We all know that the key to professional success goes beyond technical mastery or expertise. Today, it’s all about the vital ability to being client-focused, earn the client’s trust and thereby win the ability to influence them. One way to achieve that is by becoming trusted advisor. In fact, Salesforce research found that a whopping 95% of customers are more likely to pledge their loyalty to salespeople and companies they trust.
So, how can we carve out a space for ourselves in this sphere of trust and reap the bountiful rewards that come along with it? Let’s venture into a deeper understanding of three crucial principles that lay the groundwork for becoming trusted advisors.
What Is a Trusted Advisor?
In addition to possessing talent and impressive portfolios, top-tier consultants such as Deloitte & Touche, Societe Generale, and Towers Perrin attribute their success in today’s entrepreneurial economy to their mastery of the Trusted Advisor model for client relationships created by renowned experts Charles Green and Robert Galford.
A trusted advisor is like a close partner—someone who works hand in hand with their clients to achieve shared goals. This partnership is built to last, even in the face of constant change. Trusted advisors use their deep knowledge and experience to provide personalized guidance that perfectly fits the needs of the firms they work with.
They don’t just offer solutions; they create a roadmap to success. This special relationship creates a sense of security and dependability, forming the foundation of trust that is crucial in the business world.
8 Steps to Becoming a Trusted Advisor
Let’s now explore the eight strategic steps to transform yourself into a trusted advisor, a beacon of reliability and expertise in your field.
1. Demonstrate Low Levels of Self-Orientation
Building trust and credibility with your clients is all about showing them that you prioritize their interests. This might seem like a simple switch to make, but in reality, it’s a challenging feat that requires unwavering discipline. After all, we’re naturally inclined to think about our own needs and interests first. The advisors who truly succeed are the ones who exhibit a genuine concern for their clients’ well-being, putting their needs ahead of their own. Understanding your clients—their challenges, priorities, and worries—should take precedence over your own interests or concerns.
2. Ask Questions to Understand
The trusted advisor offers a comforting sentiment for those navigating difficult queries from clients: “A superior question is the response”. It underlines the necessity to persistently seek knowledge by posing questions aimed at grasping the client’s perspective and the motivation behind their inquiries. This approach allows you to assist them in comprehending their circumstances and potential ways forward. This concept is encapsulated in another poignant saying: providing more value through “defining the problem” rather than simply “solving the problem”.
3. Give Options With a Non-Confrontational Approach
As trusted advisors, our role is to guide our clients towards understanding their options instead of making decisions for them. This idea is captured in a simple model: we present the clients with their options, educate them about the potential pros and cons, offer our professional recommendation, but ultimately leave the final decision in their hands. This approach allows clients to not only receive valuable counsel but also to feel a sense of control and ownership over their decisions.
4. Be Confident When You Don’t Know the Answer
Displaying confidence in times of uncertainty can seem counterintuitive, yet it’s a crucial step towards becoming a trusted advisor. Accepting and voicing your own uncertainties is a strength, not a weakness. It’s an honest admission that fosters trust, signaling to your clients that you value truthfulness over pretense. This demonstration of humility and authenticity not only highlights your integrity but also reinforces the notion that your primary focus is the client’s well-being rather than maintaining your own image.
5. Be Generous With Your Knowledge
In the sea of numerous agencies, each boasting of their expertise and capabilities, what truly sets a trusted advisor apart is the wealth of shared wisdom. Yes, numerous bright minds populate the landscape, all competent and ready to get the job done. But the secret sauce isn’t about hoarding exclusive information.
Rather, it’s about the collaborative exchange of knowledge and experiences with clients. This method of co-creating the vest solutions alongside clients, fuelled by a shared pool of wisdom, naturally places you a notch above the rest. It’s this partnership, this shared journey towards growth, that makes you more than just an agency – it transforms you into a trusted advisor.
