Trusted Advisors Redux (Issue 462)

In which we search for the trail head of the path to becoming clients' Trusted Advisors. We recently conducted some research with one of our client’s small business owner customers, owners of companies with sales in the $2 million to $5 million range. We asked them a series of questions about their companies, their banking relationships, and their banks’ desires to position their sales people as “trusted advisors” with them.

One of the business owners leaned back in his chair and said, “I have a simple solution for that.  Stop sending me children!” By which he meant – people with only short amounts of business or banking experience pretending they could add value in the owners’ businesses. So we got to thinking: What are the paths from “not experienced enough” to “trusted advisor?”

I recalled that I’d recently purchased an iPHone. One morning, I woke up to find my Urban Spoon app wouldn’t open on my iPHone. Neither would the other apps I’d downloaded.

I found several Web comments from others similarly frustrated. Their “swear by it…” solutions included one that was only just a little short of “jump down, turn around, wave your arms, start your phone.”

I went to the local Apple store. I met Matt. “Matt,” I said, “my apps won’t operate. What do you think?”

“Show me,” he said. I did.

He stroked his budding beard. “I’ve seen this before. There are a couple of different approaches that could work….” After discussing them with me, he recommended we reload the operating system software, download the apps again, and see what happened. We did, we did, and they worked.

Matt is now one of my fifteen trusted advisors. While I wouldn’t ask Matt for counsel on taxes or plumbing, he’s my iPhone wizard.

Why fifteen trusted advisors? They are specialists on important issues in which my knowledge is limited – law, lawn care, auto maintenance, insurance, investments, accounting, plumbing, printing, electrical work.

I also have three Trusted Advisors. Two are friends I approach for counsel on a wide range of business management topics. One is my “grey hair,” the guy to whom I look for insights on the toughest challenges across the broadest range of topics.

What’s special about these three Trusted Advisors? Over long periods of time, they have listened, asked questions, and shared ideas that worked. When I’ve called to ask, “How do I handle this…?” or “What do you think of this idea…?” they have demonstrated the business experience and life experience to help me see what’s around the next bend, to critique directly and honestly, and to help me fix my mistakes.

So, if we seek to be our customers’ Trusted Advisors, we have to start by being “lower case” trusted advisors first, starting with ONE problem our clients or prospects need to solve.

Following Matt’s lead, knowledge of different approaches to solving that ONE problem, when those approaches are best used, how they are best used, examples of how the approaches have been used, and tradeoffs between one approach and another…. moves us a step toward “trusted advisor.”

Have we broader expertise? The next step begins with, “There’s another issue related to the one we’ve been discussing. I’m wondering how you’re thinking about this…..”

Many such steps over months or years BEGINS our qualification for “Trusted Advisor.”

So…. choose. What’s the ONE problem on which to develop “category killer” expertise?

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