The holy grail of consulting – do this and triumph
“We have to become a partner with our clients.” Dream on, says I. In 27 years working on clients, not one has ever viewed me as a partner: always as a supplier. Here’s why, and here’s how to become an indispensable supplier.
Becoming ‘partners with clients’ gets talked about a lot in agency world, but it has never happened to me. We’ve had deep, enduring client relationships, but none crossed the line to true partnership. Why do I say that? I always knew that if we stuffed up two times in a row (maybe three at a pinch), we’d be out. That’s not partnership- it’s a supplier relationship.
Our mission has to be to become our client’s most valuable, most indispensable supplier. To achieve this, we have to become TRUSTED ADVISORS. Here’s how.
I once ran a Great Client Service session in Shanghai for the leadership of a global company. At the last moment the CEO asked I include a session on How To Become A Trusted Advisor. I hit the internet to find the best possible Trusted Advisor model. David Maister delivered it. His model has the acronym C.R.I.S. I’ve added a P. So let’s call this model CRISP.
How To Become A Trusted Advisor
To become a Trusted Advisor, we need to do CRISP’s five pillars brilliantly:
1. Build Credibility– we must build a perception of credibility with our clients so they feel they can trust what we say, that we are genuine experts in our field, and are outstanding at what we do.
2. Build Reliability– we must be perceived as totally reliable, and seen as a firm which delivers on its promises. We do what we say we will do. We communicate strongly and regularly with the client. No surprises. On time. On budget. Honest. Genuine. True to our word.
3. Build Intimacy– we must build a close, sincere relationship that extends beyond the day to day imperatives of getting great work done. The client has to feel comfortable with us as people, and trusting of our intent. As David Ogilvy said: “A client does not care about how much you know until they know about how much you care.”
4. Avoid Self-orientation (at all costs) – the client must believe our every motivation is about them and their success. Our motives must be around delivering great outcomes for the client. Never about self-serving interests. It’s all about the client- always.
5. Deliver Passion– do everything with enthusiasm and optimism. Be a ‘can do’ person. Be a ray of sunlight in your client’s lives. Really care about that client and its fortunes. Feel it in your heart. Harold Burson, the founder of Burson-Marsteller, once told me: “When someone hits my client with an ice-pick, I bleed.”
So- What To Do Next?
Hold a session of your teams and leaders. Look at each of these five pillars. How do we build credibility with clients? How are we scoring today on this? How can we improve it?… Then move on to reliability…then intimacy, etc. Do it generally looking at how your agency or business behaves, and then do a similar analysis, using the five pillars, against your key clients. How are we doing on credibility with client X? How can we improve that? What’s the 50 Day Plan to do just that? Now reliability- how are we scoring with client X on reliability? Etc. You get the picture.
Become Trusted Advisors to your clients. It’s the Holy Grail of services businesses.