Trust and the Client-Advisor Relationship

Feb 9th, 2017



I’ve recently been thinking about the line from Graham Greene’s novel, The Quiet American: “A man becomes trustworthy when you trust him.” Trust is on our minds right now in a context of political upheavals, fake news and ‘alternative facts’.


This issue of trust in client-advisor relationships was the focus of a workshop I ran last week with a CEO and his team. Like many organisations in the service industry, this company had been increasingly experiencing difficult conversations with clients as market conditions changed and impacted revenue.  “Your fees are too high”; “I don’t agree with your advice on pricing levels” had become typical sticking points.  The team, who considered clients relationships to be a strength, were working hard to deliver results so when clients challenged them they had a tendency to become defensive.


I was asked by the CEO to coach his team around increasing trust so clients would truly listen to them and respect their advice – even if it was not what the clients wanted to hear.  How could they become Trusted Advisors in the truest sense to better influence their client, and manage their expectations with confidence and ease.


My aim was to achieve results, as well as set the foundation for long-term success.  Here are the key adjustments we worked on to make the difference:


Mindset of Generosity:
The mindset of a ‘dealer’ is very different from a ‘trusted advisor’. The dealer who focuses on the transaction will get to the result needed very quickly, and will move quickly onto the next person if they see no immediate benefit. The ‘trusted advisor’ has a mindset of generosity who will prepare well, bring valuable insights and spend time understanding the client’s position before focusing on results. They are in it for the long-term and will ask themselves the question before every conversation. How can I add value to my client in this conversation?


Seek out client contact – When there has been little activity due to market changes, do you pick up the phone or send out email reports? Too many people avoid the difficult call. But regular conversations are essential in building trust, and trusted advisors actively seek out client contact. In good times and bad – always make time for this.


Treat the client as an individual – Your client is human and, while there is a distinction between home and business life, both are ultimately personal. Treating the client as an individual will give you a stronger chance of being heard. Go the extra mile. Do something that will reflect that you have thought about them, that will surprise them and that they will appreciate.


Market Intelligence
If you are going to influence your client, you need facts and intelligence that others do not provide which increases your value. Often when there is little activity there is a tendency to think you have done nothing. Provide useful insights and a succinct breakdown of your initiatives and the response.


Stay with the concern and listen – You make the call, but when challenged, a common reaction is to push back, defend your position, defend your advice. A trusted adviser has the confidence to stay with the concern. By that I mean they listen (really listen!), they acknowledge the client’s position, are curious, and they ask relevant questions to find out more about the problem. The client will feel understood and you will uncover what is most appropriate to meet the client’s expectations.


Show, don’t tell – When you want to explain what you can do for a client, tell a story about how you helped another client. They will relate to this more. By using storytelling, you will demonstrate your value to your client rather than singing your own praises.


Reframe the situation and pay attention to your language – For my client in property, ‘price reduction’ created a defensive response. Bring the conversation back to your clients’ aspirations – to maximise value – and your commitment to achieve this. If they are investing this may mean reinvesting in a better investment situation. Talking about the bigger picture will build trust and expand the opportunity to explore strategies that would achieve success.


Become self aware of how your behaviour changes under pressure
Emotional Intelligence – is the ability to manage yourself so that you can manage others. 85% of this is self awareness. Do you know who you become under pressure? Do you speak more quickly? Does your tone become more defensive. Or maybe you go quiet and under-talk. By being aware of how you react, and how that impacts your communication, you can make a conscious effort to change this and self-manage. When you are in a difficult situation, for example, sit back which will instantly slow you down, breath, focus on your tone vs the words.


During the workshop one of the directors responded to my request to put learning into practice and called a client who had so far refused his advice and was threatening to take his business elsewhere.  The result was a very positive conversation with a grateful client that appreciated and accepted his advice on adjusting pricing levels.  A positive result that gave the team a reference of success to take forward.


When you have a relationship built on trust one of the most significant rewards for both client and advisor, is that the individuals are most able to be fully who they are. Always remember trust takes time to build but can be lost in a minute. Be confident to deal with challenging conversations, and you can build strong relationships for immediate and long-term value.


Thriving in a Changing Market is currently a programme that we run for Operational and Executive Teams. For more information on this and our coaching programmes do contact me for an exploratory conversation at


Oona Collins