How to Become a Trusted Advisor to Clients and Drive Faster Decision-Making

Estimated read time 6 min read

Attention spans aren’t what they used to be, ranging from 20 minutes to just two seconds — which was just enough time to read that sentence. Throw in the paradox of choice, and it’s no wonder there’s so much indecision going on. One of my favorite pieces of research on this topic is the Jam Experiment. Shoppers were presented with a display of 24 different types of jams, which seemed like a great way to cater to everyone’s taste buds. But when presented with a display of only six options, shoppers were 10 times more likely to buy jam. The abundance of options attracted attention but stifled decision-making.

That’s not to say businesses should eliminate choice. That, too, can pose a problem, as customers often research before making decisions. They know other options exist, so quickly removing so many options can leave them questioning your recommendations. Generally speaking, the businesses that win are those with teams playing more advisory roles in the relationship — the relationship isn’t about pushing a sale but enabling decision-making.

As a customer, I certainly prefer to engage in conversations about my challenges and goals but also want someone to advise me, not sell me on some product or service. Whether B2B or B2C, customers want businesses to inform them on which direction to consider and how to get there. This can only happen once you’ve built trust based on humility, empathy and kindness. It’s all about becoming a clear expert at what you do.

Of course, there’s a learning curve. You must first become a student of your own industry — or at least advise from an informed position. Allowing yourself to be a sponge as you’re exposed to everything associated with the industry will better equip you to share your educated point of view. Clients are looking for advisors, and the following can help you help them make better decisions:

1. Choose to believe you are an expert

Most people have more expertise than they give themselves credit for, no matter their role. Let’s say you’re a project manager. That role has exposed you to different projects for different departments and stakeholders for various companies or industries. That experience provides a unique perspective for clients.

If you need reassurance, write down what you’ve worked on over the years (tasks, projects, clients and so on). Think about the hours you’ve spent working on proposals, talking with clients, planning executions and managing projects. Seeing what you know will increase your confidence to advise and believe in what you have to offer. And that confidence will improve your job performance overall. In fact, 98% of workers surveyed by Indeed said they performed better when they felt confident. While clients might have the last say, that doesn’t take away from your expertise. Start recognizing — and being proud of — what you bring to the table.

2. Become a genuine, active listener

If you want to take on a more advisory role, you need to understand the client’s situation before making recommendations. That requires active listening. Consider the example of when I started running and went to the store to get a pair of running shoes. The choices felt endless. The sales associate could read the uncertainty on my face, so he approached me with one question: “New to running?” I nodded, and he posed a series of additional questions — some of which would have never crossed my mind. He even asked me to jog to see how my foot struck the ground. All that information helped him narrow down my selection to three running shoes.

What he did applies to interactions you might have with a client. Not only are you listening to the client’s answers, but you’re also watching how they respond to what you’re asking. Research has shown that communication is 55% nonverbal, 38% vocal and only 7% words. So, ask questions, look at the client’s reactions, listen to their answers and follow up with more questions. Then, when you make a recommendation, the client knows it’s based on a true understanding of their situation.

3. Don’t be afraid to make recommendations

Making recommendations to clients is one thing. Telling them what they should do is another, as it can force them into a decision. This isn’t to say your background doesn’t bring an understanding of what’ll best suit their needs. But, as an advisor, you want to keep clients in the driver’s seat. So, offer multiple options to choose from. You can do this in the form of a question, such as “What about X?” or an affirmative, such as “Perhaps we could try Y.”

If they ask for your opinion, don’t shy away from giving it. That right there shows how well you’ve established yourself as an advisor. Tell them what you would do if you were in their position. If necessary, steer them in the best direction, proposing it as a suggestion and offering your input on the value of that option. Just make sure the final decision is in their hands.

4. Outline a plan

While getting a contract signed might be the final step in the process for you, it’s the first step for your client. I’m a big fan of high-level timelines, as it puts some shape and objectivity around critical steps. But don’t make the mistake of putting a signed contract at the end of the timeline. Share some key steps that will happen after project approval, so the client is aware that those steps can’t occur until an agreement or proposal is approved.

A timeline such as this takes the pressure off you to “close the deal” and puts more of the onus on the client to get approval, so you can get on with the initiative, and the client can start seeing value.

Taking on an advisory role puts the client front of mind, where they should be. It comes down to remembering your role in the relationship. Use your background to provide options, letting your recommendations guide the direction to making better — and faster — decisions.

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