Elevating Client Relationships: How to Become a Trusted Advisor

In keeping up with the shifting demands of clients, the executive search and leadership consulting profession continues to evolve. Firms are looking to the future, evaluating and expanding on the solutions they provide to executives. Building strong relationships with clients is essential to future success.

We spoke with David Butter, a trusted advisor and coach to international professional service firms and leaders. He’ll be speaking on elevating client relationships at our upcoming European Conference: Elevate 2017 in Brussels on November 9 and outlines the value trusted advisors provide for clients.

What does it take for a consultant to be considered a client’s trusted advisor? Can anyone become a trusted advisor?

The first thing a consultant needs to recognize is that until you have built trust with a client, you’re just a vendor – a provider of commodity services. As a consultant, the trust in one’s own competence to successfully deliver for a client is just the start.

The most important attribute of a trusted advisor is ‘selfless independence’. By that, I mean a trusted advisor goes above and beyond to add value based on a relationship of mutual trust; a trusted advisor understands the client’s needs and priorities better than any other competitor. The client must see that you put their interests before your own or even those of your firm; even if it means sometimes saying ‘no’.

Becoming a client’s trusted advisor takes time. It is critical to develop strong empathy and listening skills. It’s not just about delivering KPIs. A trusted advisor becomes a KPI (Key Person of Interest).

How can a trusted advisor leverage technology?

Technology helps massively in setting up the conditions for the right conversation with the right person at the right time. It’s also helpful in maintaining existing relationships. But, even with the advancements of technology, it’s important to focus.

With platforms like LinkedIn, access is easier and volume is higher; some consultants can have 500+ connections. But a trusted advisor can’t build relationships with every single contact nor should one want to. You have to focus on the vital few – the connectors and multipliers who can make a difference to your firm and your career. Determine what value you can bring them and start a conversation, face to-face. You'll never become your client's trusted advisor unless you engage with them offline in regular, live one-to-one conversations.

How does a trusted advisor better engage with senior decision makers?

Firstly, a trusted advisor knows that decision makers are extremely busy; it’s difficult to get a meeting when clients have a limited amount of availability. That is why it’s crucial to ‘elevate’ your relationships – the theme of my session at the European Conference.

Senior decision makers need to see the ‘value for time’ from talking to you. Your value is clear when you’re working on a search. But if you rarely communicate with a client between assignments, the client will not see you as someone who can add business value beyond just executing the search.

A trusted advisor must add value to the client’s agenda. Every client has a core agenda—three to five key goals or strategies both professional and personal. The only sure way to add value is to connect to and align your offering with their core agenda. Even better, influence and be part of that agenda. Earn a place at the top table when it’s being discussed.