Ian Brodie

Ian Brodie teaches consultants, coaches and other professionals to attract and win their ideal clients by becoming seen as authorities in their field.

Tagbusiness development


How to Become a Trusted Advisor

Posted on 5th July 2012.

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It's the holy grail of Professional Services – to become a trusted business advisor to your senior clients. To be viewed – and sought out – as a source of valued advice and support.

The benefits are crystal 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 – then 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 comes from demonstrating and proving trustworthiness over time to your clients.

That means repeatedly demonstrating that you understand them, you have their best interests at heart, and you'll 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.

And that starts even before they become clients. How you treat them when they're prospects sends a strong message about how you'll treat them when they're a client.

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. We've been conditioned into feeling we must constantly demonstrate our 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 we don’t care about our clients – far from it. But we've got to 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.

And when it comes to demonstrating that you can provide valuable advice, again you've got to do this consistently 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.

Now that doesn't mean that a junior consultant or lawyer should try to jump right in and spout their “wisdom” to senior clients on day 1.

You've got to “earn your spurs” first.  You have to earn the basic right to be listened to by your senior clients.

You do this by demonstrating competence in the areas you've been hired for. Until you've done this, any attempts to advise on wider areas are going to fall on deaf ears. You need to prove your basic capabilities first.

Or as a grey-haired consultant told me on one of my early projects when I was trying far too hard to “add value” on a whole bunch of topics: “Ian, you've got to get your own sh*t sorted first”.

So that's your starting point.

But unfortunately, 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 just being technical specialists. People 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've got to demonstrate you can give valuable advice outside your specialism. You need to show you have broader knowledge of business in general, and of the client’s business and industry specifically.

That means you've got to do your homework.

As a professional you need to 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 you should 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 views too.

Use the smalltalk at the start and end of meetings to cover these relationship-building topics rather than jumping straight in to talk about the job at hand.

Or invite your client out for a coffee next time you do a progress update. A change of scenery to a more casual environment often helps clients open up more broadly about the things on their mind.

Don’t push this too far, too early though.

I’ve seen many junior consultants and aspiring partners rush far too fast into trying to “coach” senior clients long before they've 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?

Look at the development of your relationship as a ladder you climb step-by-step. And hand-in-hand with your client at every step of the way.

In the early days, ask about issues just a bit wider in their organisation. Or things that are big news and everyone is talking about.

As your relationship develops you can move on to broader and bigger topics. But always do your homework so you have an interesting point of view to share.

Do this and you will set yourself well apart from the vast majority of consultants and other professionals.

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.
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It Never Happens to Me…

Posted on 21st June 2011.

Why Me?If you're like me and you subscribe to a zillion email newsletters and blogs, you probably hear the following type of stories fairly regularly:

  • “Jane got chatting to the guy sitting next to her in the dentist. The topic got around to business, they exchanged cards, and a few calls later she had a new client.”
  • “I met Bill at a conference. We got talking and I mentioned an article I'd written on cost reduction. Later I sent it to him and followed up with a call. He was interested and after a brief meeting he hired me to help them reduce their indirect spend by 20%.”
  • “John was at a party a few weeks ago. The conversation turned to what everyone in the group did for a living. John shared his “elevator pitch” and two of the people there followed up with him later – one becoming a client within a few weeks.”

Now I don't know about you, but whenever I read these stories, or hear similar ones from people talking about their experiences, my immediate reaction is “how come that never happens to me?”

When I go to the dentist, the topic never gets round to business. When I meet people at parties, the conversation usually turns to football, not marketing.

So how come these folks in the stories seem to have so much success turning social situations into business? Is there a secret they're not sharing that they do and we don't? Some amazing technique we've not heard of?

Well, there is a secret. But it's not a clever technique.

You see, what the stories usually omit is that the people they're talking about initiate conversations EVERY time they're at the dentist (or the doctors, or at the hairdressers, or in a queue for tickets, or…). Only one in twenty turns into a business discussion – and that's the one you hear in the story. Of course, one in twenty is one more than you get if you don't initiate any conversations at all.

When they're at parties, the conversation doesn't always turn to business. It's just that they go to more parties than us, and they're the ones bringing up business.

