Positioned to Build Trust
It is very difficult to overstate the importance of reputation. In a corporate context, this is why a brand can acquire such a high value and why a good brand will attract a large premium in corporate valuation. As an individual, and particularly if you are an adviser in any field, your reputation is almost everything. It is why people would go to you, or perhaps avoid you, and why companies would employ you. You need to have a reputation of being trusted and having something of value to share. Once a reputation is damaged, it is hard to restore.
When you look at building client relationships, the key touch-points that you have with clients have evolved over time. In the past, you had client meetings, telephone conversations, mails and faxes. Today you have client meetings, less telephone conversations, and more emails which have to some extent replaced telephone calls. In building and maintaining client relationships you need to consider all of these, but in this book, I will focus on face to face meetings, as some of the principles can be extended to the other areas.
People are often failing in building good relationships because they are reading too little, planning too little, listening too little, and talking too much. You need to let go of short term self-interested agendas, or you risk destroying your client's trust. Before you go into a client meeting, it is useful to consider what is the agenda for the meeting. If the agenda is suggested by the client, agreed in advance, to give information, express opinion, listen or explore the client’s needs then you may well be building trust in your meeting. If, on the other hand, your plan is just to try and pitch a particular product, then take care. You may be positioning yourself as a product salesperson rather than a trusted adviser, and you may be destroying trust rather than building it.
Building a client relationship is about both relevance and trust. You may be completely trustworthy, but your lack of knowledge makes you irrelevant. Conversely, you may be highly knowledgeable, but the clients feel that they can't trust you. You need both.
If you have strong, up to date and relevant knowledge, and the client believes you have their interest at heart, you can be successful. The way to make clients feel you have their interest at heart is to genuinely have their interests at heart. In the long run, this will also be in the interest of your firm.
Be really sincere, open and give the genuinely best advice you can offer. Anything else is not worthy of a trusted adviser.
Try to think and act like a true trusted adviser if you want to build trust with clients. Provide insights and information in an unbiased way. Where there may be some vested interest in, for instance, a new product idea, be completely transparent and open.
Enhance Your Meetings
Now that you know what to exhibit, what can you practically do to create a meeting experience that builds the relationship? I’ll segment the client meeting into three phases - before the meeting, during the meeting, and after the meeting.
Before the Meeting
One of the biggest weaknesses I have observed throughout my career has been the lack of preparation before a meeting. Before you’ve met a new client, you need to be able to ask yourself the following - How well do I know them? Do I know what has happened recently in their family, company and industry? What can I find out about them on Google? It’s important that you keep up to date with anything relevant to them. Of course, if you can’t find it online, you can ask them when you meet with them. Just make sure you do some due diligence, especially if your clients are well known.
Next, you need to ask yourself if the purpose of the meeting is clear. Do you need to clarify more beforehand? Make sure you set an agenda for the meeting and ideally have an agenda that you have both agreed on. Have you checked if there have been any service issues? Are you updated on any recent legal or tax changes that might be relevant for the meeting? Make sure you prepare and bring any relevant reports or materials with you. If you’re introducing someone new to the client, you can consider sending a bio of this person ahead of time so that your client knows what to expect.
Finally, you should start pre-empting and considering what is likely to be at the forefront of the client’s mind. Would they have an unstated agenda? What would be important to them? What could potentially connect with them?
During the Meeting
In the meeting itself, it is essential to observe the standard rules of etiquette, including being welcoming, being happy to see them and giving proper introductions for everyone present. Apart from stating titles, it is useful to add a short point of interest about each person which can be picked up for further small talk, if anyone desires to. This helps build the rapport for the meeting and allows the meeting to be more enjoyable. A great point of relevance about each person for instance would be about how they might be of use to the client. That could also help to position the meeting well.
Make sure you take notes or at least have something on which you could do so. Not being ready to take any notes implies that you think your client will not be likely to say anything important. It also makes it very difficult to follow up afterwards. More importantly, you need to be taking note of anything you have agreed to do. To build trust, it is essential that you don't forget what’s been decided on.
I once asked a very successful businessman what he looked for in a business partner. He said, “I look for someone who does what he says he is going to do”. When you make even the smallest of promises like "I will call you back before 3pm" or "You will have it on your desk by the end of the day", be sure to follow through on these promises. While it may seem minor, failing to do what you have promised destroys confidence in you.
Also, be aware of body language and try to emulate that of your client. Don't be slumped back in your chair if they are upright and leaning forward. If there is an agreed agenda, then that will be a useful reference point.
Finally, the most critical thing about the meeting is to listen more than you talk. Why?
“You make a better impression and convey respect when you listen more.”
Firstly, psychology shows us that the best impression of a meeting is held by the person who spoke the most. You don't want to walk away thinking that it was a great meeting when everyone else thought you were an idiot. When you allow other people to speak more, you will enable them to walk out of the conversation thinking that it was a good meeting. This is crucial in building relationships.
Secondly, listening more than you speak conveys respect towards the other person. Most people prefer talking over listening. Let that be your client. The image I like to suggest is that of a sailing boat. Your client speaking should be the wind in the sails, while yours is the gentle hand on the tiller that steers the boat, with the right comments and questions, along the desired course.
At the end of the meeting, remember to ask if there is anything else that they would like to cover, and summarise next actions.
After the Meeting
Depending on circumstances, it would usually be appropriate to send a note to your client thanking them for meeting with you, together with a list of action points. This then becomes a useful checklist for you in following up.
Depending on the culture, socialising can be an essential part of building client relationships. Remember that being included in a social event does not mean that you are now being regarded as a friend. Unless that becomes explicitly clear, maintain all professional courtesies.
One of the critical mistakes of any professional is to make contact with clients only when they are trying to sell something. Our clients know that we are in the business of selling services but, if that is all you do, you will remain fairly low on their totem pole of relevant people.
To be more relevant to them, contact them frequently by imparting information related to the market or industry which may be of interest to them. Be up to date with news and interesting anecdotes, so that hearing from you becomes a pleasure. This positions you differently in their minds so that when you do eventually suggest a relevant and well-considered business or sales opportunity, you’ll find that it receives more attention.
Steps to Take in 24 Hours
- Prepare for Your Next Meeting
Prepare all the questions I’ve laid out in the previous chapter and be sure to answer them all prior to your next meeting. Add more questions that you think need to be covered and start referring to this list until it is second nature.
- Follow up
Make a follow up plan for all your clients. Call or email 3 of them today with useful information and don’t try to sell anything. Provide information relevant to your industry, current affairs and quotes that are suitable.
- Improve Your Reliability
Look at your meeting notes for the last quarter and check if you have done everything you promised. If you don’t have notes then make a list of your past meetings from your calendar and try to recall what the decisions were and what follow ups you need to do. Make sure you complete everything you have promised people.