6. Get Closer to Your Clients
Building and maintaining trust with your clients is a journey, not a destination. It entails consistent communication and meaningful interaction. While written correspondence has its place, verbal communication – be it over the phone or face-to-face – allows for a more personal connection, fostering a stronger bond. This doesn’t mean bombarding your clients with constant messages, but rather keeping them in the loop about the progress of their projects, addressing their concerns promptly, and setting clear expectations about timelines.
It’s about making them feel valued and involved in the process, helping them see that you’re not just working for them, but with them. This openness not only keeps misunderstandings at bay but also deepens the level of trust between you and your clients, solidifying your position as their trusted advisor.
7. Build Reliability Over Time
Nothing strengthens the bond of trust like a habit of fulfilled promises. In the intricate world of business, trust is built brick by brick, fashioned by the fulfillment of commitments, however small they might seem. Promise to send over a document by 9am? Ensure it’s in their inbox by then. Commit to a call at 2pm? Make sure you’re on the line, ready to roll exactly at 2pm, not a minute late.
These seemingly minute acts are the keystones of reliability, each one steadily building your reputation as an advisor who not only talks the talk but walks the walk. This unwavering reliability, this cyclical rhythm of promises made and promises kept, is what truly seals your status as a trusted advisor.
8. Listen Actively
Active listening is an integral part of being a trusted advisor. It isn’t merely about hearing the words said by the client, but delving into the subtext and the unsaid. Pay attention to their tone, the pace at which they speak and the topics they seemingly gloss over. These non-verbal cues often tell a story of their own, revealing insights that may remain hidden within standard communication.
The ability to tactfully address these unspoken issues, or the topics that require sensitive handling, can truly set you apart as an advisor. This skill, although challenging to master, can open up new avenues for problem-solving and communication, enabling you to serve your clients more effectively and forge a stronger advisor-client bond.
How Do You Know If You’re a Trusted Advisor?
According to experts in executive selling training and sales management training, here are five key signs that you have become a trusted advisor:
Clients Reach Out to You for Advice
If your clients ask for advice both inside and outside of your specific area of expertise, that’s a clear indication that they trust you as a person and respect your knowledge. Imagine the opposite scenario: struggling to reach your client and providing them with valuable insights or advice as a salesperson.
Clients Bring You Into their Inner Circle
When your clients trust you with confidential information about the company, as well as their personal and professional goals, problems, and needs, they see you as part of their team. Imagine the opposite scenario: your client keeps important information from you because they feel you are only interested in “selling them stuff.”
Clients Involve You in the Strategy and Planning Process
Imagine this scenario: your clients extend invitations for you to attend key planning meetings and genuinely value your insights on crucial directions, strategies, initiatives, and decisions. They recognize the value you bring to shaping their choices. Now, picture the opposite: your clients only reaching out to you once all the decisions have already been made.
Clients Consider You Part of the Tribe
When your clients consistently provide you with early information, prior knowledge, and shield you from external competition or pricing pressure, they acknowledge your invaluable contribution to their success. Imagine the opposite scenario – where your clients always make you compete against others during the sales process, with access to the same information as everyone else.
Clients Give You Special Privileges
If your clients provide you with long-term employee badges, parking, office space, email, portal access, and other “rights” more commonly associated with employees than vendors or sales reps, it’s a clear sign that your relationship and status as a trusted advisor are moving in the right direction.
Obstacles to Obtaining Trusted Advisory Status
Let’s address some of the common hurdles that you might face on your path to becoming a trusted advisor and how you can overcome these challenges.
Focusing more on your own goals than your customers
When you’re primarily focused on achieving your own goals, it’s easy to unintentionally overlook the needs of your clients. This self-centered approach can cloud your judgment, leading to decisions that may benefit you in the short term but ultimately harm your client relationships. To become a trusted advisor, it’s crucial to keep your clients’ objectives at the forefront of your mind. This means understanding their unique needs, aligning your professional services to meet those needs, and constantly monitoring their satisfaction.
