Developing Trust with A Client

Selling professional services boils down to one word: Trust (according to Seth Godin). Given my experience in IT professional services, I decided to explore what Trust truly means.

Per Stephen Covey, Trust is a combination of Character (Who are you as a person?) and Capabilities (What results you can deliver?). Trust has to be earned and is easy to lose. I cannot ask a Client to trust me (I can but it never works). I have to exhibit trustworthy behaviors over the long-term. When I dived deeper into what constitutes trustworthy behavior, I realized I was diving into the human psyche as it involved dealing with ego, fear, and insecurities.

Putting Trust in another person is an act of faith and of vulnerability. It is tough to get here. It requires patience and a focus on the long-term.

Trust to me is about saying the Truth and acting in Integrity. This means:

  1. Acting in the best interests of the Clients (even when it is against your interests)
  2. Courage to say no (even if you have to lose a deal), and
  3. Willingness to express your values (even if it means saying something the Client may not want to hear)

The following two questions help me get to the crux of what Trust means:

  1. Do you have the courage to say No to a Client project when you believe you are not the right fit?
  2. How would the Client react if they were a fly in the wall and listen to your team’s conversation about a project or proposal (would they be pleasantly surprised or stunned)?

 I outlined ten ideas to build trust.

1.Act in the Client’s interest

This could be anti-evolution! 😊 We are always focused on our needs and interests. It is hard to focus on others’ interests (even true in a marriage and not just a consulting relationship).

This requires taking a step back and seeing if all our behaviors, actions, and advice are truly aligned to a Client interest. A good question to ask yourself would be – Is this the same advice I would give myself if I were in the Client’s position? What recommendation would I take if I were in the Client’s shoes?

2. Listen

Listening means both listening to what the Client is saying and reading between the lines of what they are not saying. This requires focus and patience (and slowly interrupting the mental chatter that happens in your head when the Client is talking! 😊).

3. Set the right expectations from the beginning (even if you are concerned that you could lose the deal)

Winning a deal can consume a Consultant. It is important to set right expectations from the beginning regardless of how it impacts the deal (easy to say and really tough in the moment to have the courage to speak up).

4. Do what you say. Say what you do.

Cliched advice. This approach carries a ton of power.

5. Clearly communicate risks.

It looks easy to tell the Client what they are willing to hear. It pays dividends if you can tell them the potential risks with the project you are undertaking.

6. Be up-front about your capabilities and strengths.

If you believe partnering is not the right route to take, say it.

7. Don’t be afraid to push back on the Client (especially if they want something that you are not willing to offer)

Clients tend to be skeptical about services firms and for good reason. Most Clients have some horror stories about the work with a service firm that has gone bad. Outline your approach clearly and transparently. If your Client does not like your approach, be willing to explain the rationale behind your choices. If the Client is still not satisfied, have the courage to determine if alternative paths should be explored.

8. Deliver Results

The simplest way to earn trust is to deliver results that exceed Client expectations. It doesn’t get simpler than this. Your reputation to make things happen goes a long way.

9. Don’t provide free work

Clients do not value free work. They are willing to listen when they pay for your service.

10. Smile

Hat tip to Dale Carnegie. Always smile and exhibit a positive attitude.

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