In the United States alone, almost 10 million people are employed in the professional services industry.
What’s more, the current total earnings in the industry has more than doubled over the last 10 years.
The point here, is that the industry is on the rise, and more and more people are calling themselves advisors.
Yet for all their know how and technical skill, only very few live up to the name – very few are able to guide their clients at all, and even less are able to do so in a way that adds significant value to the client’s business.
Here’s the rub: most so-called advisors, are not advisors at all – they’re service providers or order takers. They do what the client tells them to do, and they are interchangeable with any other provider offering a similar service. It doesn’t matter if you’re in engineering, the IT industry or the Big Four – your service is getting commoditized, because your people don’t know how to position themselves as advisors, and it’s hurting your business.
To drive this point home, I want to highlight three of the mistakes advisors make that is poison for any business, as well as give you the ingredients to mix your own antidote.
1: They start with the solution
Because most clients express similar problems, they believe that their palette of solutions will fit into the general scope of what the client is looking for. And to a certain extent they’re right. But the problem is, that when you walk up to someone and tell them here’s the solution what doesn’t happen is this: there is no conversation around what got the client into trouble in the first place. There is no conversation about the causes that underlie the symptoms they’re experiencing. There’s no conversation about the long-term consequences of letting the underlying problem go untreated, and last but not least there is no trust.
In other words, some of the most important conversations that you can have with your clients simply doesn’t happen. Not only is that bad for the client, because they miss out on the potential value you can create, which means that the advisor has missed out on an opportunity to get a customer that is loyal for many years to come.
Turning the advisor’s perspective around can work wonders.
If we start from the client’s position, and start asking curious questions, based on the assumption that we most likely don’t know all that we need to know about the client, then we can get to a point where we can start adding value (and where the client can see it too) fairly fast.
The pitfall here, is that if we just starting asking questions, for the sake of the questions, then we’re unlikely to get much further either.
In order to get the full effects of the antidote, the key is to turn the perspective around 180 degrees, going from talking and telling to asking and listening.
2: They don’t ask the right questions
One of the most common pitfalls in the professional services industry is that advisors get so caught up in the particulars of the delivery, that they fail to ask the right questions. Questions that are sufficiently high-level to truly engage the decision makers in the business.
Questions that get at the heart of the business case of why they want our help in the first place. Questions that explore the consequences of not fixing the problem. Questions that make it clear where the advisor can add value.
Instead they ask questions such as what’s the timeline? What’s your budget? What are the milestones and deadlines we need to be aware of?
That’s the sound of your client’s head hitting the table out of sheer boredom.
This is not the conversation you want to have.
What the True Advisor does is explore the situation with the client. They ask questions to understand their client’s needs, pains, challenges, stakeholder landscape and success-criteria.
They understand the effort and patience it takes to let the client explain their situation as they see it – with all the important texture and nuance that goes with it. And most important of all – they act accordingly.
3: They don’t ask deep enough
Of all the advisors I’ve coached through the years, this is the most common pitfall of all.
Most advisors across geographies, experience, age, gender, industry and sector stop at surface level questions.
They might ask “what are your main priorities right now?”
To which the client might say something to the effect of “Increase growth and minimize customer churn”
“Great!” the advisor exclaims and jumps straight into describing how their solution might solve this problem.
Some advisors dig a bit deeper than this and might ask about challenges and stakeholders as well, but only the rarest few of the few (and these are the elite) will explore the emotional landscape, the background, the context and the nuance of the client’s situation.
The few who do this however are the ones for keeps the rest of the company afloat.
When we fail to ask deep enough, we miss out an opportunity to build trust, to explore the business case and we set ourselves up for failure when we try and co-create the solution with our customer, because we won’t have the necessary hooks on which to hang the final outcomes (and value-creation) on.
The best advisors in the world operate with an outside-in approach, that starts with understanding who the client is and what drives them. They understand that business is more emotional than it is rational and logical. It is more human than algorithmic, and it is more about the heart than the brain.
Because of this, they are able to ask their way into understanding the client and building trust meticulously and with great patience.
They are not in a rush, yet they keep the conversation moving forward at a solid pace.
And even though the client talks most of the time, they are the ones who are in control.
If advisors start from the client’s perspective, ask curious questions from an open-minded perspective, they will not only build trust, but they will also differentiate themselves no matter the degree of commoditization in the market, and position themselves optimally when it comes time to talk solution with the client.