In short, they turn more social situations into business than you or I because they put themselves in more social situations than you or I, they proactively talk to more people than you or I, and they bring up business more than you or I.

The rather simple logic is that all other things being equal, if you want to win more business, you've got to do more business development.

Or to paraphrase the old joke: it's no good just praying to win the lottery – you have to give your deity of choice a fighting chance by actually buying a ticket.



How to Use Linkedin to win new business: poll results

Posted on 28th January 2010.

My latest tips on building a Client Winning Profile for Linkedin are now on a free, short video – click here to watch it.

As you might know, as (apparently!) a Linkedin Expert, I've been asked by Cisco Webex and Linkedin to do occasional blog posts related to the European Business Awards they're running.

One thing I was interested in finding out was how people were using Linkedin to win new business. Many people, myself included (in this article on Linkedin tips for professionals), have written on the topic and given ideas and recommendations based on our own experiences and private research.

But I wanted to know how this was playing out in practice.

Never mind the theory, how are people actually winning business via Linkedin in the real world?

Webex were kind enough to run a poll for me in the Business Awards group asking people what they'd found to be the best way of winning new business via Linkedin.

We had 256 respondents. Of course, the results have an inbuilt bias as they're not from the full Linkedin population, but from those who have participated in the Business Awards group. But they certainly give a good picture of the different ways people are actually using Linkedin effectively.

The Results: Just How Are People Using Linkedin to Win New Business?

The poll question asked was “What has been the best way you've found to win new business using Linkedin?”. Like all Linkedin polls, respondents were allowed to pick one answer only.

First up: Overall results from all respondents

Overall Business Development Poll Results

That “Finding new connections” came out in 1st place is no surprise. The way Linkedin works makes it ideal for connecting with friends of friends. And that's been the main focus of most of the advice given about how to get new clients through Linkedin: using search and asking other to refer you.

But what was a surprise for me was that “Reconnecting with old contacts” was only just a few percentage points behind it in 2nd place. Remember, the question wasn't just about how you use Linkedin generally or for fun – it asked respondents about the best way they'd found to win new business. And nearly 30% of respondents were primarily getting new business from reaching out to old contacts they'd lost touch with.

When you think about it, this makes sense. Our old contacts (in the main) already know and trust us – whereas new connections don't. And the obvious initial question “what are you doing now?” can lead to interesting follow-ups: “oh really, funny you should say that, we were looking for someone to…” or “actually, I know someone who is on the lookout for…”. Although this is not something that's happened to me personally, a number of people I've spoken to have said this has worked well for them. the contacts they've reconnected with have often been in a position to pass on work to them.

Linkedin's pretty good at recommending names to reconnect with. And the more old contacts you connect with, the more it seems to recommend other, similar contacts.

So perhaps my biggest recommendation emerging from this survey is that if you want to use Linkedin to win new business, don't just focus on trying to find new connections: look at re-establishing contact with some of your old colleagues and clients.

Results by Company Size

There weren't really many differences between responses of different levels of seniority of respondents. But where there was an interesting difference was when you look at the results by company size.

Linkedin Business Development Poll Results By Company Size
You can see here a clear difference in the response of medium sized firms.

There were a significant number of responses from these firms (44), yet none of them found either contributing to discussions or deepending relationships to be good uses of Linkedin to win new business.

It's difficult to make a lot of sense of these results. Perhaps medium firms are less specialist than small ones – and hence don't get value from sharing their expertise in discussions. But then why would large firms and corporates firms see value in it?

Without knowing the answer, what is clear is that few medium sized firms have found value in this. Yet it's often a strategy recommended by experts in Linkedin.

My own experience is that I'd be wary of investing a lot of time in using Linkedin discussions (either in groups or the Q&A section) to try to win new business. Yes, you can establish yourself as an expert. But I've known many people invest a lot of time into building this expert status who've yet to see any work as a result from it. Not that no one has – but it does seem very hit and miss and difficult to predict in advance if it's going to pay off.

Results by Gender of Respondent: Stereotypes confirmed?

This is another area with markedly different results by group.

Linkedin Business Development Poll results by gender

Firstly, there were a lot more men answering the poll than women: 192 to 64.

