In last month’s segment, we discussed all the different things a client truly values—from their perspective. I left off by saying we’d touch on one of the cornerstones of having an advisory service in the next segment. So, here we go …
Becoming a Trusted Advisor
As a former SMB turnaround consultant, I’ve pretty much seen the gamut of what small business clients value when it comes to engaging an outside entity. One thing I’ve learned is that they have an innate distrust of consultants, primarily due to a history of paying for services and not getting what they thought they were going to get. Much of this problem stems from the clients’ inability to define what they want, why they want it and how they plan to use it going forward. They all have big ideas or dreams, but they don’t understand what it’s going to take to realize them. This lack of direction – combined with their natural fear of failure – offers the perfect conditions for accountants to lay the first cornerstone of a trusted advisor relationship.
To begin with, you need to determine where your client is sitting from an emotional standpoint. This is because their emotional state will likely play a significant role in their decision-making process. We all know people should make decisions based purely on facts and deductive thinking, but most of the time, it doesn’t happen that way. At the outset, you need to know if they are desperate, ambivalent, strung out, exhausted, hopeful, hopeless or any of a hundred other possible states of mind. This is because their emotional state is going to impact their decision whether or not to buy and commit to your suggestions or services.
What Clients Want to Hear
It is incredible how desperately people want you to tell them what they want to hear. I’ve had prospects engage me because their fear of failure was so strong they just wanted someone to give them hope and show them how to succeed. It’s important you understand that oftentimes, they’re coming to you because they think you’re going to make their lives better because their business will be better. Not perfect, just better. Understanding their emotional state, and having an idea of what their expectations are, will help you better position yourself as a trusted advisor. It’s a critical first step. The good news is you know some things that they do not. Also, you are not emotionally attached to their business issues, and are able to bring objectivity to the client to help them make better strategic decisions. This is a very powerful thing. You have the enviable position of engaging a client and painting a picture of sane and steady improvement simply by analyzing the data and making informed unemotional decisions.
Isn’t that what clients want, for their advisor to have a skillset that can help improve their lives through their businesses? Understand that trusted advisors are also trusted listeners and trusted empathizers. Set the tone that you are there for them and that you can make a difference, and you’ll be setting yourself up for a long-term, mutually beneficial partnership. It’s a given that you have accounting and financial expertise that far exceeds that of most of your clients. They are the subject matter expert, while you are the business expert who undoubtedly can help them take their business to the next level. Just remember, if you underestimate the value of a good “bedside manner” in the beginning, you might never get a chance to show them just how big of an expert you are.
In the next month’s segment, I will take a deep dive into the discovery process that will help facilitate the kind of relationship covered in this article