Back to Basics #3: The Trusted Advisor

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with Trina’s Tips


Back to Basics #3:
The Trusted Advisor

Many firms state a goal of being a “Trusted Advisor” to their clients.  “Walking the Talk” is usually more difficult and energy consuming than “Talking the Talk.”  But – it’s also where you arrive at the real essence of The Mandeville Techniques.

Mandeville, in its project-specific form, has two goals:

1.    Identifying client goals & concerns, as a foundation for ensuing proposals and presentations, so you win the contract to do the project.

2.    Cultivating a genuine trust relationship with your client.

Once we’re working on the project, however, our dominant focus tends to be on the project, not the client.  Our “metrics” involved utilization rates, project profitability, technical excellence, adhering to project budgets and schedules, etc.  If a client seems upset about something, we’re quick to move in and work to correct a situation.  But most of us:

1.    Do not garner candid feedback throughout each project, start to finish, as a natural course in building a true “caring relationship.”

2.    Focus on projects – current, past and future projects – and not on the client … as a person.

Given today’s economic climate, many clients are frightened …

•    Developers are wondering when their market may return, if at all, and whether or not they can survive until that happens.

•    Employees of state agencies know their states are likely to have budget cuts – even severe budget cuts – and that their jobs may be in jeopardy.  Many people who opt to work for government tend to be lower risk takers, so that layoff potential is a traumatic-level fear.

•    Many municipalities have budget deficits – and the prospect of even greater deficits – which may leave their employees, for the first time, in a position of uncertainty … and fear.

In trying times, we all need someone with a voice that’s clear, helpful, and wise … and can give us a greater sense of confidence in ourselves.  Many of our clients are looking for such a “trusted source of wise counsel” – now.  And that has nothing to do with whether or not they’re working with you on one project or another.  So …

Enter “The Mandeville Techniques.”

Many “listening skills” approaches exist;  what makes Mandeville special?

•    In any of its versions, begin with the least personal questions and evolve to the more personal.  If a question is too personal for the relationship – such as “What kind of projects are coming up?” or “What is your budget for this project?” – you destroy trust.  But, if you never ask a personal question, it’s also a sign that you don’t really care.  It’s akin to the car salesman who asks, “What’s it going to take to put you in that Pontiac?” They care about the sale, but not about us.

•    Once you identify “Mystery Words,” clarifying follow-on questions need to be non-physical.  Rather than, “You mentioned a concern about your budget, what is your budget?” shift to “ … what is your concern about your budget?” Knowing a number does nothing for a relationship.  Knowing what keeps your client awake at night – or goals your client is committed to achieve – puts us in a position to be incredibly responsive.  The question, itself, shows real caring.

•    When you ask about major trends affecting your client – using the “Market Interview” form – you’re demonstrating that you care … even if there’s no specific project or revenue stream;  it’s not self-serving.  When we’re helpful when there is no project, we care.  If your clients are feeling fearful, now is the perfect time to become a “trusted advisor.”  When market conditions change, clients consistently support people who supported them during trying times.

•    Finally, when you summarize what you’ve heard – without your notes – you cement an interpersonal connection and bond with your client.  It’s not the data that’s connecting … it’s you.

If you have a copy of the “Client Service Management” guidelines, you’ll also see a list of actions you can take – usually at little or no expense – to continue to form and maintain “interdependence” between you and your client.  Rather than having a “dependency” – on some government funding, for example – interdependency relies on our ability to connect with others.

At times, they’ll need our help; at other times, we need theirs.

The ultimate goal is to help your clients gain a sense of confidence in themselves.

If the marketplace is somewhat less demanding now, you might shift some of your time commitments to implementing these ideas … to focusing on your clients, and not just on their projects.  In trying times, people need a voice of caring and wisdom;  giving your clients that voice will help you become a truly “Trusted Advisor.”

Many firms are simply “hunkering down.”  They’re cutting budgets and ceasing to do many of the things that made the firm strong.  And they’re just hoping that this recession will soon end, so they can go back to “business as usual.”  Best we can tell, this isn’t likely to be that kind of recession.  We’re very likely to see some major, widespread, and permanent transformations in our institutions and society.

Firms that hunker down and try to “wait out the storm” may totally vanish.

Firms that go out and listen to their clients, that identify shifts that will be happening in their marketplaces, and that make essential adjustments, will not just survive;  they’ll thrive!  We need to see these as times as “Times of Opportunity.”