More Clients TV Video
So you want to become a Trusted Advisor to your senior clients?
The benefits from a business development perspective are clear: if you're the first port of call for a client with a critical business problem then you're in a tremendous position to help shape that client's thinking, to build a deep understanding of the situation, and to establish strong credibility through the discussions.
In other words, you'll be in pole position to win any related work.
And if you’ve established a position of being able to help and offer good advice across a broad range of issues – not just in your own specialism – they you become an indispensable partner – not just a supplier.
But becoming a trusted advisor doesn’t happen overnight. The position’s got to be earned – and that takes time and it takes consistent action.
How To Become a Trusted Advisor
The clues to what to focus on are in the name – trusted advisor. You must establish both a trust-based relationship with your client; and you must be viewed as a source of valuable advice.
Building trust can only be done by demonstrating and proving trustworthiness over time. The client must come to believe that you understand them, you have their best interests at heart, and you will deal with them with candour – always being honest about what you can and cannot do, and taking a long term perspective rather than seeing them as a short-term sales prospect.
When the Huthwaite Group studied client’s perceptions of professional service salespeople, they found that of the key elements of trust (in their words: candour, competence and concern) it was the area of showing concern and empathy for their clients where professionals performed the worst. Much worse that their counterparts in product sales.
Accountants, lawyers and consultants are trained “to be professional”. To be objective, fact-driven and solution focused. They’ve been conditioned into feeling they must constantly demonstrate their cleverness and expertise in order to be credible.
But all of this mitigates against showing genuine human concern for clients and their challenges.
It’s not that professionals don’t care about their clients – far from it. But they must learn to express this concern in ways which clients can appreciate. Using our listening skills, for example, not to gather ammunition for our next verbal gem – but to build genuine and deep understanding of a client’s situation.
When it comes to demonstrating that you can provide valuable advice, this again must be demonstrated over time. Every interaction with your senior clients is a chance to either advance their perception of you as a source of valuable insight, or not.
First you must “earn your spurs” – earn the basic right to be listened to by your senior clients. You do this by demonstrating competence in the areas for which you have been hired. Until you have done this, attempts to advise on wider areas will fall on deaf ears – you need to demonstrate your basic capabilities first.
But many professionals stop there. They limit their interactions with clients to talking about the work at hand and the specialism they focus on.
Over time, this causes them to be pigeon-holed as merely a technical specialist. Someone who can be relied on to deal with specific topics – but not a trusted advisor who can help with more challenging problems.
To establish your trusted advisor status you must demonstrate that you can give valuable advice outside your specialism. You must demonstrate you knowledge of business in general, and of the client’s business and industry specifically. This means you must do your homework.
As a professional you must know the key issues of the day. In business and industry generally. In your client’s industry more specifically. And if you can, in your client’s company.
As you get closer and closer to your client, they’ll also begin to share issues that are personal to them and their role. But at the start, it’s the more general industry and company issues which you must focus on.
Always make sure you’re up to date with industry news – and ask the client about their opinions. Put out tentative hypotheses to gently establish the fact that you’ve been thinking about their industry and their company. Highlight a recent move a competitor made and ask them how effective they feel it was – and be prepared to give your tentative views too.
Don’t push this too far, too early. I’ve seen many junior consultants and aspiring partners rush far too fast into trying to “coach” senior clients long before they have earned the right.
Instead, recognise where you are in your relationship: Have I established my basic competence? Have I created an impression of strong general business knowledge? Have I demonstrated useful insights into key business problems? View the development of your relationship as a ladder you climb step by step – and hand-in-hand with your client at every step.
Do this and you will set yourself well apart from the vast majority of professional services business developers.
Do it really well, and you’ll find that the clients you develop your trusted advisor roles with will support you for many, many years.