Some trusted advisers shouldn't be trusted

In a recent posting I highlighted some of the scenarios that suggest that an adviser has not achieved the level of trust that we tend to seek from our clients. I have also written about what it means to be a ‘Trusted adviser’ and that just because an adviser is trusted by clients doesn’t automatically mean that the trust is justified.

The adviser may not have sufficient knowledge to give reliable advice on the matter at hand. If he or she goes ahead however the client may still feel able to rely on it as they are unaware that the accountant is either naïve, lazy or out to deceive.

  • Perhaps they give advice in good faith but have insufficient knowledge or expertise to realise that the advice is wrong, incomplete or inappropriate;
  • Perhaps they hope the advice is ok even though they haven’t checked; or
  • Perhaps they are out to deceive in that they know they don’t know the answer but seek to convince the client that they do and that their waffle is good advice.

In all 3 scenarios the client may be unaware that the adviser should not be trusted.

The motivations are different in each case. Which is worst do you think and which is the most common?

Some years back I recall discussing two tax managers with a fellow partner in the accountancy firm where I worked. He was a general practitioner and evidently favoured one manager over the other. He told me why:

‘Rosie’ never seemed confident of the tax advice she gave him. She always wanted to double check it with someone else. He preferred ‘Cathy’ as she always provided him with definitive advice and never insisted on ‘wasting time’ getting confirmation.

I told him that I would prefer to rely on ‘Rosie’ any day. She knew what she didn’t know. She was neither naïve, lazy or out to deceive. ‘Cathy’ on the other hand evidently wanted to please the partner but I knew she did not have the experience or expertise to always have the right answers.

Some months later my partner thanked me for opening his eyes. He had been checking up on ‘Cathy’ and found that her advice was not always reliable. Several mistakes and problems had come to light. She had attempted to explain them away but on reflection he knew that they were a function of her over eager attempts to give advice and to appear to be more knowledgeable than was the case.

If this had only happened once or twice he might have thought her simply naïve. She had attempted to cover her tracks – in a further effort to deceive.

She left the firm shortly afterwards.

If your colleagues can’t trust you why should your clients?

* Names changed to protect the innocent (and the guilty!)

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Some trusted advisers shouldn’t be trusted

In a recent posting I highlighted some of the scenarios that suggest that an adviser has not achieved the level of trust that we tend to seek from our clients. I have also written about what it means to be a ‘Trusted adviser’ and that just because an adviser is trusted by clients doesn’t automatically mean that the trust is justified.

The adviser may not have sufficient knowledge to give reliable advice on the matter at hand. If he or she goes ahead however the client may still feel able to rely on it as they are unaware that the accountant is either naïve, lazy or out to deceive.

  • Perhaps they give advice in good faith but have insufficient knowledge or expertise to realise that the advice is wrong, incomplete or inappropriate;
  • Perhaps they hope the advice is ok even though they haven’t checked; or
  • Perhaps they are out to deceive in that they know they don’t know the answer but seek to convince the client that they do and that their waffle is good advice.

In all 3 scenarios the client may be unaware that the adviser should not be trusted.

The motivations are different in each case. Which is worst do you think and which is the most common?

Some years back I recall discussing two tax managers with a fellow partner in the accountancy firm where I worked. He was a general practitioner and evidently favoured one manager over the other. He told me why:

‘Rosie’ never seemed confident of the tax advice she gave him. She always wanted to double check it with someone else. He preferred ‘Cathy’ as she always provided him with definitive advice and never insisted on ‘wasting time’ getting confirmation.

I told him that I would prefer to rely on ‘Rosie’ any day. She knew what she didn’t know. She was neither naïve, lazy or out to deceive. ‘Cathy’ on the other hand evidently wanted to please the partner but I knew she did not have the experience or expertise to always have the right answers.

Some months later my partner thanked me for opening his eyes. He had been checking up on ‘Cathy’ and found that her advice was not always reliable. Several mistakes and problems had come to light. She had attempted to explain them away but on reflection he knew that they were a function of her over eager attempts to give advice and to appear to be more knowledgeable than was the case.

If this had only happened once or twice he might have thought her simply naïve. She had attempted to cover her tracks – in a further effort to deceive.

She left the firm shortly afterwards.

If your colleagues can’t trust you why should your clients?

* Names changed to protect the innocent (and the guilty!)

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What does it take to become a trusted adviser? (part two)

In yesterday’s posting I highlighted some of the scenarios that suggest that an adviser has not achieved the level of trust that we tend to seek from our clients.

