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Do you have what it takes to become a “Trusted Advisor?”

I keep hearing the term “trusted advisor” frequently being tossed around in LinkedIn posts. It seems everyone marketing their professional services on LinkedIn these days aspires to be recognized as one.

It’s funny how business expressions evolve with the times. Once upon a time we “ran the numbers.” Today, in the new millennium, we “craft metrics.” Once upon a time, the current “trusted advisor” that is so in vogue was known as “the go-to guy.”

I have recently seen and read a number of articles/blog/posts etc. on how to ascend to this lofty perch and felt most of them missed one critical point and felt I had to add my two cents to the discussion.

First, what qualifies me to even have an opinion worth listening to? That’s a fair question that deserves an honest answer.

I have successfully marketed professional services at the highest level my entire adult life. I was the original “go to guy” in the late 80’s for my clients in both the law and pharmaceutical drug development verticals. Somewhere along the way, possibly in the early 2000’s, I assumed the newly minted mantle of “trusted advisor” according to my clients.

To further put that in perspective, after 14 years I left the expert witness business, in late 2015, and started my current legal business development consultancy. Yet, I still get at least two calls a week from former legal clients asking for my “take” on testifying experts they’re thinking of retaining for cases. Why do they still reach out to me? Two reasons: I tell them the truth and they know I have always had THEIR best interests at heart.

Let me tell you how I got to that level of trust. First, I NEVER tried to sell them. Lawyers DO NOT like being sold to (more on that later.) The most important thing you must be willing to do is actually walk away from business. Let me explain: whatever your product or service, if you think your company has the right answer, or the right solution, for your client 100% of the time, you will NEVER be seen in the role of “trusted advisor.”

To be a trusted advisor you have to have a proven track record of placing your client’s priorities above your own. You need to prove that you understand their business, their processes, and their needs. You need to know your industry thoroughly, including the capabilities of your competition. Nothing says “trusted advisor” quicker than admitting you understand their problem and DON’T have the right expert/solution/answer to their problem, BUT you know for a fact that a specific competitor does. It is a hard thing to walk away from business, but if you can do it well, and when the time is right, you will be welcomed into that client’s inner circle of trusted advisors. It won’t win you any friends with your own employer, but do you want “this” particular deal, or every one after this?

Knowing when to walk away from a potential deal that is fraught with potential downside takes experience. Remember, your industry reputation is the most valuable asset you have. Is it worth putting it at risk for what is, at best, a highly problematic outcome for both you and your client? Just the mere fact of admitting you don’t have the right answer/person/solution helps establish your bona fides.

As for trying to “sell” attorneys, I highly recommend against that approach. As a rule, they hate it. Instead, go the understated route, something along the lines of: this guy might be a good fit here, I think it may be worth your time to have a conversation with him. I refer to that as “bringing two people together” and “putting it in play.” It’s a nice, low-key way to do business and doesn’t require the unnecessary drama of the big pre-sell and the hard close (neither of which are going to work in this niche).

Lastly, to be a “trusted advisor” you must always be willing to help people, and not just people who can do something for you. Clients will reach out to you for help on family or personal issues, looking for solutions to things that have nothing to do with business. You have to be every bit as wise in this area as well. This is also a great “tell”, signifying that you have reached the coveted “inner circle of trusted advisors.”

I had a client one time ask for me to physically help him deliver his teenaged son to a drug treatment facility. I never hesitated and was flattered that he trusted me enough to take me into his confidence. I only even mention this now because the client has been dead for five years and I am not betraying a confidence.

Those are my thoughts on what it takes to become the cherished “trusted advisor.”
Not everybody is cut out for the role and don’t think for a minute it only relates to your business knowledge. It is the measure of you as a person that gets you there.

Have a great week!

Jim