Being a Trusted Adviser
“You can make more friends in two months by being interested in other people than in two years of trying to get people interested in you.”
Being interested in other people is, without doubt, one of the most fruitful aspects of developing business. Very few people are so completely unique that they are the only expert in their field so what do you do if you are an expert in your field but that field is crowded with other experts? The answer is simple – you become a trusted adviser to your clients and you do that by being interested in those clients as people.
A trusted adviser needs to demonstrate three things:
Use. No one starts off his or her career as a trusted adviser. Rather, we begin as people who perform specific tasks and in doing so we demonstrate use. With experience, we grow and become a valuable resource and it is at this point that clients begin to start viewing us as something more than just a provider of technical expertise. In time we become the person to whom a client might turn with matters not simply pertaining to our area of technical expertise. In other words – a trusted adviser.
Credibility. We are only going to be viewed as a trusted adviser if we are considered to be credible. So what is credibility and how do we get it? Credibility is a combination of experience and presence. We develop credibility by becoming a specialist in our field and by talking about it with confidence both within our individual sectors and beyond. Developing that expertise is achieved by attending and delivering courses, being widely read and extremely knowledgeable, writing articles and speaking in the media as well as involving ourselves in pro bono work and other similar activities in our chosen area.
Furthermore, credibility is based on being direct and accurate in our diagnoses and solutions to the issues our clients face and being honest and relaxed with them. We need to be generous with our time and our contacts and passionate about our topic. We need to know as much as we can about our clients as individuals as well as immersing ourselves in their companies. We need to have the confidence to say that we don’t know the answer to a particular question when we don’t know it and we must be prepared to share experiences and take risks with our clients.
Being perceived as credible by others is an essential part of being a trusted adviser and it is extremely important to remember that getting to the point of being seen as a credible expert requires patience and effort. It is no quick fix but when it is achieved it is a very powerful tool. Once at a point where you are considered to be credible, it is essential that you do everything you can to maintain that level of credibility. None of us is the finished article; we should aspire to learn and develop all the time as failure to do so will result in a loss of credibility and give others the chance to overtake us.
Care. Trusted advisers put the interests of their clients above their own. There is “no greater source of distrust than advisers who appear to be more interested in themselves than in trying to be of service to their client” (David Maister, The Trusted Adviser). There may be times when a client’s needs are best served by not going ahead with a particular transaction and, in the longer term, it is far better to follow this path than to take a ‘quick win’ for the sake of meeting a target.
Trusted advisers are interested in their clients as people, they find out what is important to them by asking questions and actively listening to the responses. Often, people don’t say what they really mean and it is for the trusted adviser to truly understand what their clients are actually saying. Trusted advisers need to become good at reading emotional signals especially when listening to clients. If we do not feel that someone is listening to us and truly understands what we are either saying or trying to say then we are not fulfilling the role of trusted adviser.
On occasion, the role of the trusted adviser is to allow the client to off-load on an issue without commenting on it but rather by giving them their full attention, not jumping to conclusions and simply being a sounding board.
The relationship between client and trusted adviser is long-term and needs investment in its development not least when there is no actual business taking place. Keeping in touch is extremely important as most people prefer some form of contact above and beyond the fee-paying side of the relationship. Don’t be that person who only calls when they are looking for something. The trusted adviser will find good reasons to keep in touch with clients and will always have something to say. Clients are busy and although it can be nice to hear form someone it is usually better to have something specific to say from forwarding a link to an article or similar relevant piece of information that will be of interest to the client or be demonstrating an understanding of the client’s life by remembering particular events that can be marked in some way.
All too often these behaviours are neglected mainly out of a fear of taking a risk. There are many people in business who are extremely able in their technical field yet burdened with an ability to envision a great number of ways to fall short and these are the people who find it easier not to get involved and don’t take risks. Having the confidence to bring ideas to the table even when there are no formal discussions taking place, for example, is rarely greeted with anything other than gratitude and positivity and it demonstrates interest and care. The worst thing anyone can do is do nothing. If you demonstrate use, credibility and care to a client you may not win absolutely everything but your presence will ensure that you are on the winning side more often than not and it is an extremely rewarding position to be in. Another advantage is that if you are seen as a trusted adviser by one person, then they are extremely likely to refer you to their contacts and your circle of clients who view you as their trusted adviser will grow.
Essentially, there are ten characteristics of a trusted adviser that that anyone who seeks to be the person a client thinks of when they need advice, a
confidante, someone to share a success with or simply the person they look up to have a coffee with when they are in town can adopt.
A trusted adviser is someone who:
- Understands the long-term nature of the relationship and is good at keeping in touch not just when there is work on.
- Is genuinely interested in the client as an individual as well as in their business and appreciates that even though there is a distinction between business life and private life, both are very personal and part of being human.
- Puts their clients’ interests above their own and does the right thing even if that means sacrificing a piece of work.
- Listens to and understands their client and what is motivating them rather than simply saying yes to everything and anything.
- Is a credible expert.
- Is likeable.
- Understands the basics of human emotions and that successful relationships are based on shared experiences and trust.
- Is reliable and does what they say they are going to do.
- Is passionate and enthusiastic in all aspects of their work.
- Is genuine. In the words of advice from Polonius to Laertes:
“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
Hamlet I, iii
Luan de Burgh
Maister, D., Green, C., Galford, R. The Trusted Adviser Simon & Schuster, 2002