My definition of a ‘Trusted adviser’ is one: Where clients are sufficiently confident that they receive reliable, honest and accurate advice for a fair fee that they instinctively refer friends and family to the adviser.

By definition therefore this is rarely a relationship that can be established overnight. It requires there to have been sufficient opportunity for the adviser to evidence their credibility, honesty and trustworthiness. The client must feel safe discussing relevant issues with the adviser and to have established some rapport.

A trusted adviser is likely to be at the ‘dedicated’ level on the loyalty matrix described in a recent posting on this blog. They will also have reached level 4 in the relationship contact scale described in an earlier posting.

Do your clients trust your advice? Do they have sufficient confidence to follow your advice? Do you listen to your clients and ask appropriate questions? These are all facets of being a trusted adviser.

Of course it is possible to ‘con’ clients and to become a ‘trusted adviser’ even when such trust is not justified. This may be because the adviser is either naïve, lazy or out to deceive. I’ll explain further in the next posting in this series.

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What does it take to become a trusted adviser? (part one)

One of the key skills required by all ambitious professionals is that of becoming a trusted adviser. It’s been said so often though that it’s almost become a cliché.

In my skills self audit guide I pose the question as to whether you have a good understanding of how to manage clients so as to encourage the right sort of referrals from them? Or do you:

  • Find that they have more confidence in another adviser than they seem to have in you?
  • Worry that you don’t really know enough about your clients’ positions, businesses, hopes and dreams?
  • Fear that you are wasting time when you try to build on your relationship with clients?
  • Fail to obtain repeated referrals to prospective clients from your existing clients?
  • Give all clients the same attention regardless of how they treat and pay you?

Tomorrow I will offer some more detailed thoughts as to what it takes to become a trusted adviser.

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8 tips on retaining and attracting new partners

A friend of mine, Stephen Harvard Davis, is an expert at helping businesses retain top talent. I’ve just been inspired to add this item to my blog having read something similar on Stephen’s blog which focuses more on job transition in larger corporate businesses.

1 – Don’t presume that good prospective partners will always be available.

When I ask managing partners and team leaders what is the biggest issue facing their firms the reply is invariably related to partnership succession. Retaining good people who might be tempted away is one concern. Another is the difficulty of distinguishing the firm, especially the smaller and medium-sized one, such that prospective new partners are motivated to join.

2 – Identify the skills and specialist knowledge the firm needs to sustain it into the future and how you are going to attract it.

Do you just need an additional partner to make up the numbers or to add new specialisms? Is the work flow already there for them or will they have to spend a lot of their time winning new work? If a partner is coming up for retirement do you need someone with the same skills (and if so how easy will it be to find them?) or might this be an opportunity to enhance the skill set of the partner group?

3 – Look at how your competitors attract and retain their new partners.

What actions can you adopt and improve? Can you make a valuable promise that they can’t easily match? How about a mentoring course provided by a credible external expert as evidence of the firm’s intention to help the new recruit develop and enhance their skill set? [Obviously I would suggest that wouldn’t I, but only because it make sense.]

4 – Don’t throw money at prospective partners.

Retaining or attracting partners by using salaries and guaranteed profit shares is destined to fail. The simple reason is that there will always be another firm that can offer more money and besides, the right new partner for your firm isn’t always attracted just by money.

5 – Identify the reasons why prospective partner would be attracted to work for your firm.

What makes your firm different? The people? The partners? Is that enough or is just a cop-out? How can you evidence your promises and commitment to the prospective new recruit?

6 – Identify the reasons why your partners might be attracted to work for a competitor firm.

It can be dangerous to assume that just because none have left that they haven’t considered doing so. Some prospective partners may be just biding their time waiting for the right opportunity to come along.

7 – Don’t treat all partners and prospective partners the same way.

Everyone is different so a ‘one size fits all’ policy doesn’t work as there are different types of partner and they are looking for different things from a firm – whether it’s the one they trained with or it’s one they moved to more recently.

8 – Remember that if you lose one person you consider a prospective partner then ‘the risk’ of you losing others increases by 50%.

Equally if you attract someone who has the right attributes then the chance of attracting more people like that increases by 50%.

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Websites for professional firms (part one)

I recently posted an item here entitled: How to present your firm more effectively. I’ve since noted a related discussion on Dennis Howlett’s AccMan blog concerning the importance or otherwise of your firm’s website.

Dennis seems to be of the view that the quality of a firm’s website is almost irrelevant as what distinguishes one firm from another is the quality of the people. And to an extent I agree with him.

