In Client Engagement
By Nina Mostafa
The term trusted advisor isn’t new, it’s become the default term that many business development professionals aspire too. How do we move past the veneer of “consultative sales” and really build deep and meaning strategic relationships?
Earn the client’s trust
According to David Maister, author of Trusted Advisor (Maister, Green, Galford, The Trusted Advisor, Free Press, 2000), trustworthiness is a combination of credibility plus reliability plus intimacy, all this over self-orientation.
What this means is that to earn, gain, and maintain trust, you must have first earned credibility, reliability and intimacy. Most importantly not one element works in isolation. You could be the best in the business, but this will count for nothing if your clients can’t rely on you to deliver.
Known as The Trust Equation, the formula looks a little something like this:
Let’s explore each element of the equation.
What are you known for? What is your business or organisation known for? Credibility is all that you or your business stand for and have achieved. It’s what you’re good at and what you’re known for. It’s your name in lights and why your client is knocking on your (and not your competitor’s) door. This includes your personal brand and your values, including your personal and your organisation’s values. How you conduct yourself links back to your credibility.
Clients rely on their suppliers and vendors to deliver what they promised. Timeliness, accountability, consistency, dependability and quality are all the positive elements that make up your ability to be relied on. If you fail to meet deadlines, or worse, fail to deliver what you promised your client’s trust in you diminishes. Trust can take years of hard work to build up, and be lost at the drop of a hat if you fail to deliver.
Don’t underestimate intimacy. In any relationship, it means breaking down walls and barriers that otherwise impede communication, collaboration and professional synergy. Remember that your client relationships are a partnership, set clear boundaries and expectations. Be curious in your conversations to ensure that you really qualify and understand your problems.
Clear and timely communication will help to keep your client relationships healthy. Make time for regular progress updates, and don’t hide problems until the last minute.
The biggest pitfall for a business development professional is a narrow focus, purely on your own solution or product. There are many benefits to having a wider conversation, you understand the wider organisation context, the decision makers/ project sponsors and may identify larger opportunities. You may even find that some of the information you gather allows you to choose to not pursue an opportunity that would consume resources but have little chance of success.
When was the last time you thought about your listening skills? Great listeners excel at understanding needs and building empathy.
It’s important to balance the needs of relationship building with the commercial reality of business development. Using all the four elements of The Trust Equation in its entire formula will ensure you take the first steps then keep to those steps to becoming and maintaining yourself as a trusted advisor.