But more interestingly, the big difference is that for men, the strategy they report as being the most effective at winning new business by far is finding new contacts. For women it's a much more balanced picture. They get new business by reconnecting with old contacts more than men. They get business by deeping relationship with existing contacts more than men. And they get business by having their profile found more than men. In short, it plays right in to the stereotype of men as aggressive hunter gatherers – going out and looking for new business. While women spend more time nurturing old and existing relationships to win business.

Now this may be because we're playing to our stereotypes and if we tried alternative approaches we'd have success. Or it may be that women really are better at ‘relationship stuff” than men (I'm sure a woman wouldn't call it “relationship stuff” either). Either way, it's worth testing further.

What Does it Mean?

The main thing I've learned from this is to challenge my own assumptions. I've written quite a bit on Linkedin, discussed experiences with many people, and read widely. But it was still a surprise to me to find out how many people were using the “reconnection” strategy so effectively, or the differences between medium sized businesses and others, or the differences between the experiences of men and women.

In future I'm going to be a little more wary of assuming that because a certain strategy has worked well for me that it's the best one for others.

And, of course, I'm going to start reconnecting…

So that's my interpretation of the results? What do you think? Hit the Comments below to share – it's much appreciated.



Focus, Focus, Focus

Posted on 12th January 2010.

Focus Your Business DevelopmentOne of the big weak spots in my own business development is focus. I'm a great starter, not a great finisher.

As soon as I hear of a new, promising approach I love to check it out, research it, try it out for myself.

It makes me a great resource for deep up-to-date knowledge on a broad range of business development topics. But I have to really force myself to follow through and keep going with certain approaches rather than move on to new things once I've got good at them.

In fact, persistence and focus are under-recognised hallmarks of great rainmakers.

Often when I look at the business development activities of some of my clients, the best advice I can give them is “do less stuff – but do more of it”.

Rather than joining 5 networking groups but only going occasionally – join 2 and go to every meeting. Rather than trying to run seminars, speak at conferences, write an article a month, a weekly blog and a podcast – pick one or two and do them really well.

You're on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and OnRamp? Think about focusing your activities on one or two.

Focus and persistence help you in two ways:

  • Focusing means you do a better job at each of the business development activities you perform. You learn the skills of the trade through repetition and feedback: be it networking, public speaking, writing or tweeting.
  • Your potential clients hear your message consistently. It takes multiple interactions with you before clients feel comfortable buying from you. If you focus on a smaller number of channels, the clients who use those channels will hear from you or interact with you on multiple occasions. If you alternate between many channels you'll hit more people – but you won't get the depth of interaction necessary for them to feel they know you well enough to hire you.

One of the most obvious areas where lack of focus and persistence shows is with blogs. I can't tell you the number of professional service firm websites I've seen (including a number of marketing consultants who should know better) where there are a dozen or less blog entries over the last couple of years, or it started in a blaze of activity, but the last post was 5 months ago.

How do you think this looks to clients? There are really only two interpretations they can make. Either you have nothing to say, or you can't be bothered saying it. Neither of those is a good message to be putting out into the marketplace.

If you are in this situation, a quick piece of advice: turn your longer blog posts into articles and replace the blog with an (undated) articles section on your site. If you haven't got any blog posts meaty enough to turn into articles, then just kill the blog – it's a liability. And seriously consider why on earth you were persuaded into starting one in the first place.



How to Run Effective Client Meetings – The KFC Approach

Posted on 17th July 2009.

Meeting PlannerHow many meetings with clients have you been to that were aimless, unstructured and poorly planned?

If you're like most professionals, probably quite a few.

The problem's particularly acute when it comes to business development meetings: your first few meetings with a potential client when you and they are trying to figure out whether you should work together. Make a mis-step here and the relationship is over before it's begun. Yet so many professionals try to “wing it” with little preparation and only vague objectives for the meeting such as “get to know each other” or “find out their issues”.

Set up your meetings like this and you'll find that time after time your opportunities progress as far as the first or second meeting – but no further. From the client's perspective they simply can't afford to invest time in meetings with professionals which don't seem to be going anywhere and where they don't get value from the event itself.