There is another angle here however. How do prospective clients and advocates distinguish one firm from another BEFORE they meet those distinctive individuals? It doesn’t matter how great the people are if no one is meeting or talking with them to ascertain if the relationship and service offering is right for the prospective client. And what is it, these days, that a prospect will do before deciding whether or not to contact a new adviser? They will check the relevant website. This is increasingly the case even if an incredible adviser is highly recommended by a very enthusiastic client.

Does your website contain the right messages for you/your firm targeted at your key audiences? Does it present the adviser or the firm in a good light and really distinguish them from the competition or does it contain the same old ‘sales’ messages as everyone else? Does your website enhance or damage your marketing efforts and the referrals that you get?

Of course there there are probably some firms, with great people, who are getting loads of referrals despite having ordinary, boring and potentially damaging websites. No one knows how many more referrals they could be converting if only their website was more effective. Possibly no one cares. Probably no one has the time, knowledge or inclination to brief the web designers to improve things. I’ll return to this topic in subsequent blog posts.

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more marketing insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Great sales questions for professional advisers (part 3)

In the first posting in this series I explained the dangers of adopting any form of questioning approach that suggests the adviser is on auto-pilot.

In the second posting I identified some useful questions and promised to outline a specific questioning structure for professional advisers such as accountants, solicitors and surveyors.

Whatever questioning approach you adopt, you must feel comfortable using it however well it might have been proven to help achieve the desired aim. Of course it takes time and practice to feel comfortable with any new approach, let alone to master it.

One of the most enduring structured but unscripted approaches can be recalled using the SPIN acronym which is often credited to Neil Rackham, former president and founder of Huthwaite corporation The structure is explained in Neil’s 1988 book and focuses on an acronym: S.P.I.N which helps us to recall four elements of an effective questioning approach:

  • Situation Questions – to gather background information and understand the context of the sale.
  • Problem Questions – to explore the prospect’s dissatisfactions and concerns.
  • Implication Questions – that develop and link apparently isolated problems by examining their ‘knock-on’ effect on the areas of the prospect’s business.
  • Need-payoff Questions – that invite the prospect to consider the benefits of solving his or her problems and, having done so, to express an Explicit Need for a solution (“If I can show you a proven way to find a permanent solution to this adverse situation, would you be willing to hear my brief presentation?”).

A key feature of this approach, as implied by earlier posts in this series is that it encourages the prospect to define both their problem and their desire to find a solution. Hence, the ambitious professional comes across more as a ‘consultant’ rather than as a salesperson trying to make a sale.

Situation Questions
These are intended to elicit relevant background facts about the prospect. Bear in mind that situation questions will bore the prospect so the more background information you can collate (and recall) beforehand the better.

Example questions

  • Tell me about your company?
  • To what extent do you specialise in a particular area?
  • Tell me something about your customers (this is likely to generate a focus on the key ones)
  • How’s business?

Problem Questions
These are intended to identify the prospect’s difficulties or dissatisfactions.

Example questions

  • How much time do you spend on collating information for the taxman each year?
  • What do you find frustrating about the way your legal work is handled?
  • What are the disadvantages of the way you’re handling this [process] now?
  • What concerns do you have? 

Implication Questions
These should focus the prospect’s attention on the consequences or effects of their problems. The goal of using these questions is to persuade the customer to EXPLICITLY state a need that you can solve.

Example questions

  • How much money do you lose when you lose a customer?
  • How much does it cost you to get a new customer?
  • What’s the lifetime value of your customers and how much will you make when you double it?
  • Do you get a lot of legal issues in property management?
  • How much time do you waste dealing with dissatisfied customers?

Need-Payoff Questions
These address issues such as the value, usefulness, or utility that the prospect perceives in a solution. Only ask these questions AFTER the prospect has confessed to a need. If you ask these questions too early in the process your prospect will simply deny the existence of the need which you claim to solve.

Example questions

  • How would it help if your offices were connected to a centralised database?
  • Why is it important to get all your employees accounting for their work?
  • Would it be useful if your homeowners made most of their requests without bothering anyone?
  • Is there any other way that this could help you?
  • Do you see the value in knowing which vendors do the most work?

After the prospect has admitted to some explicit need – not something vague – you can then explain how your service solves the need.

The final stage of this approach is the way that you attempt to address all of a prospect’s stated concerns, and ask them if they have any more. Traditionally you would then finish by summarising the benefits of your service and proposing the next appropriate level of commitment.In the fourth and final part of this series I will suggest an alternative and more effective approach.

[I learned recently that the SPIN acronym was originally going to be SPIP. The originator contrived to make the last letter an N at the encouragement of his young son who pointed out that SPIP was a silly word!]

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