Hollinden Marketers + Strategists

Trusted Advisor is Not Just a Catchphrase

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The phrase “trusted advisor” gets tossed around a lot. In fact, a simple Google search shows more than 31 million online references to the phrase. It’s also a phrase that’s often misunderstood. The truth be told, “trusted advisor” is difficult to define and somewhat of an elusive concept. It is so confusing that there are numerous books, articles and presentations on the subject called. In a professional services firm, being a trusted advisor is imperative to success. How does one achieve this unicorn-like status?

Building Trust

By definition, trust is:

  • The reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, or surety of a person or things; to have confidence.
  • A confident expectation of something. Hope. Confidence in the certainty of a person, property or goods.

Trust, like the concept of value, is unique to each individual. Trust is not a single act. It is a process, gained through a series of steps or actions. Trust cannot be bought. It is something gifted to you from the recipient (for example, your client). Trust is more easily lost than it is earned. Gaining or earning trust happens over a timeframe unique to each individual.

The Theory of Trustworthiness 

In The Trusted Advisor, the authors break it down into a formula called The Trusted Equation. It focuses on a number of factors including self-orientation, which is defined as the inability to look beyond one’s own gratification or benefits. The service-provider interrupting a CEO in the coffee shop is motivated by self-interest — he wants to pitch in a place and time that makes it hard for the CEO get away.

“There is no greater source of distrust than advisors who appear to be more interested in themselves than in trying to be of service to the client,“ states author David Maister.

Author Charles Green explains that the lower the self-orientation (S), the higher the trustworthiness. The other variables in The Trusted Equation are credibility (C), reliability (R) and Intimacy (I). If you take C plus R plus I and divide them by S, you can determine the level of trustworthiness. As far as the CEO knows, the guy in the coffee shop has zero credibility. He hasn’t yet proven to be reliable plus he’s a stranger. He does have well-defined self-orientation, though, which not well received.

What Makes a Trusted Advisor

There are many industries that need to have that trust connection with their clients. Accountants, for example, take an active role in the client’s ability to perform as a business. They need to build trustworthiness with them in order to provide the best service.

Individuals achieving Trusted Advisor status:

  • Build better client relationships
  • Offer more comprehensive service and solutions
  • Feel satisfaction in their service
  • Develop a competitive advantage

Trusted Advisor is Definitely Not Just a Catchphrase

It’s more of an umbrella term for a level of service based on set standards. Some key characteristics seen in trusted advisors include:

  • Maintain relationships beyond just the business or service. For instance, having a deep understanding of the client’s business.
  • Actively ask for advice and guidance on topics outside their defined scope of service and educational expertise.
  • Have a strong and credible brand that makes them an industry influencer.
  • Operate from a position of giving.
  • Be known for a sense of honesty and fairness.

A trusted advisor can honestly say the he or she excels at four, if not all five, of the above attributes.  How would you rate yourself?  Sadly, statistically speaking, only a small percentage of service providers make the grade.

What Clients Seek in a Trusted Advisor

A study conducted by Alexander Consulting indicates that effective communication tops the list of things clients look for in a trusted advisor. Thirty percent of those surveyed also want someone willing to seize the initiative. They are able to think beyond the client’s instructions to develop solutions to problems the firm may not even know exist. They do this not to sell another service, but because it benefits their client. Other specific standards they look for according to the survey include:

  • 24 percent stated they want someone who puts the client’s needs first even if it means more work. The solution they offer should put the value to the client in front of just closing the deal.
  • 16 percent wanted an advisor that showed courage and confidence, especially in their ability to problem solve.
  • 15 percent looked for business acumen. In other words, a full understanding of business concepts along with practical experience.
  • 11 percent wanted someone who sees the big picture and is able to look holistically at a problem.
  • 10 percent found merit in technical ability, looking for advisors that have a broad understanding of their service and products.

How to Achieve Trusted Advisor Status

First and foremost, adopt a client-service mentality – always. Focusing on what’s best for the client means offering advice and guidance that helps the client get closer to their goals. When you do what’s best for the client, you will reap the rewards of more loyal, long-term clients.

Maintain a sense of curiosity. The next time you find yourself eager to offer a solution (aka, something you sell), ask a question instead. Resisting the urge to jump into solution mode too quickly sends a clear message that you take a holistic view and consider all perspectives before offering guidance.

Be a conversationalist. Ask questions outside the realm of your relationship. Seek to know your clients as individuals. Trusted advisors actively take relationships to a deeper level. Hint, if you have no idea whether your client is married, has children, or has a dog or cat, open up the conversation.

Be genuine. Earning trusted advisor status starts from a position of caring and concern. Have a sense of transparency and be yourself. Feigning interest just to reach your own goal is the fastest way to see any trust earned quickly unravel.

Interested in elevating your trusted advisor status ? Download our reference sheet today. 

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