A Structured Approach to Client Meetings

UK Copywriter Andy Maslen has a neat acronym to help writers approach sales copy. And the approach can be extended very effectively to client meetings too.

The acronym is KFC:

K – Know

F – Feel

C – Commit

It starts with Commit. At the end of reading the copy (or in our case, at the end of the meeting) what do we want the client to do – to commit to? For sales copy it could be to pick up the phone, fill in a form or click to buy. For a business development meeting it could be to agree to a follow-up meeting to discuss a specific topic in more detail, or to introduce the professional to a senior colleague. Then, you figure out what the client or potential client must Know and Feel for them to be comfortable making the commitment.

Start With a Clear and Realistic Objective

Every client meeting must have a clear objective of what you want to achieve from the meeting. And in particular, you must identify what you want them to actually do as a result. Because if they don't do anything differently as a result of the meeting then what was the point?

Even if your goal is primarily to progress the relationship in some way – that progression needs to manifest itself in meaningful action. It may be something simple like providing more information, or making an introduction, or agreeing to a joint follow-up – but it needs to be something or the relationship really hasn't progressed.

Make the objective realistic too. Your end goal may be for them to hire you – but that's unlikely to happen in your first meeting. Winning business in professional services is more like a courtship than a “one night stand”.

A more realistic first meeting objective is to jointly agree on the key challenges the client faces that you could help with, to hold a follow-up meeting to explore these in more detail, for the client to do some homework and bring more details and data on the specific area, and for you to bring along some examples of similar work you've done for other clients.

Identify the Critical Success Factors for Achieving the Objective

Having a clear meeting objective is important (and it's surprising how many professionals don't actually do it) – but on it's own it's not enough.

You need to think through what it will take to achieve that objective in the meeting. That's where the K and the F come in.

So if your objective is to get a follow-up meeting to discuss a specific area to work on together – what will the client need to Know and Feel for them to agree to that?

Know is about facts. Perhaps they need to know the areas you work in, the types of clients you've worked with before, or that you're a real expert in your field. That will begin to give them the confidence that you have the skills to work on their problem.

Feel is trickier – but often more important. What do they need to feel to commit to your objective. Perhaps they need to feel that you understand them, that you're “on their side”. Perhaps they need to feel that you've really listened to them, or that you're a person they can trust.

How do you get your client to Know what they need to know and Feel what they need to feel? That's the art of business development.

Use Smart Questions to Help Clients “Know and Feel”

Firstly, recognise that you certainly won't effectively get across the right knowledge and particularly feelings through a long presentation about you and your company. That might get across some of the right knowledge – but it will create entirely the wrong feelings. Your client will feel that you're more interested in yourself than them – that you don't listen – and that meetings with you are going to be deathly dull.

One way to get across your knowledge and experience that doesn't come across as dull and self-promotional is to use short stories and anecdotes of similar client situations. I go into more details on this in my post on Selling With Stories.

Most often, the route to both establishing the things the client needs to know, and in getting them to feel the right way about you is to ask smart questions. Being able to ask the right questions that really home in on tough issues and the underlying causes will establish your expertise far more than any claims you might make about it, qualifications you might have or awards you might have won. And by empathising with the responses and occasionally mentioning similar situations you've been in, you'll establish the right feeling of “he understands me” and “he's been in this situation before – he'll know what to do to help”.

So the bulk of your preparation and structuring of the agenda for the meeting should be on the questions you need to ask to both find out what you need to know – but more importantly, to help the client know and feel the things you identified were critical for them to then be comfortable agreeing to the objective.

Close by Asking for a Commitment

And finally, of course, you must close by asking for that follow-up meeting, or the introduction you were looking for, or at the end of a series of meetings – actually asking for the business.

Sounds obvious: but so many professionals fail to do it. Fear of rejection kicks in and they close weakly without making a clear request for the action they're looking for. And so it doesn't happen.

But if you've planned and prepared correctly. If you've structured the meeting to cover all the bases necessary to help the client know and feel the right things – then they should be perfectly comfortable committing to the desired action.

PS You can download a free copy of the meeting planning template I use (as in the picture) here