Have You Changed? Are You Now a Trusted Advisor?Times have changed. At one time, being a professional automatically carried a certain prestige and clients could assume that almost any professional was solid. Things have changed. The notion of embedded trust has been damaged. Professionals often find that they need more client access, more ways to cross-sell and more opportunities to show the quality of their work. Many clients treat professionals as untrustworthy, because they question the advisors’ motives or do not see them as experts.
To break out of these boundaries, you must become a “trusted advisor.” This requires developing an ever-deepening relationship with each client. As such a relationship evolves, the client will involve you in a broader range of business issues. Along the way, you can progress from being a subject-matter expert, to being an associate with expert knowledge and additional valuable specialties. Moving from one level to the next is an evolutionary process, but once you become a trusted advisor, your client will openly discuss both personal and professional issues with you.
At this level, you will often be the first person your clients call when they face a challenge or a crisis. Once you demonstrate that you can meet a client’s needs by covering “breadth of issues” within the context of a “depth of personal relationship,” the client will seek and respect your advice.
For advisors to become trusted, they must be credible, reliable, properly motivated and, sometimes, emotional. Credibility encompasses technical expertise, presentation abilities and individual experience. Credible advisors are accurate and thorough; they can anticipate needs and offer insights about future possible scenarios. To convey credibility, admit any lack of knowledge, introduce clients to one another so they can share experiences, display your credentials, show some emotion when you make a presentation and never exaggerate your claims. Reliability means linking your promises with your performance over time. To earn the trust of the clients you advise, follow a simple process:
1. “Engaging” – Give your clients and prospects individual attention. Offer customization. Make personal, timely, topical connections with clients about their business challenges. Find out all you can about new prospects. Seek opportunities to discuss activities of mutual interest. Discuss more than factual content, because that can pigeonhole you as a technician, not an advisor.
2. “Listening” – Sometimes an advisor’s most important job is to listen, sympathize, integrate and get involved. Listening is an activity, not a passive process. When arranging a meeting, set an agenda. That can help you prioritize various decisions, prompt a conclusion and foster action. When clients share the agenda, they become involved in the meeting and gain a vested interest in its outcome.
3. “Framing” – Once advisors can clearly state their clients’ problems, they are more than half-way toward reaching a solution. Framing a problem is challenging, but when you do it correctly, it is very rewarding. You can frame problems in a rational or emotional context. Rational framing breaks a problem down into its component parts.
It works best when it reveals a new perspective. Emotional framing uncovers any personal feelings that may be linked to a decision. This can often be uncomfortable since it involves saying things that have been left unsaid, often deliberately.
4. “Alternate reality” – Articulating a possible new reality opens a client’s imagination to new ways of doing things; it can spark creativity or challenge the status quo. Envisioning, which is crucial to problem solving, sets the stage for future actions.
5. “Commitment” – Once you frame a problem, shape a vision and determine a general course of action, explain the implementation details to your client. Covering all the pitfalls and barriers is an essential part of getting the client to agree to future action. This links the plan to the nuts-and-bolts of execution. Manage the client’s expectations about what will happen. Restrain excess anticipation by clearly stating what you plan to do and what the client should do. Give details to avoid misunderstanding.
The most common mistake advisors make is to head into action before gaining the client’s full trust, so change and become a trusted advisor.
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