So You Want to Be a Trusted Advisor?


How would you describe your dream client relationship?

I’m fortunate to have one right now, so I know exactly what it looks like for me: The client and I genuinely ask how the other is doing—because we care. We open up to each other about work goals and challenges. He invites me into his planning and internal discussions. He asks things like, “How should I think about this?” We push each other to change. And he values the work I do for him. It’s the highest value professional relationship I can imagine.

Many would consider this to be a “trusted advisor” relationship. Is that something you aspire to with your dream clients?

According to author and speaker Anthony Ianarinno, you only need two things to build one: trust and advice. Just like the name implies.

After reading his phenomenal new book on selling, I caught up with Anthony on a recent Saturday morning to explore this concept further. While our conversation ranged from brain surgery to rock concerts, it also clarified what it takes to be a trusted advisor with dream clients. Here are the key factors that came out of that discussion:

  1. Who you are comes before what you do. Anthony stresses that, first and foremost, you need to be the kind of person that people want to work with. This reminds me of when I became certified as a Dale Carnegie trainer. We were advised to first coach people on who they are (their attitude, self-perception, and others-orientation), then coach them on what they do (their skills and abilities). Being a caring, likeable person of integrity builds trust with others.
  2. Speak from the mind of the other person. Dale Carnegie wrote, “Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.” This builds trust and allows you to provide relevant advice. Advice shouldn’t be preachy. It should be a humble perspective based on your unique vantage point. To do this, you need to build client acumen—an understanding of their language. Listen, study, and learn, and you’ll build it.
  3. Understand the commitment that’s needed. Trust is also built when you provide advice on how to implement change. Most clients don’t know how to change. If they did, they would have already. Anthony explains that you need to be professionally aggressive as you collaborate to advance the change process. What commitment does the client need to make? Do they need to allocate time? Explore whether they have a problem worth solving? Commit to change? Collaborate? Involve other stakeholders? Invest money? Review the plan? Talk through concerns? Decide? Execute with excellence?
  4. Always trade value for commitments. Each of these requires a commitment, not just an agreement. Committing can be painful and costly. Change isn’t easy, after all. Clients need to see the value of making each commitment. To provide value at each step, you need a constant orientation to toward the client. What will help them? What matters to them?

    For example, if you’re asking for the commitment of time, Anthony might say, “I am calling to schedule a time to share with you the four trends that are going to impact your business over the next 12 to 18 months, and some ideas about the decisions these trends might require you to take. Even if you never work with me, you’ll ask your team different questions, and you’ll have some ideas about what you need to do.”
  5. Give people space to say no. Anthony’s advice: Ask your client for the next commitment and then back away. Pull rather than push. This creates authentic commitment and increases trust.
  6. Make recommendations with confidence. If someone’s undergoing brain surgery—which Anthony actually did when he was in his twenties—they’re going to want their brain surgeon to be confident. Now you may not be performing brain surgery, but advising someone on a change can sometimes feel like it. Build trust by advising with confidence.
  7. In human relationships, slow is fast and fast is slow. A central theme of Anthony’s book is this: Don’t rush relationships. Be urgent, be aggressive, be confident…but don’t be rushed, and don’t bypass value or commitments. Going slow shows a desire for long-term trust rather than short-term agreement.

Maybe your clients are paying customers. Maybe they are colleagues from another department. Maybe you sit on a board with them. Or maybe you volunteer with them on a committee. In any case, wouldn’t you appreciate it if they were a dream client? How can you become more of a trusted advisor?

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