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Six crucial lessons for becoming and staying a trusted advisor

In a recent phone call, I told the CEO of my insurance broker that after being a loyal customer for 15 years, I had moved all of my business to other providers. Given our long relationship, I felt I owed him an explanation; not because I wanted to see someone fired, but because I wanted them to know my reasons for leaving so they could put the lessons learned to work.

It started about seven years ago when the person assigned to my insurance business seemed to lose interest in me. He was unaware of my renewals, made me do work he could have done for me, and did not make a competitive offer for my insurance. I transferred all my business insurance to another agency. A similar problem happened last year with my personal insurance; I just didn’t feel important to my agent. The final nail in the coffin came when my bank notified me that my homeowners insurance had expired two months earlier without any notification from my insurance agent. I then contacted another agency, who quickly hooked up coverage for me at 10pm on a Saturday night.

While the CEO of the original brokerage was not happy that I was moving my insurance business elsewhere, he was grateful that I took the time to give him feedback calmly and constructively. We ended the call on a very cordial note, and I’m sure if we ever ran into each other in a coffee shop, we’d shake hands and exchange greetings.

I open with this story because for years I considered him and his company’s agents as trusted advisors. I openly shared my personal and business goals with them and believed they advised me with what was best for me. But after a while I realized that I didn’t feel important to them and that my personal and professional interests were no longer their main concern. People who were once my trusted advisors now had exactly none of my business.

So what is a trusted advisor? In my four decades in business, I have boiled it down to six crucial principles:

  1. Listen carefully and then act carefully – A trusted advisor takes the time to listen to the client, understand their perspective, and ask clarifying questions before drawing conclusions or providing advice.
  2. never violate confidences – A trusted advisor must provide an environment in which the client knows that confidential information will not be discussed with others. Relationships can be irreparably damaged by a single breach of trust.
  3. Advise what you know, admit what you don’t know – A trusted advisor is confident in their skills and abilities, and freely admits when something is outside of their area of ​​expertise.
  4. Always keep commitments – A trusted advisor always fulfills the commitments when and as the client expects.
  5. He is brave, respectfully sincere – A trusted advisor does not need to tell the client what he wants to hear; but he must courageously and respectfully tell the client what he needs to hear. The trusted advisor’s job is to say what he thinks; the client’s job is to decide what to do with it.
  6. Take the initiative with the client – A trusted advisor ensures that the time with the client is useful and productive, and that the resulting actions are followed up.

Being a trusted advisor is not something that customers (regardless of whether they are internal or external to your organization) automatically grant; It takes a track record of demonstrating these six principles through actions that elevate someone to trusted advisor status. The following are six crucial lessons I learned about what it takes to become and continue as a trusted advisor:

  1. The last impression is as important as the first – Sure, making a positive first impression is critical to becoming a trusted advisor. However, every impression made thereafter is equally important. A great trusted advisor is consistent in the impressions he leaves with a client. Whether it’s the first, second or hundredth impression, the trusted advisor is consistent in their level of performance and the customer expects great service.
  2. Treat the customer as if they were your most important customer – If you take someone as a client, it’s your job to make them feel important. The customer doesn’t care about the other customers they serve and how much business they represent. Your job is to provide the agreed upon services while letting the customer know that their business is important to you.
  3. Focus on problems first and sales second – When I meet with a new client, I ask them to think about the three biggest problems that keep them up at night. During our meeting, I am very forthright about the issues I think I can help with and those that are outside my wheelhouse. My ability to focus on client issues and then determine if and how I can best help establishes my foundation as a trusted advisor and secures consulting engagements.
  4. Align your urgency with the customer’s urgency – In my opening story, my new insurance advisor understood the urgency of linking my homeowners insurance quickly. He aligned his urgency with mine and got the job done. Now I am a delusional fan.
  5. Follow up 100 percent of the time – This one is very easy; if you say you’re going to do something on a specific date, for God’s sake, do it. If there is a good reason why you cannot fulfill a commitment on an agreed date, please notify us as soon as possible. Letting a due date come and go without any notification not only erodes your credibility, it could also affect downstream activities that depend on its delivery.
  6. Do not hammer screws – You may have heard the phrase: “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” His job as a trusted advisor is to know what he’s good at and what he’s not, and then focus on solving the problems he’s best qualified to solve. Exaggerating your experience to take on a job you’re not qualified for is akin to trying to hammer screws. You have the wrong tools for the job and you can create problems for both yourself and the customer when you are not well equipped to solve the customer’s problem.

Becoming a trusted advisor is something that is earned through behaviors and actions and can be quickly eliminated if taken for granted. Keep these lessons in mind to help you not only gain Trusted Advisor status, but also maintain it.

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