Professional services are about relationships. Recently, I’ve been thinking about my own style of relationship-building as I plan to move forward in my consulting career from strictly content delivery into more of a team and client management role.
At meetings, I’ve started to observe the more senior people with whom I work, and I have learned different ways to build trust between the client and adviser (in order to drive new sales and get buy-in of sensitive ideas, for instance) while staying true to my own personality. Simple actions like stopping by a client’s office to thank them for joining a meeting or sending a journal article that may be of interest to the client can go a long way toward developing trust and rapport.
It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that many of us are uncomfortable with the idea of “selling”—from what my colleagues have told me, it’s definitely a learned skill.
Two relationship-building styles that I’ve witnessed working very well together are those of the big-picture advisers versus the content experts. The big-picture advisers start from the client’s corporate agenda. They ensure that new recommendations make sense in the client setting and that the organization has an appetite for change. Clients seem to like big-picture advisers because of their ability to see the challenges inherent in making changes, as well as ways to mitigate those challenges.
On the other hand, the content experts—true experts in their field—help their clients develop transformational ideas.
Although most people can exhibit a bit of both of these styles, especially early in their careers, individuals are naturally weighted in on direction or another. Assuming that in the professional services industry we can only sell our ability to think, developing and recognizing your own method of building trust between you and clients is one of the most important skills to practice early on in your career.