The trusted adviser is dead. Long live the trusted adviser!

TrustI was reading an article the other day by someone who thought the notion of ‘trusted adviser’ needed to be ditched and wondered if it really summarised what professionals offer their clients.

He gave a number of reasons:

  • it’s difficult to action,
  • you can’t use it in a pitch (“trust us, we’re trustworthy”),
  • clients buy value not trust, it doesn’t differentiate.

I read another article the same day saying that people still buy people and that business in the professional services world (and other worlds, of course) is based on building relationships.

Two, apparently paradoxical, views: if it’s true that building good relationships is a key factor in buying professional services, it’s hard to imagine a situation where you can have that without creating trust. If that’s true, clients buy value and (indirectly) trust, so being a ‘trusted adviser’ would still seem to be relevant. Or maybe it’s still relevant if you can demonstrate trust in a way that will also demonstrate value.

For me, being a ‘trusted adviser’ is not about saying you are, it’s about showing you are by the things you do.

So how can you demonstrate trust?  There are four key behaviours which build trust:

Credibility – confidence, being honest and delivering as promised on even the smallest thing.

Competence – not only being knowledgeable and having the right expertise and track record, but asking insightful questions so that the client can see you know what you’re talking about and can apply that expertise to their commercial world. Showing that you are listening to them, and offering an informed opinion where appropriate.

Compatibility – certainly being able to ‘click’ with the client is important, but equally valuable is showing your human side and that you are genuinely interested in them.

Consistency – and finally being credible, competent and compatible to different people consistently over time.

But demonstrating trust may not be enough of itself. The client may well trust their advisers, but unless you have what they want at the time they need it, trust of itself won’t win you business. Conversely, those same advisers may have the right solution but if the client doesn’t trust them then they’re likely to go with that gut feeling and not use them. In this decision, emotion (what feels right), will have more sway than logic.

So, clients are unlikely to buy only value, without trust. For professional services firms, this means articulating and demonstrating both attributes: in the work you do, in the relationships you have with clients and prospects, in how you tender for work, in how you deal with each interaction with clients or prospects, in the service you promise and deliver, in your marketing and business development.


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