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Becoming a trusted advisor puts you in the invaluable position of being the first place your customers seek when they need quality advice and support. In other words, you’ll be in pole position to win any related work. 

But you don’t become a trusted advisor overnight – it has to be earned and that takes time and consistent action. 

In this blog, we look at five steps on how you can become a trusted advisor. 

  1. Actively listen and express genuine emotions
  2. Earn the right to be listened to 
  3. Be credible (but don’t try too hard)  
  4. Know where you customer relationship is at 
  5. Put your customers’ interests in front of your own 

1. Actively listen and express genuine emotion 

In roles such as accountants, lawyers and consultants, you’re trained to be “professional” as well as objective, fact-driven and solution focused. But this goes against showing genuine human concern for customers and their challenges.  

So, your team need to learn how to express empathy in ways your customers will appreciate. Active listening, for example, is a great way to make your communication more effective and help your customers feel more valued. 

You can do this by: 

  • Facing the customer and keeping eye contact – remember to break eye contact every five seconds or so, as too much can be intimidating. Also check your posture and make sure it’s open – crossed arms/legs can make you look defensive 
  • Letting the customer speak – interrupting gives the impression you’re more important or you don’t have time for their opinions. Listen to what the customer has to say before you give your viewpoint  
  • Asking relevant questions – this shows the customer you have a genuine interest in what they’re saying. You should ask open questions like “what challenges are you trying to solve?” or “what would you want to achieve in the next year by making this change?” to help you clarify what their exact needs are 

trusted advisor

Active listening is also about watching for what isn’t being said, as well as what is. Non-verbal cues include: 

  • Facial expressions – are they smiling or scowling? 
  • Tone of voice – does it sound subdued or upbeat? (This can be applied to phone calls too) 
  • Gestures – are their arms crossed or are they pointing their fingers? 

Authenticity is important too – are your consultants genuinely passionate or are they going through the motions? It’s hard to understate how infectious a person’s enthusiasm for a solution or business can be. If your people are excited by what they do, customers will want to join them on that journey. 

2. Earn the right to be listened to

Every meeting with a customer is a chance for your business to demonstrate itself as a source of valuable insight. But that doesn’t mean you should reel off a bunch of “wisdom” to a new customer on day one. 

Instead, spend time earning the right to be listened e.g. demonstrating competence in the areas you’ve been hired for. Until you’ve done this, any advice you try to give on wider issues are likely to fall on deaf ears.  

You’ll also build trust by proving you’re reliable, so create opportunities to deliver on your promises. For example, if you say you’ll send something at 9am, make sure you follow through. Commit to a call at 1pm and be on time for it, not five minutes late. These small things will add up. 

trusted advisor

3. Be credible (but don't try too hard)

As a professional you need to know today’s key issues – and ideally the ones in your customers’ industry. Customers are more likely to trust and be influenced by people who they regard as a credible expert. 

So make sure you’re up-to-date with the latest industry news and ask your customers for their opinions. This helps subtly establish you’ve been thinking about their industry/company and builds authority. But this doesn’t mean you need to be an expert on everything – in fact, admitting what you don’t know (at the right time) shows honesty and trustworthiness.  

4. Know where your customer relationship is at

As you get closer to your customers, they’ll begin to share issues that are personal to them and their role. Use the small talk at the start/end of meetings to cover these relationship-building topics instead of jumping straight into talking about the task at hand. 

Or, consider inviting your customer out for lunch the next time you do a progress update. A more casual environment often helps customers open up more about the issues on their mind. But before you take this step, evaluate where you are in your customer relationship. 

Make sure you’ve done the following: 

  • Established your basic competence 
  • Created an impression of strong business knowledge 
  • Demonstrated useful insights into your customers’ key business problems 

Think of the relationship with your customer as a ladder you climb together step-by-step. The higher you get, the more you can move onto broader and bigger topics. Do this well and you’ll be on your way to becoming a trusted advisor. 

trusted advisor

5. Put your customers’ interests in front of your own 

Pressures to record chargeable hours and hit billing targets are some of the main challenges facing professional services firms today. This can make it difficult to advise a customer not to go ahead with a piece of work when it means missing out on a lucrative job.  

But your role is to help customers understand so they can decide for themselves, not for you to decide for them. It’s about investing time/energy with no short-term financial goals in mind and building towards a trusted advisor relationship which will ultimately benefit you in the long run.  

In short, follow this simple model: 

  • Present the customer with their options 
  • Educate them about their options (e.g. pros and cons)  
  • Make your recommendations 

But let them decide! 

Strong customer relationships are built on trust 

At Columbus, we believe successful projects are built on the back of great relationships, where your project teams are seen as trusted advisors. We spend time developing a deep understanding of our customers and their business, as well as provide expert support throughout their business transformation. 

Recent research shows companies have work to do to strengthen the customer relationship, with 60% agreeing many professional services firms are structured to suit their way of working and not of their customer. 

That’s why the industry needs to focus on improving business agility to better serve customer needs. Our checklist covers five key stages to achieving agility in the professional services space. From maximising data quality to investing in the right technology, you can find out more by clicking the button below. 

How to achieve business agility


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