What Does It Mean to Be a Trusted Advisor to Your Clients?

POSTED BY : Principal Architect - MS Azure CoE
Thursday, April 7, 2016

What does it mean to be a trusted advisor?

Trusted advisor is a term that is synonymous to consultants or consulting businesses worldwide. Every sales person or consultant in the business aspires to build a relationship with their customer or client; a relationship that is built not merely based on their subject matter expertise but something beyond that.  What is that something? How can you be the professional that your clients and customers consider a trusted advisor?

It all comes down to how you drive your conversation with your existing or prospective customers. The key to driving this dialog successfully is by slowing down the urge to try and figure out what solution/product/service a certain customer would find valuable from your portfolio. The moment you have this figured out; it is very natural to push that solution to the customer. This is the very same moment the customer categorizes you among the rest of the noise he/she has heard from other consulting partners, because it is a self-centric approach. Even if you close the deal, you'd have done an arm's length transaction; and that comes nowhere close to trusted advisory. So what should you do differently to gain the trusted advisor status?

Allow your customers and their problems to take center stage

The scenario becomes entirely different if you keep the self-orientation under control. Allow the customer to speak about the problems they face or the needs they want to address. Most entrepreneurs get this right while they pitch their startup or idea; they start with the problem/need they are addressing in a certain market. The brilliance of technology used to solve the problem, how large the market is, the list of patents and IPs; can all wait. The pitch is valuable only if the problem is well understood. 

As an advisor, you'll have to probe deeply into the unique problem they face. The more you let the customer speak about the problem uninterrupted the better. Follow this up with questions that uncover the underlying needs to understand all tenets of the situation. The method as Steven Covey puts it, "seek first to understand and then to be understood”.

While you explore all aspects of the customer’s situation, it is important that you share your experience of what you see in the industry and with similar businesses. This is to bring to light the fact that you're invested in the same space that their problems inhabit and that you are familiar with not just one but probably several solutions for the problem. The customer will also trust your judgment when you allow them to collaborate and co-create the solution.

Taking a leaf from contact center’s book

There's a thing or two to learn by paying attention to how contact center support employees do this; at least some of the finest ones. They demonstrate how invested they are in fixing the problem - the problem you face, even while dealing with their internal metrics of closing calls within stipulated times. They build credibility by talking about their experience in fixing similar issues and sharing information such as whether it is a common issue with the product or service or by providing an update to what you're calling about. They reinforce your confidence by guaranteeing that they'd flex every muscle of the company they represent - on your behalf - to fix the issue you're dealing with, if need be. Finally, when they have the issue sorted out, they say "thank you for your cooperation and inputs, we've fixed it!" - giving you a sense of having been a part of the solution.

Leapfrog your competition with a client centric approach

With this approach, you are setting yourself apart from everyone else attempting to categorize the problem and toss one of the solutions out of their portfolio. You will no longer have to qualify or compete for price. 

After all, your customers don't just buy the solution, they buy the story they get to tell themselves.

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Vishnu Rajkumar
Principal Architect - MS Azure CoE