Not Investing Enough Time Into the Customers Relationship
In the fast-paced business world, it’s tempting to see customers as mere numbers. But this approach lacks the personal touch that is crucial for building meaningful relationships. To establish trust, take the time to truly understand their desires, fears, and challenges. Regular interactions will provide insights into their needs and aspirations, fostering a bond of mutual understanding that is vital for long-term relationships.
Emphasizing Sale Over Service
It’s tempting to idolize sales, seeing them as the ultimate goal of any transaction. But this perspective doesn’t encourage building strategic partnerships or nurturing lasting relationships. In this unique dance of exchanging value, it requires a more nuanced approach that combines key account management with sales strategy. Constantly showcasing your products and services, trying to convince clients of their need, isn’t the path to a fruitful partnership. Instead of planting seeds for a mutually beneficial relationship, an overwhelming focus on sales can often backfire. This strategy is likely to bring short-lived gains, if any, and could potentially harm long-term business relationships.
Not Demonstrating Your Industry Expertise
In the business environment, customers aren’t looking for novices. They need a seasoned guide, someone who understands their needs and can provide expert guidance. If you want to be a trusted advisor, it’s crucial to establish yourself as an expert who not only knows the technical aspects of your offerings but also has a deep understanding of the industry. By showing that you can navigate the industry with ease and confidence, you reassure your customers that they’re in good hands. This builds their trust in you and strengthens the advisor-client relationship.
When is a Trusted Advisor Usually Engaged by a Firm?
Trusted advisors are usually hired by companies during critical decision-making moments, strategic decisions, or when facing significant challenges. These situations could include mergers and acquisitions, launching a new product or service, responding to market threats, navigating regulatory changes, or implementing transformative initiatives. When company leaders realize the importance of having an unbiased and experienced perspective to complement their internal insights, they often seek the help of a trusted advisor.
This external consultant brings a fresh perspective, gained through years of experience in various industries and situations, capable of offering creative solutions or identifying potential risks that internal teams may miss. Trustworthiness in this relationship is established based on the advisor’s proven ability to understand, interpret, and address the specific needs and goals of the company.
How often does trusted advisor run?
The frequency of a trusted advisor’s engagement largely depends on the specific needs and circumstances of the company. Some businesses may involve their trusted advisor on an ongoing, long-term basis, like having a reliable partner by their side. Others may engage them selectively, calling upon their expertise during critical moments or specific projects.
The timing and regularity of these sessions can vary greatly, but it’s essential for the trusted advisor to remain available and responsive to the company’s changing needs. The aim is to provide timely and effective enterprise support, which sometimes means being on-call for urgent consultations or actively participating in regular strategic planning meetings.
What is the difference between an expert and a trusted advisor?
An expert is someone who has extensive knowledge in a specific area or industry, often gained through years of study and experience. They are the go-to people for information and provide comprehensive insights based on their expertise.
On the other hand, a trusted advisor takes on a broader role. Not only do they possess deep industry knowledge, making them experts in their field, but they also build strong relationships with their clients. They understand their unique needs and objectives, and use their expertise to provide tailored advice and strategies. Trusted advisors help clients navigate complex business challenges, make informed decisions, and achieve their goals.
How do I Become a Trusted Advisor to my Clients?
Gaining a status of trusted advisor to your clients requires a blend of expertise, understanding, and commitment. It’s like building a meaningful and trusting relationship. Start by mastering your field; it’s essential to have deep industry knowledge that allows you to provide insightful and practical advice. Next, invest time in truly understanding your clients’ unique needs, goals, and challenges. This understanding enables you to provide personalized advice and strategies that align with their objectives.
Maintain transparency and honesty in all interactions, as these traits foster trust and respect. Regular communication is key; it helps you to stay updated with your clients’ changing needs and keeps them informed about new developments and possibilities. Finally, always strive to add value to your clients, whether that’s through advice, resources, or connections. As their trust in you grows, so will your role as their trusted advisor.