Trusted advisers are more likely to have their advice taken, receive more referrals and have more highly valued conversations and relationships with their clients than other consultants. So, what separates a trusted adviser from the rest?
When you think about a trusted adviser, the majority of the time it is in the context of professional services such as an accountant, attorney, engineer, executive recruiter, investment adviser, etc. If you are working with clients, I would challenge you to think about the attributes of a trusted adviser and put them into action. The benefits will be evident to both your clientele and you.
Trust is the foundation of all relationships, both personal and professional. So, what does one need to do to become a trusted adviser?
Trust isn’t given unless it is first earned, and then over time is strengthened and reinforced. There have been a number of books written on the subject. Here are what I believe are essential attributes:
Honesty and integrity
Doing the right thing, when sometimes the right thing isn’t the cool thing, demonstrates honesty and integrity. Being direct with a client about a situation or regarding something that positions you in a less-than-positive light, when it is in the best interest for the client, builds trust.
Trusted advisers’ honesty and integrity also comes across as they present themselves as real individuals. They have a style that makes us comfortable in sharing because we know they care, and should a situation arise, they are alongside us as partners. And, when there are tough conversations that need to be had, they have them. In all situations, they have your best interests at heart.
Trusted advisers are excellent listeners, and just as strong in their ability to ask meaningful questions. Have you ever had a client say “our consultant understands our business?” How do you think they gained that knowledge?
Through listening, a trusted adviser is able to help a client think through a situation, separate logic from emotion and provide a sounding board that helps them think things through more thoroughly. Have you ever had a problem you couldn’t resolve, and then while explaining it to someone else, solved your own problem? Or had them toss back ideas for you to consider that may add value to the resolution? Only through listening can you gain this insight and build this level of trust.
Expertise and experience
Being the best at what you do is an ongoing process. Experts are constantly looking for the next new idea and how it will affect what they do today. They help clients understand what is relevant and what is not so that they can make good business decisions. A trusted adviser will provide reasoning, not just their opinion, and challenge our thinking when necessary, share stories to help us understand parallels, and build us up when needed. They are self-confident, but never cocky, and are driven by finding new ways to be of greater service to the client.
Being visible doesn’t just mean being seen as a thought leader in the profession. Perhaps more importantly, it means being present with your clients. Seek out ways to spend time with them and help them avoid issues before they become serious problems.
Being a trusted adviser means you are the person a client will turn to when they have a question or need an answer, even if it isn’t in your area of expertise. If you cannot help them, a client trusts you to direct them to someone who can, and to make that introduction. This provides you with a continued connection to the client and the situation, but also reinforces the trust they have in you.
I have heard it said and know it to be true: In genuine trusted adviser relationships, there is little difference, if any, between the professional and personal relationship. You have a valued role in the life of another and the foundation of that role is the trust they have in you to be true to them no matter the situation.
Leisa Gill is director of client experience and leader of the Privately Held Business Segment at LBMC, a Tennessee-based professional services firm. Contact Leisa at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-309-2231.